We took a trip on the historic ‘Mail Rail’; London’s underground post office railway that runs west to east through the centre of London. The carriages fit two people in each one – bit of a squeeze for my brother and me, but great fun! It’s an immersive experience that takes you back nearly 100 years. But, given today’s drive to reduce carbon emissions, this underground post office railway is strangely a vision of the future too.
You join the train with around thirty others at Mount Pleasant (Phoenix Place, NW London) and travel on a loop for thirty minutes, experience a few staged scares and finish at a small museum recounting the history of Mail Rail. A fascinating insight to what used to go on 20 metres beneath your feet in London.
History of Mail Rail
The Post Office introduced it’s own driverless underground postal service railway in 1927. It ran continuously (24×7) until 2003, when it was closed due to no longer being economic (mail no longer went via London, but direct between city hubs across the UK). It was branded Mail Rail in the late 1980’s.
The system connected the main sorting hub (Mount Pleasant) with the mainline rail stations across London. The motor unit was electric and each unit pulled around 10 carriages – at an amazing 30mph (you’ll do the same route a more sedate pace!)
Back in the 1920’s ‘Mail Rail’ was the answer to the congested streets and fog above ground – and average east to west journey times of three hours. The network consists of six and a half miles of tunnels connecting eight stations; situated at Paddington District Office; Western Parcels Office; Western District Office; Western Central District Office; Mount Pleasant; King Edward Building; Liverpool Street railway station and Eastern District Office.
At its peak Mail Rail employed 300 staff – many performing the strenuous task of loading and unloading at each station – all to be done in 60 seconds per stop!
Interesting that the tunnels of this underground post office railway were also used during the First World War to store and protect art treasures belonging to the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Gallery.
Mail Rail is open every day (except 24-26 December) from 10.00 – 17.00. The last train departs at 16.30!