London Post Office Railway
|Post Office Railway|
Cars on the Post Office Railway
|Dates of operation||1927–2003|
|Track gauge||2 ft (610 mm)|
|Length||6.5 miles (10.5 km)|
The Post Office Railway, also known as Mail Rail, was a narrow-gauge driverless underground railway in London, built by the Post Office with assistance from the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, to move mail between sorting offices. Inspired by the Chicago Tunnel Company, it operated from 3 December 1927 until 31 May 2003.
It ran east–west from Paddington Head District Sorting Office in the west to the Eastern Head District Sorting Office at Whitechapel in the east, a distance of 6.5 miles (10.5 km). It had eight stations, the largest of which was underneath Mount Pleasant, but by 2003 only three stations remained in use because the sorting offices above the other stations had been relocated.
In 1911 a plan evolved to build an underground railway 6½ miles long from Paddington to Whitechapel serving the main sorting offices along the route; even then, traffic congestion was causing unacceptable delays. The contract to build the tunnels was won by John Mowlem and Co. Construction of the tunnels started in February 1915 from a series of shafts. Most of the line was constructed using the Greathead shield system, with limited amounts of hand-mining for connecting tunnels at stations.
The main line has a single 9 ft diameter tube with two tracks. Just before stations, tunnels diverge into two single-track 7 ft diameter tunnels leading to two parallel 25 ft diameter station tunnels. The main tube is at a depth of around 70 ft. Stations are at a much shallower depth, with a 1-in-20 gradient into the stations. The gradients assist in slowing the trains when approaching stations, and accelerating them away. There is also less distance to lift mail from the stations to the surface. At Oxford Circus the tunnel runs close to the Bakerloo line tunnel of the London Underground.
During 1917 work was suspended due to the shortage of labour and materials. By June 1924 track laying had started. In February 1927 the first section, between Paddington and the West Central District Office, was made available for training. The line became available for the Christmas parcel post in 1927 and letters were carried from February 1928.
In 1954 plans were developed for a new Western District Office at Rathbone Place, which required a diversion, opening in 1958. It was not until 3 August 1965 that the new station and office were opened by the Postmaster General, Anthony Wedgwood-Benn. The disused section was used as a store tunnel; some parts of it still have the track in place.
A Royal Mail press release in April 2003 said that the railway would be closed and mothballed at the end of May that year. Royal Mail had earlier stated that using the railway was five times more expensive than using road transport for the same task. The Communication Workers Union claimed the actual figure was closer to three times more expensive but argued that this was the result of a deliberate policy of running the railway down and using it at only one-third of its capacity. Despite a report by the Greater London Authority in support of continued use, the railway was closed in the early hours of 31 May 2003.
In April 2011 an urban exploration group called the "Consolidation Crew" published accounts of illicit access to the tunnels. Detailed photography and text revealed that the railway is still largely in good condition, despite some natural decay.
Rolling stock 
The first stock was delivered in 1926 with the opening of the system. All stock used was electrically powered.
Electric locomotives 
- 1926 Electric Locomotives — Original locomotives
Electric units 
- 1927 Stock — Original stock
- 1930 & 1936 Stock — Replacement stock for 1927 Stock
- 1962 Stock — Prototype stock
- 1980 Stock — Replacement stock
In fiction 
- The railway features in the novel The Horn of Mortal Danger in which there is a connecting tunnel to a secret railway to the North London network. The only other known connection is in the disused tunnel between Highgate and the disused Cranley Gardens.
- The railway appears in the film Hudson Hawk as 'Poste Vaticane' in the Vatican City. Bruce Willis (as Hawk) stows away in one of the mail containers.
- A mail train system closely based on the railway is in Charlie Higson's third Young Bond book, Double or Die.
Similar railways 
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2011)|
A pneumatic underground railway was used by the Post Office in London between 1863 and 1874 using individual wheeled capsules, operated by the London Pneumatic Despatch Company.
In 1910 a 450m-long tunnel railway opened in Munich, Germany between München Hauptbahnhof and the nearby Post office. The tunnels were damaged in World War II, restored in 1948 and partially rebuilt in 1966 to allow for the first Munich S-Bahn tunnel. Operations ceased in 1988.
The Chicago Tunnel Company delivered freight, parcels, and coal, and disposed of ash and excavation debris. It operated an elaborate network of 2-foot gauge track in 7.5 feet (2.3m) × 6 feet (1.8m) tunnels running under the streets throughout the central business district including and surrounding the "Loop".
See also 
- Subterranean London
- London Pneumatic Despatch Company
- List of British heritage and private railways
- Chicago Tunnel Company
- Karslake, Colin. "Speeding London's Mail". MailRail.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
- Subterranean city: beneath the streets of London. Antony Clayton. 2000
- "Final delivery for Mail Rail". This Is Local London. 2003-05-30. Retrieved 2009-08-19.
- Romance of London's Underground, Ayer Publishing
- Time capsules
- "London's Post Office Railway", Popular Mechanics 97 (3), March 1952, p. 164, ISSN 0032-4558
- Blackford, S.; Cuthbert, E. W. (1960). "Underground Station for Western District Post Office, London. (Includes Plate)". ICE Proceedings 15 (2): 81. doi:10.1680/iicep.1960.11893.
- Collingridge, V. H.; Tuckwell, R. E. (1960). "Underground Station for Western District Post Office, London. (Includes Plates)". ICE Proceedings 15 (2): 95. doi:10.1680/iicep.1960.11897.
- "Security-Breach: London Mail Rail". www.placehacking.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-04-26.
- "The Post Office Railway (Mail Rail)". www.silentuk.com. Retrieved 2011-04-20.
- Launceston Steam Railway
- Bayliss, Derek A. (1978). The Post Office Railway London. Sheffield: Turntable Publications. ISBN 0-902844-43-1.
- "Post Office Underground Railway (Mail Rail)". British Postal Museum & Archive.
- "The Post Office (London) Railway". The Post Office Electrical Engineers' Journal 21 (2): 147–154. July 1928.
- Mackay, A.C. (April 1966). "The New Post Office Railway Station at the New Western District Office". The Post Office Electrical Engineers' Journal 59 (1): 12.
- Finden, R.E; Piqué, P; Kettridge, K. (January 1984). "New Transformer/Rectifier Units for the Post Office Railway". British Telecommunications Engineering 2 (4): 256.
- Mew, G. M. (1964). "The post office railway". Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Conference Proceedings 1964-1970 179 (1964): 39. doi:10.1243/PIME_CONF_1964_179_009_02.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
London Post Office Railway
- Enthusiast Website Unofficial MailRail Web Page
- Detailed information on construction and operation.
- The British Postal Museum & Archive
- Silent UK Comprehensive detail, based upon complete exploration. (Web-Archived here)
- Place Hacking A collective report of the trespass into the network by urban explorers in 2011.
- Guardian article on proposed mothballing.
- GLA report on the closure in PDF format.