Melbourne, May 27 : When rail users arrive at Kishi station in western Japan they're welcomed by a tortoiseshell cat named Tama. Don't mistake the nine-year-old for a ticket collector's pet, for the moggy is addressed by her official title of 'stationmaster'.
The 'expert' creature wears a formal uniform cap of Wakayama Electric Railway and calmly watches passing passengers who greet her.
There are 10 train stations on the 14.3km line.
"Tama is the only stationmaster as we have to reduce personnel costs. You say you could ask for the cat's help, but she is actually bringing luck to us," The Daily Telegraph quoted Wakayama Electric spokeswoman Keiko Yamaki, as saying.
The company feeds her in lieu of salary.
Tama was born from a stray cat brought to the station by a cleaner and kept by Toshiko Koyama, a local who runs a grocery store next door.
The station went unmanned in April 2006 as the line was losing money. But Tama stuck around.
She rose to national stardom in January 2007 as the railway company formally appointed her as "stationmaster".
Her appointment had an immediately positive effect, boosting the number of passengers using the line in January by 17 percent from a year earlier.
For the year to March 2007, the number of passengers rose to 2.1 million, up 10 percent from the previous 12 months, according to Yamaki.
Happy with her successful job as stationmaster, the company promoted Tama to "super-stationmaster" in January this year, making her "the only female in a managerial position" in the company's 36-strong workforce.
The stationmaster is set to appear in a French documentary film, being directed by Myriam Tonelotto, about wonder cats from around the world.