A First Look at The Postal Museum & Rail Mail Walking the Rails

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London's newest visitor attraction is the Mail Rail, and it will be open to the public from early September. I got the chance to take a sneak peek this weekend, which was the first available chance to the public. Many visitors may not know the history of the Rail Mail and that there are currently over 6.5 miles of tunnels used by the former Mail Rail underneath London with sorting offices at Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, and Paddington. The mail tunnels were created in the 1920s to quickly get mail across the city; before the mail rail, post would be hauled overhead and stuck in traffic. At the time when these tunnels were constructed, the vision was to haul all goods through these underground tunnels. At its peak, the tunnels were used 22 hours a day, but the public never saw them. Royal Mail ceased to use the tunnels in 2003, citing that they were too costly.


The Postal Museum entrance and the Mail Rail are located between Chancery Lane and King's Cross station, and the buildings are almost opposite each other. Only about  1/4th of a mile of rail has been maintained and opened to the public for the exhibition. Mail Rail had a total of eight stops along it (as previously citing stops at Liverpool Street, Paddington, and Whitechapel). Another one of these stations is known as Moutn Pleasant, and it was the largest of the stations and it is the one that will be open to the public in the exhibition.


The first part of the tour was the ride along the rails in one of the new trains. Apparently, the train journey will take twenty minutes instead of the five minutes it took us to set off and loop back around the 1/4th of a mile of rails, and there will be an audio-visual area at the Mount Pleasant station platform.


I sat in the front of the train. Taking photographs along as the train was moving was impossible really due to the tunnels being narrow and the curved glass in the carriages. I do hope that the glass does not scratch or mark. 



After the train ride, we went through the musuem part of the tour, which was centred along a platform. One area was cordoned off, so I think that there will be more exhibitions about the Mail Rail. I saw examples of the nets, which were used to catch/hold onto the mail parcels. They needed to grab these at each station as the train would be moving.


I saw some of the old trains too.


The green train was the earliest mail train, dating from 1927. It's wheels actually damaged the track, so they replaced the trains.


An example of an engineer's tool box was also seen; I later saw some of these along the platform.


The lockers were left intact with their items on the last day that Rail Mail was open in 2003.



The final part of the tour consisted of the walk through the tunnels and to see the sponsor plaques. This was actually the highlight of the tour. I think that visitors will want to do this part of the tour, so I do hope that they plan walking tours in the future, in addition to the rail openings.




We walked to the Mount Pleasant station platforms and down the rails. We were shown where the tunnels continued, as opposed to those that just loop around. Of course, these tunnels were sealed up so no one could walk all the way to Liverpool Street station, for example.


I also found the plaque that I sponsored, which is located at Loop 2, just on the other side of Mount Pleasant station.


On the U-turn area back to the start of the walk, we saw a tunnel underneath the one we were walking on, and this actually has Royal Mail's rolling stock on it, which is just disused. (Royal Mail still have the ability to control the tunnels as The Postal Museum only leases the rails and is responsible for maintainance.)





That concludes the tour. As today was the first in a series of pre-public openings, the tour was not really well-organised, and we didn't hear any history about Rail Mail nor the tunnels, and the staff had been working in the museum across the road from very early in the morning, so it was a long day for them. I would have liked to have learned more about the tunnels and given a little more information during the walking tour.

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