The British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) has submitted plans to Islington Council proposing to reopen a section of the Mail Rail beneath Mount Pleasant sorting office, this time for public use.

The scheme forms part of the BPMA’s plan for a major new postal museum and experience in the Mount Pleasant area. The first part of this plan, a new combined museum and archive at Calthorpe House (opposite Mount Pleasant) has already been approved. This will allow the BPMA to fully open up its extensive collections covering over 400 years of postal history to the public – these include photographs, posters, vehicles, pillar boxes, employment records of millions of people and a world-class stamp collection.

Part two of the scheme, however, is perhaps even more ambitious. This involves reopening the aforementioned section of the Mail Rail beneath Mount Pleasant itself.

Moving the Mail

The Mail Rail itself needs little by the way of introduction. In 1909 Sir Robert Bruce, Controller of the London Postal Region, was appointed to investigate whether the sub-surface transmission of mail in London was a matter worth pursuing. Having examined systems to be found elsewhere in the world, he produced a report recommending that the “Post Office (London) Railway” be constructed. Whilst various pneumatic options were considered, his ultimate recommendation was for an electric railway connecting the Eastern District Office with Paddington, passing through six other stations, five sorting offices and Liverpool Street station.

The Post Office itself quickly approved of the scheme, and the Post Office (London) Railway Act was passed by Parliament in 1913 enabling its construction.

That construction was originally intended to take only 15 months, and began shortly after the outbreak of WW1. Initially work proceeded relatively quickly despite the growing conflict. Tunnels were cut by means of a Greathead Shield, with iron ring segments forming the tunnel wall and work proceeded to plan until the tunnels had almost reached Mount Pleasant itself. Here, water began to seep through the tunnel walls and, despite the addition of extra lining, this would remain a problem throughout the life of the system. Indeed like the London Underground itself heavy duty water tight gates were fitted within the tunnel just outside of Mount Pleasant station to lower the risk of the entire network being flooded.


Post Office Railway tunnels

Construction Pauses

By 1917 the war in Europe – with its demands for both men and materiel – saw work on the Post Office Railway temporarily halted. The tunnels were largely complete, but the railway itself had yet to be fitted out. The tunnels were soon being used to store British Museum treasures safely away from German Zeppelin bombing raids on the Capital whilst serious consideration was given to suspending work completely.


Storing artwork on the Post Office Railway

In the end, work finally resumed in 1924 and was completed in 1927. The result was a narrow gauge railway over six miles long running from the Eastern District Office to Liverpool Street Station, then the East Central District Office (King Edward Building), Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, West Central District Office at Holborn, Western District Office at Wimpole Street, Western Parcels Office at Baker Street and then finally arriving at Paddington District Office where it connected with the main railway station.


The narrow gauge track

This route changed slightly in 1965 when the Western Parcels Office, and its station, were closed and the Western District Office was moved to Rathbone Place. For the rest of the railway’s life, Rathbone Place would remain something of the “odd station out” as a result, looking very much like the office block basement it was in opposition to the more tube-like stations elsewhere on the line.


The westbound platform at Mount Pleasant


The eastbound platform at Mount Pleasant


The cross passage between the two platforms

Trains were controlled by a switch system at each station and could be stopped at any station for loading or unloading of mail or could be run straight through. Mail was loaded via bags or trays into special containers which themselves were then loaded onto the trains. Mail was sent down to the platforms from the offices above via chutes and transferred up via conveyor belt or lifts. Indeed at Paddington a lengthy conveyor system was used to get bags of mail from the Post Office Railway directly onto the mainline platforms.


What remains of the conveyor incline at Mount Pleasant


The lift up to Mount Pleasant depot

The End of the Line

For the next thirty five years, the Post Office Railway would be used to move mail around London. In 1987 it was refurbished and rebranded as the “Mail Rail” in celebration of its 60th anniversary. Finally, in the nineties, it was upgraded to then-state of the art computer control (indeed it would later be boasted that the system was run by a then-incredible “254 megabyte computer”).


Original Mail Rail control switches

By the new millenium though it had become clear that the Post Office no longer wished to maintain the system. The network, they claimed, cost five times more to run than the equivalent cost of moving the mail by road. This was a figure that was soon subject to a certain amount of dispute. The Communication Workers Union claimed that, to a certain extent, Royal Mail were cooking the figures – that they had pursued a deliberate policy of running the railway down and only using it at one third of its true capacity. A report by the Greater London Authority also supported its continued use. Despite this, the Royal Mail announced in April 2003 that they would close it down at the end of May, and the railway moved its last parcel in the early hours of 31st May 2003.

