Royal Mail Underground Railway – A Forgotten System

Every day there are millions of letters and parcels delivered by Royal Mail. Their system is very efficient and there are few complaints and mishaps, in proportion to the amount of mail that has to be delivered. Over the years, the Royal Mail system has found different ways to transport the post. One of the most innovative has been their Underground Railway system in London, which served for over 75 years.

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Image: Richard Pope, http://www.memespring.co.uk/

Located between 65 and 70 ft underground the ‘Mail Rail,’ as it is affectionately called, was officially opened in 1927 just in time to deliver that year’s Christmas parcels. Its services were expanded to include the regular post in February 1928.  Constructed from a plan that had originated in 1911, it was the first fully automated electric railway and was used to transport mail only.

Carrying in excess of 4,000,000 letters daily, the underground railway was open 19 hrs per day, 286 days of the year, until it was permanently closed down at the end of May 2003. Originally the Mail Rail ran the 6 miles from Paddington to Whitechapel on a 2ft gauge track. By the time of its closure in 2003 it had been extended to serve from Paddington to King’s Cross, stopping at the 6 major sorting offices in between.

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In the days of its transporting of the mail there was a large crew of engineers who worked long hours to maintain the railway system. Since it closure in 2003 there has been a crew of 3 who ensure that the lines are kept in working condition and have done their best to keep leaks away from the railway.

In addition to their regular employees and the engineers, there was a very important addition to the staff members of Royal Mail. A large amount of cats had been employed by the service over the years, in order to limit the mouse population that had started to affect the Royal Mail offices. They became particularly fond of working the underground railway route. The cats were, however, said to be unhappy with the terms of their contract since they had not had a pay raise between the years of 1873 – 1952. This was rectified when it was brought to payroll’s attention, and the cats have since been satisfied employees.

Even though the public was never allowed to view the Mail Rail in its operating days, there were many who were disappointed at the closure of such an iconic part of London’s mail system. The good news is that the system will be restored very soon. After a well-supported fundraising campaign by the Postal Museum, the underground railway will reopen in 2017 as a visitor ride. The ride will begin at the museum continuing to the east and westbound platforms under the Mount Pleasant sorting office, and back. In addition to the trip on the railway, there will be audio and platform displays that will explain the history surrounding it. The cost for entry to the Postal Museum is £9.00 entry fee, and the Mail Rail ride will be £5.50, giving those interested in the way the mail was transported for so many years the chance to experience the journey for themselves.

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