Post Office Railway - Mail Rail

It may well be the Last Post next year for London’s unique other underground which was closed and mothballed in 2003. The Post Office Railway, also known as Mail Rail, was a narrow gauge driverless private underground railway in London built by the Post Office to move mail between sorting offices. This 2 foot gauge 6.5mile railway was opened in 1927 and at its peak run between Paddington Sorting Office and Whitechapel Eastern Delivery Office. The trains are driverless and are controlled by switching the 440 volt DC traction voltage. Inspired by the Chicago Tunnel Company, it was in operation from 1927 until 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, but by 2003 only three stations remained in use because the sorting offices above the other stations had been relocated.

A Royal Mail press release in April 2003 revealed that the system would be closed and "mothballed" (i.e. removed from active service) at the end of May that year. Royal Mail had earlier stated that using the Post Office 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 system down and using it at only one-third of its capacity. Despite a report by the Greater London Authority in support of the continued use of Mail Rail, the system was taken out of use in the early hours of 31 May 2003.

Since then no viable alternative use has been found for the railway which being designed for freight only would not easily adapt to passenger use, presuming the passengers were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! Obviously there is a limit to what can be done to a mothballed railway and the tracks are not live, the only maintenance services are by battery locos. Also next year the Royal Mail is closing down Paddington Sorting Office which is the Western terminus of Mail Rail. All in all, it seems that soon the last person out will be switching off the lights for the last time?

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