Since then the system has remained unused beneath the sorting offices and streets of the capital. Although much of the railway infrastructure has been removed – not least by the BPMA itself – the tunnels, tracks and various elements of the original system do remain in situ and in relatively good condition. Indeed Crossrail briefly investigated the possibility of reusing the tunnels as part of an elaborate system to remove tunnel spoil without recourse to road haulage, although this ultimately proved unworkable. Ultimately, this has been for the best as it has left open the possibility for the BPMA’s proposal today.


Looking down on the Mount Pleasant depot


The Mail Rail depot at Mount Pleasant

The Mail Rail Experience

The BPMA’s plan is to take advantage of the fact that the Mail Rail, for the entirety of its operational life, was designed to be a fully self-supporting enclosed system. This means that, lying beneath Mount Pleasant itself, are not just a set of original platforms but also an extensive Workshop space and mail car depot. These can all be seen on the map below.


A plan of the Mount Pleasant site, with the key museum areas highlighted

If the plans are approved, the Workshop area will be used to house a visitor centre and cafe, whilst the larger depot space will be converted into both an events hall and exhibition space covering various aspects of the system’s history.


The workshop and depot space (off to the right), showing the track to be overlayed and likely display points

Looking through the supporting documentation, the intention is to try and avoid as much structural change to the system itself as possible, in recognition of its crucial heritage role. Lifted floors with grills and vents to expose the workings beneath will be used throughout the depot, and exhibits set apart from the original fixtures and fittings that still remain, allowing these to be exposed wherever possible.


An artist’s impression of the view back from the events area


An artist’s impression of the view back from the station


An early artist’s impression of the exhibition space


An early artist’s impression of the platform space

It’s an admirable design goal, and one that should be impressive if achieved. The most interesting element of the plan, however, comes with the tunnels linking the car depot to the original platforms themselves. The intention appears to be to restore this section of line to full operation, running trains carrying visitors from the depot through to the platforms, where more exhibits on the system’s industrial history – and indeed the history of moving mail by rail in general – will be found, and then back again. The rolling stock used will be specially designed replicas of the original battery powered trains used to transport the mail. The network beyond Mount Pleasant will remain physically open, but running will be fixed to the confines of the new museum site.

Although the planning documents make no mention of proposed timescales, it is clear that the BPMA are keen to press forward in line with their work on the wider museum. It is hard not to wish them success with their endeavour.

You can read the full submission, and its supporting documentation, on the Islington Council planning website. It’s worth a look, not least because the supporting documents contain some photos of the current state of the system, although we have included some of the best ones here.

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There are 108 comments on this article
  1. Ian J says:

    What a fascinating proposal. Britain’s most unusual (and shortest) preserved railway. The tunnel layout is like a miniature double-ended Kennington.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Can it be joined to the Waterloo & City line? 😛

  3. Walthamstow Writer says:

    It is not often that a comment on LR makes me genuinely laugh out loud but Anon 0637’s one did. I’m sure I can hear distant screams from the direction of Purley.

    Lurking in my stack of unscanned photos are some from a 1980s visit to Mount Pleasant mail rail station. If this all comes to fruition it’ll be amazing to see it all again.

  4. Mark Townend says:

    I believe the original interlocking machines that controlled the system were left in place at each station even after centralised control was instituted. If so it would be very entertaining and educational if the Mount Pleasant example was restored to operation so visitors could be allowed to remotely ‘drive’ trains around the local station and loop layout like a large model railway, setting routes using the slide-levers. Video cameras could be set up on board the trains and in the tunnel to provide additional feedback to the control room.

  5. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Mark T – the camera idea is interesting. At the Subway Museum in Tokyo they have a couple of model railways of the subway. Both have tiny cameras on some of the model trains so you can see video images of the trains as they go round the layout. The large layout replicates part of Tokyo with street scenes and also several layers of tunnels with different trains running round it. It is quite fascinating to watch – they run special sessions with a commentator explaining (in Japanese) what is going on. A Mail Rail equivalent would be a good idea – with real trains though!

  6. timbeau says:

    Mount Pleasant, half a mile from Angel, Kings Cross, Russell Square and Farringdon, is one of the most remote places in London from a transport point of view (the Albert Memorial runs it a close second, so I wonder how viable this museum will be. Re-opening the station would obviously help, but it would be much more useful if it were connected to another! The next station down the line was the Central Post Office in King Edward Street – close to St Pauls tube station (whose original name was “Post Office”!) – no chance I suppose of running a shuttle?

  7. Mark Townend says:

    @Walthamstow Writer, 08:30, 16 October 2013

    You could have half scale models of full size underground trains ranging from historical replicas to promotional impressions of proposed new rolling stock. I’d draw the line at a miniature recreation of steam on the met though!

