All aboard: plans revealed for London's underground Mail Rail tunnels

Royal mail underground train network, arched girder roof with lighting, two rail tracks with red royal mail postal trains stationed, middle concrete sectioned pathway in-between the rail tracks
The Royal Mail’s subterranean London railway, dubbed Mail Rail, was exclusively used to transport mail between sorting offices linking Paddington and Whitechapel
(Image credit: Miles Willis, The Postal Museum)

Located in the depths below the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre in Clerkenwell, the Royal Mail’s Mail Rail is one of London’s greatest subterranean secrets. A 6.5 mile long series of underground tunnels and railway lines, it transported post and packages from Whitechapel to Paddington from 1927 until 2003, all inter-linked and accessible from a series of sorting offices along the route.

It was notably the world's first driverless and electric railway. The initiative was sadly scrapped in 2003, and the workforce - once 200-strong - is now reduced to three people, who occasionally man the stations and carry out necessary engineering maintenance.

Things, however, are about the change. Thanks to the National Lottery's Heritage Fund, the Mail Rail has now received funding of £26m to construct an accompanying Postal Museum and to reopen a small section of the Mail Rail network and its facilities to celebrate this unique historical rail project.

The centre, due to open in 2017, will no longer be transporting mail, but will finally become accessible to the general public for the first time in its 100-year-old history, showcasing the rich legacy of the Royal Mail, while also offering the exciting opportunity to ride a 1km portion of the small scale tunnels.

The Postal Museum, set to located a short walking distance from the tunnel, will ‘reveal five centuries of British social and communications history’ viewed through the eyes of the postal service. Designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the centre will provide temporary and permanent galleries, a learning hub, state-of-the-art research facilities and a post-themed, family play area, which hopes to attract 186,000 visitors and 10,000 students within the first year alone.

A groundbreaking opening ceremony, located underground within the Mail Rail network, has just been held to mark the start of construction, attended by director of postal heritage Adrian Steel, historian Dan Snow and Stuart Hobley of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Royal Mail's old pneumatic red wrought iron rail cars, with black wheels

Pictured here, one of Royal Mail's old pneumatic wrought iron rail cars. These carriages ran on a previous temporary mail transportation system, located nine feet below ground at Euston station from 1863 until 1866

(Image credit: Miles Willis, The Postal Museum)

Insight image of the underground area visitors will be allowed to access, iron girder posts, stone walls and floors, ceiling girders with lighting, people standing, pointing, taking photographs and looking at the museum pieces

An insight into the Mail Rail's future interior space, showing the access visitors will have into the underground area. This has never been seen by the public in its 100 years of operation

(Image credit: Miles Willis, The Postal Museum)

Furturistic view of the postal museum exterior, visitors walking by, trees, stone pathway, glass fronted entrance doors, postal museum signage on the front wall, blue cloudy sky

The upcoming Postal Museum will be located a short walking distance from the Mount Pleasant Mail Centre. It will include exhibits, a family play facility and a state-of-the-art research centre

(Image credit: Miles Willis, The Postal Museum)

Brick building where the postal museum will be housed, metal shutter door, road at the front and side, three story windows, blue cloudy sky, people walking in the distance, surrounding buildings

The Postal Museum will be housed in an existing building, which will be transformed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

(Image credit: Miles Willis, The Postal Museum)


For more information, please visit the Royal Mail website

Photography: Miles Willis, The Postal Museum