A missing cat has been rescued from an inter-city train – after stowing away in the undercarriage for a staggering 1,700 miles.
Polly the tabby, who had a badly-broken leg, is thought to have climbed on board the high speed express near her home in Plymouth, Devon.
She then spent a terrifying two days trapped under the front carriage as the train thundered between the West Country, London and South Wales.
The lucky two-year-old was only discovered when train manager Emily Mahoney-Smith heard her miaowing for help when the train stopped briefly on its way to Cornwall.
Emily, 33, said the cat could only have got into the sealed unit when the panels were removed for maintenance at the shunting depot near her home.
Train operators First Great Western added: “We’re pretty sure the cat had been stuck on board for some time.
“It was ensconced in the underbelly of the train and it couldn’t have got in there unless the train was in a depot or static for a considerable period of time.
“That part of the train isn’t accessible from a normal station stop so the latest it could realistically have stowed away would have been at Plymouth where it started service.
“We’ve calculated it did at least 1,667 miles but luckily we managed to get it to a vet and it’s going to have a happy ending by going home.”
Polly disappeared from her home – close to Plymouth’s main rail shunting depot – three weeks ago and then found herself locked inside the train.
She had climbed inside the ‘raft’ below the carriage which houses the air conditioning and batteries and which is only accessible when maintenance panels are opened.
The 0651 service from Plymouth to London Paddington set off last Thursday and then travelled from the capital to Swansea, South Wales.
It then headed back to Paddington later in the day before ending the day in Bristol via Westbury, Wilts.
The following day the same train went back to Paddington via Worcester and Oxford before completing another run from to Swansea and back to London.
Finally it left Paddington at 19.03 on Friday heading for Penzance in Cornwall nearly six hours’ away.
Polly was eventually found late on Friday evening when Emily heard her miaowing as the train briefly stopped in Plymouth.
Emily – who had just joined the train – first thought the noise was a fault with the air suspension and went onto the platform to check.
She saw no sign of the cat and the train carried on into the night but she heard the miaowing again at the next stop at Saltash.
The train could only wait temporarily there because part of it was on the Tamar Bridge but at the next station at St. Germans Emily and the driver got out.
They pinpointed the noise and opened one of the service hatches on the train’s undercarriage and pulled out Polly – miaowing with hunger after two days without food or water.
Emily took her on board and fed her tuna from a sandwich from the train’s buffet and put her in a box in her compartment.
She then asked controllers to alert the RSPCA and the charity got in touch with on-call vet Matthew Berriman in Penzance.
Matthew, 34, said Polly was in such a bad state he thought she was a stray and was preparing to put her down.
But she used up her final life when he decided to check if she had been microchipped – and was stunned to find she had.
The chip gave the details of the cattery in Plymouth who had looked after Polly before giving her a home with retired train driver Arthur Westington, 84, and his wife Louisa.
Matthew got in contact with a stunned Louisa, 82, to ask permission to operate and his colleague Jenny Fanning amputated Polly’s front left paw.
The cat is now recovering from her ordeal and operation at the Rosevean Veterinary Centre in Penzance and is expected to return home in a few days’ time.
Emily said: “She was in surprisingly good condition and her coat was very shiny, although she was incredibly smelly from her infected leg.
“She was very friendly and when I made a couple of PA calls she could be heard purring in the background.
“It’s amazing how she survived for so long – I think she climbed into the train as she was after rats in the shunting yard.”
Vet Matthew, 34, said: “The train staff brought the cat to the surgery. She was in quite a bad way with a very nasty, open fracture to her front left leg.
“I think it’s extremely possible that the cat was stuck on the train for several days, from the way its leg was looking.
“The fracture was easily four or five days’ old by the time we operated. It wasn’t something that had happened a couple of hours’ before.”
Owner Louisa, a former cleaner, said: “She dashed out of the back door and we thought she’d gone for good.
“We missed her and were very surprised when the cattery rang to say she’d been found and was in Penzance.
“She’s lost her front paw and is now on antibiotics and resting but we can’t wait to have her back – she’s certainly seen more of the country than we have.”