  8. MiaM says:


    “The rolling stock used will be specially designed replicas of the original battery powered trains used to transport the mail.”
    Where the original stock ever battery powered? AFAIK the trains got power from the running rails with lover voltage at the stations (both to reduce safety hazards and to slow down the trains), and trains were stopped simply by turning the electrical supply of at the desired place.

  9. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Timbeau – Mount Pleasant is “remote”? It is directly served by 4 high frequency bus services 24 hours a day. Londoners and visitors are perfectly capable of reaching places without a tube or rail station right on the door step – witness Tate Britain and Tate Modern as two examples. I agree that nearby rail access is convenient and helpful but it is not the end of the world if it isn’t there given how comprehensive the transport network is. The relatively easy walk or bus ride from Farringdon and Kings Cross puts Mount Pleasant within reach of multiple rail services and millions of people on direct rail services. The whole area around Farringdon, and I’d argue Mount Pleasant is definitely within the sphere of influence, will see a massive development boom courtesy of the rail network development there. Strikes me that putting a nationally important museum there is an excellent idea.

  10. IanVisits says:


    The archive and site for the new museum is about a 10 minute walk from Farringdon station. Hardly a major problem.

  11. timbeau says:

    “Remote” by central London standards: like it or not, for many Londoners and visitors London’s transport system starts and ends with the Tube map. Yes, of course people can find places like the Royal Albert Hall despite their distance from a Tube station (although I should point out that Tate Britain is actually quite close to Pimlico station).
    I have worked within walking distance of MP for most of the last thirty years, and have a better than average knowledge of London’s bus network, but off the top of my head I could only think of two of those four bus routes. I eventually found TfL’s map showing the bus services in the Mount Pleasant area – it’s unhelpfully titled “Clerkenwell”.

    But my main point was the ironic thought that although MtPt will at last have an Underground station, it won’t be connected to anything.

    (the lack of rail access to the area is particularly surprising, given that London’s very first underground railway passes right past the site)

  12. JM says:

    Sorry if this was clearly stated in the articles and I missed it but what are the tunnel diameters? I know they are not constant going by the pictures.

    Re Mount Pleasant, agree that area of central London can be a bit of a black hole but this may have been a benefit. Exmouth Market and street would probably be a lot different today if there was a Circle Line station there. It does retain a local, part oldy London feel, a stark contrast from how Smithfield and Spitalfields is going and will get after Crossrail.

    Didn’t the original Chelsea/Hackney line include a station arounf Grays Inn Rd/Mount Pleasant.

  13. Greg Tingey says:

    The closure of the GPO Rly in London was extremely hasty, especially given improvements & proposed upgrades in the 90’s. Coupled with the associated sudden removal, followed by gradual re-instatement of the main line GPO services it was extremely curious. There was also the odd case of the disappearing GPO higher executive, at the same time.
    It is extremely difficult to obtain information as to what really happened in those months, inside the GPO, & more information from anyone who has more pertinent & accurate knowledge of this subject would be a welcome visitor

  14. Alan Griffiths says:

    A neighbour of mine used to work on the railmail. His view was that it just was’lt where the postal traffic wss any more.

  15. Anonymous says:


    You’ve referred to this executive before. Without invoking libel laws, is there anywhere you can direct us so that we can read about this alleged behaviour?

  16. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Even if there was some kind of conspiracy it is difficult to see how Mail Rail could have been much use in its current form once the decision had been made to no longer send mail via Paddington or Liverpool St. It is also the case that this was around the time that bulk mailers got a substantial discount by agreeing to “Mailsort” their bulk output which involved bagging it ready for direct distribution to the nearest PostTown. So with the bulk mail already sorted and the bags already appropriately labelled ready for distribution to the appropriate posttown it didn’t really make sense to send it via London by rail when a much more flexible fleet of lorries (and aircraft in the case of some first class mail!) could by-pass the bottleneck in central London.

    So regardless of whether someone at or near the top was corrupt or had a pathological dislike of trains or not I think the whole thing was basically doomed anyway due to advances in technology and changes in the way mail was treated.

  17. Greg Tingey says:

    That’s the problem – hence my question.
    There is an amazing total lack of information, & I can’t remember the name of the indvidual concerned, which doesn’t help, either!
    There was obviously large amounts of embarassment all-round, hence the complete silence & airbrushing-out of whoever it was. [ Or were “gagging clauses” invoked? Now we know about the latter, from other higher-profile cases, I suppose it is possible ?? ]

    PLEASE, if anyone has any more solid information, we’d love to know!

  18. timbeau says:

    “Didn’t the original Chelsea/Hackney line include a station around Grays Inn Rd/Mount Pleasant.”

    There have been so many proposals for the Chelney route that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of them did have such a station, but I can find no reference to it. Some routes ran via Holborn, Farringdon and Angel but that’s the closest I can find. It’s possible one of the Morgan tube propsals went that way.

