Mail Rail
May 29, 2003 8:36 AM   Subscribe

A miniture underground railway, known as Mail Rail has carried the post from one end of London to another. The system is closing down this weekend. An employee gives her story. Another quirky piece of London consigned to history....
posted by brettski (6 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Not "Post Rail?" Interesting...
posted by scarabic at 8:38 AM on May 29, 2003

Ack, bad news... thanks for the info.

( is another decent 'fan' site).
posted by plep at 8:46 AM on May 29, 2003

Sounds a bit like New York's pneumatic tube system which was killed when a former exec of General Motors became the Postmaster General and bought...wait for it...trucks from General Motors.

Replacing a working system with a worse system, ain't that progress.
posted by m@ at 8:49 AM on May 29, 2003

My grandfather worked for the postal service in Britain before and during WWII. It's hard to underestimate the importance of the postal service in Britain at that time... it encompassed a whole lot of things we wouldn't normally associate with the postal service, such as radio, radar, and government R&D. As a result, many of those involved in the Postal Service were at the center of Britain's war effort.

My grandfather was an engineer specializing in radio who designed radio/radar countermeasures against the German bombers. He worked alongside some pretty amazing people at times, including Alan Turing.

While most of the radio branch of the Post Office was evacuated to Harrowgate, my grandfather was in charge of a group that was stationed in the center of London during the Blitz.

He was very familiar with the postal rail... in fact, it was very much his home for awhile. During the Blitz, he often slept, ate, and worked in the basements and catacombs under buildings such as the General Post Office building, Alder House, and Union House, located along the railway in central London, near St. Paul's Cathedral.

The Postal Rail became an indespensible part of life during wartime, not only because it provided a lifeline to the rest of England, but also because it provided a home and interconnecting network for workers during the war. My grandfather used to eat in a little basement two floors below the GPO building near the railway that was called "The Cleaner's Arms" and another little place they called "The Dive".

The tunnels he lived in are still there today...
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:54 AM on May 29, 2003

The Chicago Tunnel Company railroad was a similar system, although it never successfully bid for postal contracts, and was mainly limited to coal delivery. Its abandoned routes (most have actually survived) are still used for fiber-optics today. When some bridgework accidentally punctured a section under the river, a few years ago, the entire system flooded, paralyzing the Loop for a day or so.

See also pneumatic dispatch systems for carrying letters and small parcels (Paris; Berlin).

Though romantic in a steampunk kind of way, many of these systems are enormously expensive to operate, all the more so because of their unique equipment and expertise requirements, not to mention legal clearances and ongoing issues with building, street, and utility construction. Trucks may have disadvantages, but you can buy or fix them anywhere, and get almost anyone to drive them, and all you need is a loading dock.
posted by dhartung at 11:42 AM on May 29, 2003

wow .. how interesting .. i'm a real underground and tunnel freak .. infact anything wierd and hidden away that's a feat of civil engineering tends to fascinate me

thanks for those links guys .. that'll keep me busy for the day !
posted by mrben at 6:29 PM on May 29, 2003

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