MailRail - the underground London mail

 Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground

In London there's an underground system of mail distribution which served the city for over 140 years, the MailRail. This surprising fact, however, is unknown to most people. The structure is similar to that of a subway, with small carriages moving along tunnels with a 2-metre diameter, as is if they were small mine wagons, which is understandable, given Britain's mining tradition. It seems like a toy, but the mail actually arrived at its destination on time - now, that is truly surprising!

The idea came up long ago, in 1855 and basically consisted of a tunnel subject to vacuum with a railway inside it. The carriages would be moved along by the suction created by a compressor in one of the ends of the tunnel. Still, this crafty system seemed to be manageable to its creator, Thomas Rammell, which led him to create the Pneumatic Despatch Company, in 1859.

After building a small test line, the idea proved to be efficient and a proposal to enlarge the line was ensued. The first branch line connecting two mail posts was openned on January 15th 1863, with a daily traffic of about 70 mine cars. Each trip from one mail post to the other took a little over a minute and there it remained for only the time it took to be loaded with merchandise again, setting off as soon as possible.

 Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground
Inauguration of the first branch line in 1865 and a mine car at the time

 Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground
Electrification of the railway line from 1915 to 1924

  Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground
Electric carriages in 1930

 Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground
Carriage in 1962 and the Mount Pleasant station

The MailRail worked well for a number of years, even improving with the introduction of new wagons, slightly larger. However, the evolution of surface transportation rendered it obsolete. After some hesitation, a new system of electric propulsion was adopted. We were still in 1895, but the line adaption only started to take place in 1915 and was only finished by 1927. Along the way, World War I came and went. During the war, tunnels and train stations were used as a shelter, especially for works of art (a large portion of the contents of the Tate Gallery were kept in these places). The same was true for World War II, however, during this time, the MailRail kept working, only stopping between 11 pm and 7 am.

 Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground

After the war, the underground mail was at its peak. It worked in three shifts for 19 to 22 hours a day, except on sundays, which were used for maintanance of the line and carriages. Only during the last 25 years of the last century did it start losing its importance and accumulating losses, which eventually led to its prolongued death. Stations and branches started closing, one by one, until its complete shut down, in March 2003. The famous system is now a quiet complex of derelict tunnels where only ghost-trains run...

 Mail Train Letters Orders London Subway Underground

If you wish to get to know more about the MailRail, here are two interesting links here and here.


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