  19. jas says:

    I came across photos of a passenger cart on Mail Rail by Richard Pope on Flickr – apparently taken on a subterranean visit in 2006. There are a couple of pics – I can’t seem to paste into this blog – the link is There are royal logos on the side for G VI R and E VII R which seems to date them rather precisely. Does anyone know of any serious or sustained use of mail rail for passengers at around this time? And does this indicate the possibility of a future limited passenger service – as a tourist attraction, say?

  20. Fandroid says:

    I for one am pleased that mail no longer goes from main passenger stations. It used to take up passenger space on the platforms and those ‘BRUTES’ made it look as if you were travelling via an old and inefficient industrial warehouse. Shame the Royal Mail built a new depot next to Reading station when the station itself was rebuilt around 1990. It was almost a signal for the mail to disappear! Stafford station still retains a mail platform on the west side (closed to passengers) – it’s the only one that has a canopy over its full length – the ones for humans are not so well provided! As has already been said. The mail went elsewhere (Willesden for London mail) so the MailRail was carrying not much to nowhere in its final days.

  21. Graham H says:

    @Fandroid – Just so – the use of rail stations for mail is a relic of the days when passenger services included mail vans – something in decline in fact since the nineteenth century.

  22. Rory says:

    What a coincidence!

    I had a great read last week of some urban explorers who broke in and travelled the whole route one night. Really made me want to be able to go and see what its like. I for one would absolutely love this to come to fruition. I would even pay to go in the museum

  23. Castlebar says:

    Graham H

    You have reminded me of something I saw for myself happen almost exactly 40 years ago

    I was on a train from Kyle headed for Dingwall. The rain was near tropical. As we arrived at either Achnasheen or Achnashellach, the only person waiting on the platform was the local postman. When we stopped, the postman handed the guard a solitary postcard, then the train moved on, The guard showed us the postcard, It had obviously been written with a felt tipped pen and whilst the postie had stood waiting in the rain, the address and everything else written, had washed off, Even the stamp was beginning to swim.

    Taking mail off the rail is the probable unintended consequence of this reckless behaviour by the Achnasheen postman.

  24. FitzoliverJ says:

    Silly question, but is the line *mothballed* or *abandoned*? If the former, how much more costly or difficult would it be to run these heritage visitor trains to the end of the line to connect with one of the public railway stations?

  25. Anonymous says:


    Thanks, a bit more enlightened.

    One of the many who makes seamless transfers between Mail, NHS, Water etc.

    No suggestion of any impropriety of course.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I miss the mail at stations, especially in the evenings there was a still a buzz with the mail vans unloading and loading, plus of course newspaper trains later on, now stations in the evening are pretty much dead with just the handful of late commuters – whatever you do with a museum you can never recreate what was there – for example the queues for the public phones, the noise of a diesel locomotive waiting at the head of a parcels stock, the range of that stock because some of the pre-nationalisation designs survived until quite late – you can’t turn the clock back and recreate why it was important (bit like telegrams, or those Agatha Christie things when it was really important not to reveal that you had a child outside marriage).
    I think a trip along the railway would be a bigger pull – but there would be all the emergency evacuation procedures to sort out – but if you can visit a coal mine (or the Forth Railway Bridge) why not a ride along the Post Office railway?

  27. Greg Tingey says:

    I think “Paul Bateson” was the erm, implicated/involved/suspicious party involved …
    I will say no more for now!

  28. Mark Townend says:

    The Stafford mail platform was a dedicated facility provided new for the modernised mail network and introduced only very shortly before rail contracts were lost. The new distribution system was claimed to be a model of modern logistical efficiency, ending carriage of mailbags on passenger trains and concentrating trolley transfers between trains and to lorries at a limited number of hubs. There were many other new or modified facilities completed around the same time at considerable cost including a terminal at Bristol Parkway, and of course the big London hub at Stonebridge Park. At least some of that infrastructure is being used once again. Having worked on the Bristol project, I was travelling in Germany shortly after the final mail trains ran in UK and noted a number of similar very new rail postal facilities also abandoned or mothballed there, sadly coming to the conclusion that major investment in such traffic must necessarily be followed by its cessation.

  29. James GB says:

    The Mail Rail was abandoned because of the gradual closure of the Royal Mail offices it served. The final nail in the coffin was the opening of the Princess Royal Distribution Centre, that massive shed next to the WCML at Willesden, which facilitated the closure of several other offices served by Mail Rail. Nowadays, only two Royal Mail offices with Mail Rail stations remain open (Mount Pleasant and EDO, which is close to Whitechapel station).

    The system is officially mothballed. I went to a couple of heads of department meetings at Mount Pleasant in 2006-7 and Mail Rail was actually represented, despite being closed. At that time, 2 men were employed full time keeping it from deteriorating too much.

