Mail by rail - still

Friday September 27 was the last time mail trains left King’s Cross, Euston, Liverpool Street and Paddington, in preparation for the new service beginning on the Monday.

Railnet was all about time, and getting mail to distant destinations as quickly as possible. As such, many locations lost their mail trains, to streamline the pick-ups and drop-offs of mail both on TPOs and in containers, with the idea that mail would be transported by road to the 45 stations on the Railnet routes.

But with efficiency at the core, it seemed the TPOs were doomed to fail. Over the years they became less popular, as it became more efficient to sort post mechanically, rather than having staff do it manually on a moving train. This was only made worse after the Hatfield rail disaster in 2000.

TPOs were subject to considerable restrictions, including speed limits and cancellations on many of the routes, which sometimes delayed trains by up to six hours. With efficiency steadily being lost, and rising concerns over the health and safety of workers being thrown about in a confined space, RM started to transfer more mail to air and road.

By 2003, RM had decided it was no longer economical to transport mail on the rail network, and suspended the contract with EWS. At the time, EWS was operating 49 trains a day for RM, carrying 20 million items of post. This equated to 10% of EWS’ overall business, and was a major loss for the freight company.

And so, the last TPO trains ran on the night of January 9 2004. However, in October that year, RM decided to return to the rail network, and contracted GB Railfreight to transport already-sorted letters on the West Coast Main Line between the mail terminals at Willesden in London, Warrington and Glasgow, using the ‘325s’. This contract was later transferred in 2009 to DB Schenker, which took over the following year, and remains in use today.

Mail has a long and turbulent history with the railway. But despite RM’s best efforts to distance itself, Britain’s rail network still has plenty to offer in terms of ease and ef
ficiency to keep it coming back.

  • This feature was published in RAIL 741 on 5 February 2014


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