All aboard London’s Mail Rail

All aboard London’s Mail Rail

England’s capital opens a hidden train line to the public in 2017.

Visitors to the English ­capital will soon have another must-see on their list if plans by London’s Postal Museum run to schedule.

The museum (formerly the British Postal Museum & Archive) is converting the Mail Rail – a subterranean London railway mothballed in 2003 – into a tourist attraction as part of its new £26 million (€30.42 million) museum premises opening in mid-2017.

Running for 10.5 kilometres from Paddington in west London to Whitechapel in the East End, the line was opened in 1927.

At its peak, the railway carried over 4 million letters daily, 22 hours daily along 23 miles of track and by the 1990s it transported 6 million mailbags annually.

It was officially renamed the Mail Rail in 1987 to mark its sixtieth anniversary.

Shunt vehicles were used to move the mail below London.

Shunt vehicles were used to move the mail below London.

 

By 2003, however, declining postal volumes rendered the line uneconomical and operation was halted, though engineers still maintained the railway.

While 4.8 million trips are made daily (and over a billion annually) on London’s Underground, the museum estimates approximately 185,000 visitors in its first year, with the majority taking the Mail Rail ride along one kilometre of looped track beneath the central Mount Pleasant Sorting Office (the site of the new museum).

During a ride of approximately 15 minutes, passengers will experience a range of audio and visual effects exhibiting the history and legacy of the Royal Mail’s 501 years of service.

“This was and is an operational tool. It won’t be a rollercoaster or pleasure ride – top speed will be around 6 mph – although there will be scope to operate as a ghost train at Halloween,” says Chris Taft, Postal Museum head of collections.

Until its reopening, railway enthusiasts can see what remains of the world’s only purpose-built underground mail transit system in operation in Bruce Willis’ 1991 film Hudson Hawk, in which it portrays the fictitious Vatican Underground Postal Railway, with some equipment painted yellow accordingly.

postalmuseum.org

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Engineer Ray Middlesworth shows the system’s layout. (Photo by Simon Fry)

 

Text by Simon Fry Photos by The Postal Museum

This article is published in the January 2017 issue of Blue Wings.