    I do think that a long ride on one of those trains would be boring, the suggested scheme is just right and I look forward to having a ride.

  30. Ian J says:

    There’s a photographic exhibition with photographs showing the current state of Mail Rail currently on at Mount Pleasant:

    Their open days look well worth going to if only for the amazing recreation of the entire system in Brio:

    Some more background on the death and resurrection of mail by rail: and

    At the time the Royal Mail was being fattened up for the abortive first attempt at privatisation. An unfortunate time to leave the board since board members of nationalised companies usually make a lot of money on privatisation, as many bus and railway managers could tell you.

    And did you know that in 1982 the Post Office seriously considered extending the Post Office Railway to King’s Cross and Waterloo? Images of report down the page here:

    I love the APT-like streamlined front end on the train there. Maybe the mail waggons would have tilted?

    I tend to agree that Mail Rail was doomed once the mail trains moved to Willesden, although I do recall that at the time there were very vague noises about extending it there.

  31. Graham Feakins says:

    Here is a good video made by my friend Fred Ivey during a visit in 1993 by the London Underground Railway Society:

    It shows Mount Pleasant operations and the depot, with clear explanation by the guide (on the occasion of the 1000th of such visits for him!)

  32. Whiff says:

    This official video is also rather wonderful.

  33. Greg Tingey says:

    James GB
    But …the proposal was to extend GPORly to Willesden, which would have made a lot of sense ….

  34. Milton Clevedon says:

    We should bear in mind that the whole project has several purposes:
    – to be the British Postal Museum and Archive, which is the primary purpose
    – as part of that, to celebrate the history of the Post Office Railway
    – the intention to open up the Mount Pleasant depot and station with a localised tunnel ride is very much part to celebrate the uniqueness of the railway and to stimulate visitor numbers with a remarkable tourist ride.

    The perception of accessibility will be important. Mount Pleasant is quite well served by public transport and there are other ‘remoteish’ museums such as the Imperial War Museum which succeed.

    However once the basic project has concluded in a few years’ time, it might be worth considering the scope for a tourist tunnel railway service connecting either St Pauls or the stop near British Museum, with Mount Pleasant, to increase footfall substantially. Both the St Pauls and British Museum/Tottenham Court Road areas have large scale visitor footfall so could be useful starting points.

    But the scale of commitment required should not be under-estimated – nor the scale of funding. For a Museum to operate a fully fledged underground railway carrying passengers is a major undertaking – safety case, evacuation management etc. This is not a railway geared historically to carrying passengers, though its future may be to carry passengers into the past!

    Even LUL doesn’t set out to run the Aldwych branch as a historical memento. So while a bigger better footfall might be an interesting aspiration, anything along those lines would probably best be regarded as a separate project with a distinct business plan and clear project management up to LUL safety levels! So definitely not as simple as ‘just reopening a mile or so’…

  35. Graham H says:

    @Ian J – not a single BR Board member did well out of privatisation; they all went down with the ship. Some senior railway managers did extremely well (they had better remain nameless but we know who they are…), but board members, no. To those of us who were involved in the process, who won and who lost seemed an entirely random thing. It was board policy to try and give every senior manager a chance to swim safely away, but we knew that some were unlikely to stay afloat in the private sector. They were sent to Railtrack deliberately (yes, they really were).

  36. Castlebar says:

    I don’t think anyone could ever accuse me of being a crayonista, a closet crayonista, or a crayonista in waiting.


    IF the P.O. museum is being moved to Mount Pleasant, this is one of the two areas of central London where there is an obvious void in the LU railway network. I would therefore suggest that there could be a case for re-opening the Aldwych branch, to extend it northwards to the Mount Pleasant PO museum, for if you’re going to have a major museum there, you also need to have proper rail access. At the same time, because I think it would take much more business than it did in its earlier life, I think it also makes a case for a southwards extension to Waterloo. This would give direct rail access from Waterloo, via Holborn, to an unserved part of London and in addition to a new national museum that would certainly benefit from LU rail access. So you would have a line from Waterloo to Mount Pleasant with just two intermediate stations, one of which would certainly be the existing Holborn Kingsway interchange, and the other would either be Aldwych or Temple.

    I promise not to have any more crayonistic tendencies, and I would not normally have time for ideas to extend the Aldwych branch. But, the possibility/likelihood of a national museum at Mount Pleasant creates a need for LU rail access to that area, and I suggest the Aldwych branch is ideally placed to do it better than many other ideas.

  37. timbeau says:

    Carry on to Angel and Essex Road and you’ve got a Crossrail 1.5.

    Tube access is desirable, but not essential, for a national museum. Duxford is not exactly well-served by Tube. Nor is the National Cycle Museum. (Four trains a day each way – two of them at times the museum isn’t open!)

