Mail Rail: driverless underground postal railway opens to the public

Royal Mail’s historic underground train system in London, dubbed Mail Rail, is opening to the public for the first time.

The system was first opened in 1927 and was used to transport vast quantities of mail around London to its destinations.

It was in operation continuously for the next 76 years, even running during the blitz, until it was closed in 2003 after it became uneconomic due to the advent of more efficient mail technologies.

Construction work on the tunnels began in 1915 but it was over a decade before the first stretch of the line opened between Paddington and the West Central District Office near Covent Garden.

The underground tunnel network was later expanded to London Bridge in the South, Islington in the North and Liverpool Street in the West.

The trains running on the line were both electrically powered and driverless from their introduction, technologies that wouldn’t gain prominence for decades.

The refurbished line for museum visitors contains new trains that are based on designs used on the Mail Rail from 1987 but with a lowered floor to allow passengers to sit, as the tunnels are just seven feet (2.1m) high.

The new stock can carry a total of 32 people although those taller than 6 foot (1.8m) may face an uncomfortable experience.

Visitors are taken along a truncated route that takes them past old, unused platforms and switching junctions before leading them back to the museum.

Sections of the tunnel are illuminated with projections that show the history of the Mail Rail and how it was used during its 76 years of operation.

The Mail Rail line will be available to ride for those visiting the Postal Museum which is due to open on 4 September.

The museum itself also features some rare postal industry paraphernalia such as one of the only full sheets of Penny Black stamps left in the world. The cast of Queen Elizabeth II’s profile, which ultimately informs the image that adorns all British stamps, is also present.

In addition, some inventive designs for mail transportation devices can be seen including an unlikely-seeming 5-wheeled bicycle and early mail post buses.

Adrian Steel, director of The Postal Museum, said: “We are absolutely delighted to welcome our first visitors to The Postal Museum.

“The museum itself opens up the chance for people to gain an insight into some of the quirky social history behind an incredible British invention – the post, whilst Mail Rail affords people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a slice of subterranean London, previously hidden from public view.”

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