Dubbed the ‘ghost Tube’ by Atlas Obscura, the London Post Office Railway, aka the Mail Rail, was conceived as a subterranean solution to quickly transporting mail and postal employees beneath the city’s traffic-clogged streets.
And it worked, starting service in 1927. In its heyday, the miniature 4-foot-tall Mail Rail ferried 12 million postal items every day on 23 miles of track from East End’s Whitechapel to west London’s Paddington. Amazingly, it remained operational until 2003, when maintenance costs finally became too prohibitive. All of London’s mail now goes by lorry — boringly, I might add — above ground.
But good news for postal and underground enthusiasts — plans are in the works to bring the Mail Rail back on line as a tourist attraction, part of a larger postal museum. But don’t hold your breath — opening is tentatively set for 2020.
London's Mail Rail sits vacant 70 feet below the city streets.
When things got, um, wet, the Mail Rail could cordon off flooded sections with flood barriers like this one.
Left or right?
23 miles of track kept the 220 maintenance workers quite busy.
Stalactites are now forming in the tunnels after almost 12 years of sitting idle.
Trains in miniature
The 29-foot-long trains used by the Mail Rail were only about 4-feet tall in order to fit through the 7-foot-tall tunnels (normal Tube tunnels are 12 feet in diameter). Mail trains traveled up to 40mph.
In addition to mail, the rail also transported postal workers in tiny passenger coaches like these. A ride on the mail rail was not for the claustrophobic. During Christmas season, workers created a "Santa's Grotto" in the underground and let kids from a nearby orphanage ride the train.
Forlorn safety signs dangle from the ceiling.
Get the lead out
Lead cables packed with copper wire sit unused.
Either bored (and hungry) employees or underground explorers created this pantry mural.