  38. Pedantic of Purley says:

    So, just to please Graham H, lets do a few basic calculations.

    Extra 2 platforms and passages at Waterloo ~ £250m
    Get Aldwych fit for purpose and being optimistic ~ £ 10m
    Couple of platforms at Holborn (optimistic) ~£100m
    (I suspect you won’t be able to use the existing ones and
    even if so would have to expensively relocate a lot of stuff)
    Additional provision to Holborn for increased
    capacity other than already planned as station
    is at capacity ~ £50m

    New station at Mount Pleasant ~ £250m minimum

    Running tunnel @ approx £100m a mile ~ £400m

    Trains. Lets assume 10 min trip time + layover
    so lets be generous and say 30 min round trip.
    Even a ten minute service would require 3 trains +
    1 spare @ £10m each ~£40m

    Assume magically we don’t need a depot ~£0m

    So that’s £1.1 billion for a short length of line that doesn’t connect to anywhere at the northern end and I really cannot see being used much although I have presumed that it will be used for the purposes of the calculations. Furthermore it is restricted by the Aldwych branch to be of tube stock size dimensions so can’t be used as the basis for any future Crossrail scheme.

    Short lines don’t make sense. They don’t attract much traffic (yes I know the Waterloo & City does but that is quite exceptional) and your assets in the form of trains spend too long (33% of their time in this scenario) sitting at terminal platforms earning no revenue and not achieving any social provision. Agglomeration theory tells us you have to make it bigger to maximise its use.

    I suspect my figures are rubbish and Graham H will tell me that they are hopelessly optimistic and also signalling and power supply is expensive and the prices I quote wouldn’t include the escalators. Maybe an optimism bias of around 40% so perhaps £1.5 billion would be a better first guess. So that is more than the cost of the East London Line and more than the Battersea Extension. I never thought I would be writing this but I am sure it would be better value for money to extend the Bakerloo.

  39. Graham H says:

    @PoP -quite right! My ready reckoner for costs takes no account, anyway, of local soil conditions or property acquisition – it’s just a broad indication to get a feel for the thing before doing serious site investigation.

    @Castlebar – Mount Pleasant is certainly one of the obvious lacunae in the tube network.. Like you, I do not like to practise as an extendador much, but it is noticeable that the other obvious lacunae – Fitzrovia, Mayfair, Belgravia, Chelsea – do line up neatly with MP. Interchange with existing lines au choix.

  40. ngh says:

    Possibly some slightly more realistic thinking?

    I believe the SSL/SSR ie. Circle, Met and H&C lines are sited under the A201 Farringdon Road immediately east of the Mount Pleasant site, can anyone confirm the precise location?
    (The Thameslink and SSL/SSR lines have swapped north of Farringdon by this point already so the TfL lines are closest to MP.)

    Surely with the privatised Royal Mail looking to create some value from its property portfolio and Mount Pleasant being a big central site with redevelopment potential they might be able to come to an agreement with TfL about adding a station there if the tracks are as close as I think. (There is more than enough room on site for S8 length platforms…)
    Do it post 2018 when TL and CR are in action and the loading on the circle / Met / H&C has been reduced will make things easier for weekend closures needed to do the work.

    Entirely developer funded using GH cost of £250m for the station but I would note that the entire Cannon Street Station rebuild and the office block above (see LR article apparently only cost £360m.

    Does anyone know what the max height of a building can be there without affecting protected site lines to St Pauls?

  41. ngh says:

    Re Pedantic of Purley 10:44, 17 October 2013
    Haven’t they built the crossrail tunnels under Holborn Station making it a lot harder than it might appear to do that?

    PS on my previous post –
    Everyone wins:
    RM increased redevelopment profitability
    Islington higher rates as others then redevelop when the new station is there.
    TfL need to run fewer buses (an probably better traffic flow).

  42. Will says:

    Ever since King’s Cross Metropolitan station was moved to KXSP, KXSP–to-Farringdon has been by far the longest gap between stations on the Circle – longer, for example, than the three-stop distance from Farringdon to Liverpool St. It’s long seemed to me that the system is crying out for an additional station serving the Clerkenwell area. And the mid-point of that section is pretty much slap-bang on Mount Pleasant’s doorstep. A no-brainer?

  43. Graham H says:

    @ngh – Cannon Street would have been a relatively cheap job as it’s close to the surface. The cost killer for tunnelled stations is the need to dig access shafts for escalators and circulating space – usually by hand. It would be good if the PO site at MtP could be used; would there be enough room for the Inner Rail platforms, though?

  44. ngh says:

    Graham my thinking was just a simple extra station on the Circle /Met / H&C nothing deep compared to what others have suggested and no Mail Rail connection!

