RIDE THE POST TRAIN
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Should you ever find yourself standing on the Victoria Line platforms at Oxford Circus, be careful what you say. A few feet beneath you, an engineer may very well be listening to your conversation as you wait for your train.
Lying dormant, 70 feet under the streets of London, is (until recently) an all-but-forgotten railway. For 76 years the Post Office Underground Railway, known as Mail Rail since its 60th anniversary in 1987, transported mail 61⁄2 miles across London, from Paddington to Whitechapel.
It opened on December 5 1927 as a means of moving the post quickly between the main district offices of the Post Office, far from the congested streets above.
It was the world’s first driverless, electrified railway - a distant ancestor of the Docklands Light Railway - and the only purpose-built underground mail transit system in the world, transporting four million letters during a 22-hour operational day at its peak. By the 1990s, it was carrying six million bags of mail a year.
But use of the railway declined and the offices above ground started to close, making it an uneconomical option when compared with road transport.
And so, on May 31 2003, Mail Rail carried its last post. The lights were shut off, the door was closed, and all work was abandoned. Three men have continued to maintain the line in the 11 years since its closure, but it has served no specific purpose since.
And that was how it might have stayed, until the British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) came up with a plan to tell its story. As part of a £22 million scheme to create a new national postal museum in central London, the BPMA will open up a section of Mail Rail to the public for the first time in its history.
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