Exploring the “mail rail” of London

There seems to be a growing interest in stories about underground spaces below cities. Add another to stories about underground Paris, New York, and Las Vegas: several explorers have documented the “mail rail” system that operated not too long ago beneath London:

Construction of the tunnels began on February 1915 from a series of shaft located along the route. The tunnels were primarily dug in clay using the Greathead shield system, although the connecting tunnels in and around the stations were mined by hand…

It wasn’t until June 1924 that workers began laying the track using 1000 tons of running rail and 160 tons of conductor rail…The line was eventually finished in 1927 with the first letter through the system running on February 1928…

Although initially the system was a success, in its last years of service the line was continually losing money. On the 7th November 2002, Royal Mail announced the line had become uneconomical with losses of £1.2M a day and that they planned to close it should no alternate uses be found. This was to be the death of the Mail Rail with the line from Mount Pleasant to the Eastern Delivery Office closing on the 21st March 2003, the remaining section from the Western District Office to Mount Pleasant following on the 29th. Now it just sits there buried where light cannot reach, rusting away, the trains sleeping silently in and around the stations wanting to be used again. Sadly a dream which we all know will never come true.

I had not known that these sorts of mail systems were in use until so recently. Such systems were not completely unknown in big cities: Chicago had a much more complex system that delivered mail as well as other kinds of freight. In big yet dense cities, these delivery systems could make a lot of sense as it would keep some traffic off the roads and goods could be delivered with little interruption.

I do wonder at times whether current city officials are very knowledgeable about what is underneath their cities. The pictures regarding London’s “mail rail” are quite good and I wonder if they caught anyone off-guard.

With such interesting things underneath so many big cities, it seems that movie and TV writers would have an endless supply of interesting settings where odd things could occur and creatures could roam…

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