Crystal Palace pneumatic railway

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Crystal Palace Pneumatic / Atmospheric Railway
Crystal Palace Athmosperic Rly.1864.jpeg
Engraving of the Crystal Palace line (1864)
Dates of operation August–October 1864
Predecessor None
Successor Waterloo and Whitehall Railway
Track gauge Broad gauge
Length 600 yd (550 m)

The Crystal Palace pneumatic railway was an experimental atmospheric railway that ran in Crystal Palace Park in south London in 1864.


The railway was designed by Thomas Webster Rammell, who had previously built a pneumatic railway for the London Pneumatic Despatch Company to convey letters along tunnels in large vacuum-driven wagons. A similar principle was applied to this railway, where a carriage fitted with a large collar of bristles was sucked along an airtight tunnel that measured 10 by 9 feet (3.0 by 2.7 metres).[1] The bristle collar served to keep the tunnel "partially airtight".[2] It operated for just over two months, and may have been a demonstration line for a more substantial atmospheric railway planned between Waterloo and Whitehall, construction of which was started under the Thames but never completed.

The power was provided by a large fan, some 22 ft (6.7 m) in diameter, that was powered by a steam engine.[2][3] On return journeys, the fan was reversed to create a vacuum to suck the carriage backwards, whilst the carriage used its brakes to come to a stop.[1] Although not positively known, it is possible that the GWR broad gauge (7 ft 0 14 in (2.14 m)) was used. The single coach might have also been a conversion of a GWR coach, and the steam engine that powered the fan from an old GWR locomotive.

Remnants of the tunnel have been found ca. 1992 in Crystal Palace Gardens.

Located on a Map of 1861 at the Crystal Palace Museum there is reference to the "Suction Basin"

The wagon was not found to be in the Tunnel expedition, and it was later found it had been recommissioned as a wagon on the normal steam railway of that time. Only element that exists to date is the sleepers located 6 feet in the ground.


The tunnel ran for 600 yards (550 metres) between the Sydenham and Penge entrances to the park, and had to negotiate a difficult bend along the line. Tickets cost sixpence each.[4] Trains ran between 1pm and 6pm and the journey time was 50 seconds.[1] The line operated from 27 August 1864[5] to 31 October 1864.[6]


It is unclear what became of the line, as records do not state what happened after it ceased to operate, although it has been suggested that Rammell had originally constructed the small line as a test for a larger atmospheric railway that was to run between Waterloo and Whitehall.[7]

It has been rumoured that the site of the railway is haunted, a popular urban legend of the 1930s partially connected with stories surrounding Crystal Palace railway station.

In 1978, a woman claimed to have found the tunnel and to have seen within it an old railway carriage filled with skeletons in Victorian outfits.[8] The tunnel was not found, and some believed that the tunnel may have been destroyed by construction work for the Festival of Empire celebrations in 1911.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hadfield, C. (1967) Atmospheric Railways: A Victorian Venture in Silent Speed Newton Abbot: David & Charles
  2. ^ a b "Frederic Delaitre's Lost Subways / Crystal Palace Atmospheric Railway". Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  3. ^ "Crystal Palace Park" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  4. ^ a b "Making History – The Crystal Palace atmospheric railway". 2001-12-04. Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  5. ^ The Times (London), p. 1, 1864-08-27  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ The Times (London), p. 1, 1864-10-31  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ IanVisits (2007-02-23). "IanVisits… » The Waterloo and Whitehall Pneumatic Railway". Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  8. ^ Herbert, W.B. Railway Ghosts and Phantoms (ISBN: CN1361)