    A SSL/SSR station at Mount Pleasant would be fairly shallow as the original tunnels were cut and cover like Cannon Street. If you were redeveloping the site on top of a station anyway digging down wouldn’t be that expensive? Any idea on the cost of the recent Blackfriars underground station rebuild as that wouldn’t be to dissimilar either?

  45. Graham H says:

    I’m becoming keen on the idea!

  46. Sleep Deprived says:

    I agree tunnel costs can be high but if you’re attempting to dig the escalator and circulating tunnels by hand you’d find the HSE would want a word with you. Some smaller connecting tunnels maybe.

    At the risk of extending a discussion on something that won’t happen, isn’t there an upgrade plan for Holborn which may make extending the Aldwych Branch moot?

  47. timbeau says:


    I think I can shave a bit off that:

    “Extra 2 platforms and passages at Waterloo ~ £250m”
    Or reconfigure the W&C station so each line has one platform each (with emergency access to the other)

    “Additional provision to Holborn for increased
    capacity other than already planned as station
    is at capacity ~ £50m”

    I would suggest this is not necessary – many of the people currently using Holborn work in the Aldwych and Mount Pleasant areas, so in a sense you are adding two new exits to Holborn station.

    “Assume magically we don’t need a depot ~£0m”
    If the connection with the Picc is maintained they (and the W&C stock) can be serviced at Cockfosters or Northfields

  48. ngh says:

    Re sleep deprived
    I think Graham means not using a TBM = by hand rather than just using a spade.

    Re Graham
    The bit I’m thinking of is currently a road entrance / the ground level lorry park not sure what lurks beneath though…,-0.111829&spn=0.013457,0.033023&t=m&z=16&layer=c&cbll=51.525779,-0.111829&panoid=4HyVFyUpshjdOOyFLjMh3A&cbp=12,262.65,,0,17.6

  49. timbeau says:

    “I believe the SSL/SSR ie. Circle, Met and H&C lines are sited under the A201 Farringdon Road immediately east of the Mount Pleasant site, can anyone confirm the precise location?”

    Looking at Google Earth, the line can be seen leaving Farringdon station, and emerging parallel with the A201 just north of its junction with the B502 (Calthorpe Street), at the north corner of the GPO site. Both portals seem to be exactly in line with the A201 which runs from one to the other, although I suspect the road is not wide enough to fit four tracks underneath, and some of the roadside buildings may have been built over the tracks.

    (Incidentally, does anyone know which are the original pair?

    The Circle Line tracks are, of course, those nearest the GPO site. Whether there is room to squeeze a platform in between the eastbound Circle and the northbound Thameslink one is open to question.

  50. Will says:

    If a side platform won’t fit between the Outer Rail and the Thameslink tracks, an island platform may be feasible with the Inner Rail diverging under the lorry park.

  51. Pedantic of Purley says:


    I would suggest this is not necessary – many of the people currently using Holborn work in the Aldwych and Mount Pleasant areas, so in a sense you are adding two new exits to Holborn station.

    Well if they aren’t exiting the station then they are interchanging and you will have to factor that in so I think the cost would be unaltered. By the way I based it on a throwaway comment from a senior LU person who said a few years ago that the smallest worthwhile scheme at Holborn would be £100m and the one planned to sort it out for the foreseeable future is estimated to cost around £250m so I think a paltry £50m to cater for either extra interchanging passenger or extra exiting passengers is very conservative. Of course there may not be much extra demand but in that case why propose building the line?

  52. timbeau says:

    When it was open, Aldwych station served as a rather elaborate second entrance to Holborn station and, however slightly, reduced congestoio on the escalators. Allowing that part of Holborn’s catchment to enter the system elsewhere must surely reduce congestion at least on the upper flight of escalators? (not to mention providing some relief to Covent Garden)

  53. Pedantic of Purley says:


    Yes but they have to get from one platform to another platform via passageways. The proposed new entrance will provide relief on the upper flight of escalators so that is less likely to be an issue. If those passageways are not wide enough for the additional people interchanging they have to be made bigger.

  54. Castlebar says:

    @ timbeau

    Not quite

    In the days that Aldwych was open, passenger use of Covent Garden was quite light. It is only subsequent to the closure of the market, and the complete revivification of the are that passenger numbers at Cov Grn have escalated (something that Cov Gdn doesn’t have)

    I remember working in that area in about 1970. The Midland Bank branch in (20 ?) Bow Street announced closure as their directors decided that with market closure, there would be insufficient need to retain a branch there any more. (I bet the Midland’s directors got big bonuses for that one, and as is well known, some of their later equally bizarre decisions necessitated their being taken over by HongKong & Shanghai).

