By Geoff Courtney
It surely ranks as one of the most unusual and idiosyncratic restored railways in the world, for it is noisy, cramped, uncomfortable, dark, and can even be a little intimidating. I wouldn’t describe it as fun, but fascinating it most certainly is.
It is also the UK’s newest restored railway, and it’s right in the heart of London, awaiting its first swathe of passengers be they locals or tourists from across the globe.
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It’s Mail Rail, a ride of nearly a mile 70ft beneath the giant Royal Mail Mount Pleasant complex in Clerkenwell near King’s Cross station.
Opened in 1927 as the Post Office Underground Railway, the original 2ft gauge 6½-mile line ran from Paddington in the west of the capital to Liverpool Street and Whitechapel Road in the east, stopping at eight stations en route that were served by central London sorting offices.
The driverless electric trains – a world first – never carried passengers but up to four million letters and parcels 22 hours a day, while residents and visitors above walked the pavements or rode in cars, buses and taxis, blissfully unaware of its existence.
That existence, however, came to an end in 2003 as road transport obliterated its raison d’etre, but rather than being sealed up, the entire system of tunnels and its large underground depot at Mount Pleasant was mothballed, with maintenance continuing to be carried out by a small team.
Read more in Issue 232 of HR – on sale now!