With USPS Informed Delivery, I can see my bills and junk mail sooner

I recently signed up for Informed Delivery with the United States Postal Service. In theory, this is a cool service as you can preview your mail and packages earlier in the day. Each morning, I get an email with scanned images of my coming mail.

Yet, my experience with it is not that fun. I get to see the pieces of mail I do not like – bills and junk mail – ahead of them arriving in my mailbox. Thus far, I have not seen an exciting piece of mail ahead of time. I can look forward to the latest politician who wants to send me a glossy flyer

This is not the fault of the USPS. I need to get involved in streams of more exciting mail. But, it also hints at what the mail is used for now: personal letters and cards can go via email, packages largely go through deliveries to doors rather than mailboxes, and what is left is largely less interesting.

The public to ride the mail delivery system once used under London

The Post Office Underground Railway once used below London is set to open soon to the public:

The Post Office Underground Railway—AKA the Mail Rail—was the world’s first driverless electric railway. It launched in 1927 and was used to transport tons of post from one side of London to another, with stops at large railway hubs such as Liverpool Street and Paddington Station, where post could be collected and offloaded for transportation around the rest of the country…

The idea is to create special battery-powered passenger carriages to take people from the car depot and some of the tunnels in a one-kilometer loop. Visitors will be taken 70-feet underground, through Mount Pleasant Station, and will stop to view audiovisual displays recounting the history of the network and what it was like to work down there…

The railways have a 61cm gauge (the width of the track), on top of which small carriages traveled without drivers thanks to electric live rails. In the stations there are two tracks, with carriages going in each direction.

The service continued to operate until 2003, when it was closed down—it had become much cheaper to transport mail by road.

Looks like a cross between a Disney ride and the Tube. I suspect there may just be a tourist market for this ride…see this post from April 2011 about people exploring the system as well as the interest in looking at underground Paris.

Such lines underneath cities may not be all that unusual. Chicago had an underground delivery system as well since it was far more efficient to move some items underground away from the street-level traffic. This was also the impetus behind creating Lower Wacker Drive. How many major cities have such tunnels underground, how many of them are well secured (free from ne’er-do-wells or flooding issues), and are these all tourist opportunities waiting to be opened?

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…