From London to Rio de Janeiro – by underground railway

By Geoff Courtney

ONE OF the most successful railway restoration projects of recent times has completed 9000 journeys and covered 10,000km – more than 6000 miles – since it opened a year ago. The distance, achieved by the Mail Rail underground railway in central London, is further than an air journey to Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro.

Mail Rail, in Clerkenwell, near King’s Cross station, was opened by the Postal Museum on September 4 last year.

The train now approaching: In its first year of operating public trains, Mail Rail in central London has completed 9000 journeys, travelled more than 6000 miles, carried nearly 165,000 passengers – making it one of the country’s leading heritage railways – and earned its operator The Postal Museum a coveted Transport Trust red wheel plaque. THE POSTAL MUSEUM

It is a restored stretch of the former 2ft-gauge Post Office Underground Railway that opened in 1927 and ran 70ft beneath the capital’s streets for 6½ miles from west to east London, carrying millions of letters and parcels a day on driverless electric trains.

The line closed in 2003, beaten by the relentless march of lorries and vans, but instead of being sealed up was mothballed and a small maintenance team retained. In 2013 a £26 million project was unveiled that comprised a new postal museum and also the restoration of part of the underground railway, based at Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant centre.

It was originally planned to open the railway next year, but such was the pace of fundraising, which included a £4½ million Heritage Lottery Fund grant, that this was able to be brought forward to last September.

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