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A ride on London's other underground

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Published on Jan 30, 2014

Joe Shute takes a ride on the forgotten relic of London's underground railway, which used to transport four million parcels a day for the Post Office.

In a deserted station some 65ft below the streets of London, engineer Ray Middlesworth turns his great brass key and the Post Office Underground Railway roars into life. The sound of the 1920s locomotive engine bounces off the peeling century-old brickwork as we rattle along the two-gauge track.

London's underground railway is a forgotten relic, opened in 1927 to feed into the travelling post office trains that once criss-crossed the country and were immortalised in W.H Auden's poem Night Mail. But after 76 years of loyal service, it fell out of favour and was mothballed in 2003.

Today, by comparison to the steam locomotives of Auden's imagination, the Mail Rail is a rattling old beast. It groans and gurns as it trundles through gaping tunnels only 9ft in diameter, the sounds magnified by the lack of a roof. Damp dripping walls whistle past overhead.

Since its closure, the Mail Rail, which once transported four million parcels a day underneath the crowded streets of the capital, has become a ghost railway. Only a skeleton staff of engineers is kept on to maintain the tunnels and keep out intruders, Middlesworth among them. But that could be about to change.

The Mail Rail, the world's first driverless, electrified railway, could be soon opened to the public as part of a new £22m national postal museum. The only snag, is that the British Postal Museum and Archive needs another £2m in donations by this spring to get the Mail Rail up and running. If the money, which will be match-funded by the
Heritage Lottery Fund, is forthcoming, the train will be reopened in 2016 as a visitor ride along a loop of track through Mount Pleasant Station.

The Telegraph's Joe Shute descended under London's streets and took a ride on the Mail Rail.


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