The historic tunnels of the London Postal Office’s underground rail network – the “Mail Rail” – once moved millions of shipments daily beneath the city. The 10.5 kilometer electric railway, which operated from 1927 up until its closing in 2003, was a unique solution to the above-ground logistics challenges of early 20th-century London. Though unseen by most, a fleet of driverless trains would course through a narrow warren of tubes at speeds of up to 64 kilometers per hour to transfer the mail uninterrupted between eight central stations and onwards to sorting offices. At its peak, the Mail Rail operated 22 hours a day, employing almost 220 staff. An early modern logistics marvel, these tracks are now an interactive heritage exhibit at the London Postal Museum, where visitors can ride original portions of the 70-foot-deep rail to better realize the remarkable feat of delivering shipments on time – and with a method quite ahead of its era.

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Published: November 2017

Images: Miles Willis