  55. James GB says:

    Royal Mail wanted to sell Mount Pleasant for decades but were eventually stopped by Islington Council, who put a conservation order on the facade. This doesn’t prevent redevelopment in theory, but in practice it makes it semi-impossible. There probably isn’t enough land under the yard by itself to construct your proposed cut ‘n’ cover station.

    There may be other problems with digging here. Mount Pleasant has an interesting history pre-Royal Mail and you would probably need to do a lot of archaeological work before building anything. Also, isn’t the world’s first underground railway some kind of scheduled monument? Can we get away with breaching the walls? The River Fleet takes a very similar course to the Circle line through this area and you would have to factor that into the issues of excavating new platforms or new lines.

    Greg: that is the official line. However, RM were trying to sell off all of their central London sites at the time, so any Mail Rail extension would be expected to be redundant after 5 years or so.

  56. Logical68 says:

    Has there ever been any serious studies or proposals with a view to enhance/extend the Mail Rail system into becoming part of a central London goods delivery system?

    Bulk deliveries could be received at the system’s extremities, then perhaps use electric vehicles to deliver goods onwards from the current stations and associated Royal Mail depots.

    I have no idea of the associated costs for this type of conversion and I defer to the expertise of other contributors to LR; however if it were viable the following may be some of the benefits…

    >The privatised Royal Mail would have a unique logistical system (not traffic sensitive) to promote to central London customers (Happy shareholders, happy customers)

    >Reduced air pollution and traffic congestion in zone 1 (Happy Boris, happy Brussels, healthy Londoners)

    >27/7 operation possible (Happy logistics planners)

  57. Graham H says:

    @JamesGB – archaeological finds are always a risk but not necessarily a show stopper (cf DLR Bank extension) ; a perusal of the relevant Survey of London volume shows that the present Post Office site was previously a prison and before that a spa (from 1692) with all previous buildings being demolished, but before that it was open fields. No plague pits either apparently. The site is also well outside the Roman and early Saxon settlements. So the risks are probably quite small.

    @logical68 – this idea has popped up before but stumbles against the way that goods distribution actually works with bulk break taking place for the most part well away from London, so requiring a further stage of break up at the London terminals to enable the goods to be packaged up for the PO railway, and perhaps even a further disaggregation stage when the train arrives at its destination station. That means more expense and lost time. Livingstone proposed a very similar scheme (but not using the PO railway) and that too got nowhere for the same reason.

  58. Logical68 says:

    Graham H
    I was thinking of the receiving terminals more like my local 10 acre UPS depot rather than Felixstowe 😉 , however I take your point about additional breaking the loads.

    So no serious studies have been undertaken for this type of usage for Mail Rail then?

  59. Graham H says:

    @logical68 – I don’t believe that anyone has been found to pay for it!

  60. stimarco says:

    @Greg Tingey:

    Whether there was incompetence, ignorance, politics, or some other reason for Mail Rail’s mothballing, I think it’s fair to say that it was never likely to survive much longer regardless. Pre-sorting by large corporations like Amazon greatly reduces the need for multiple sorting hubs. Also, hardly anyone sends private letters any more: that demand is being met by email and other online services. What letters we do see tend to be pre-sorted bulk mail, like junk mail and bills. All of this is pre-sorted too. (RM’s corporate clients get discounts for pre-sorting their post.)

    This leaves RM having to compete with private courier services, which means paring their logistics chains to the barest of essentials. This is a low-margin, high-volume industry. And Mail Rail has no obvious part to play in it. Sometimes a technology can last for generations, but that’s unusual. Most technology has a finite lifespan and is doomed to be killed off by a better mousetrap. Whither telex? Who uses a fax any more? Teletext is gone. No more VHS… and railways are just another technology.


    Opening a new station between Kings Cross and Farringdon has merit. I suspect the Fleet Sewer (which flooded the works more than once during construction) may dictate where, exactly, such a station could be built. If there’s a strong push for regeneration and redevelopment of the area around Mount Pleasant, a case could probably be made for diverting the SSL tracks through a new station beneath a new development. The Circle Line was realigned back in the 1960s for the Barbican project, so there is precedent for such work.

    As for extending the Aldwich branch: nul points! That’s about as likely as extending Mail Rail to Hayes via Lewisham. (With a branch to Bromley North.)

    Using Mail Rail for general goods distribution doesn’t make much sense either: the only other example of such a network was in Chicago and it bankrupted two companies. (Coincidentally, the Daily Mail recently published a story on Chicago’s disused freight tunnel network.)

    Central London has remained fairly low-density by most cities’ standards. Aside from a few skyscrapers in the City itself (and the odd exception like The Shard), there simply isn’t enough demand in London to justify such a system. Aside from a few department stores on Oxford Street, most shops in central London are small and can be easily served by a single Ford Transit. They certainly couldn’t justify the kind of traffic you’d need to justify a fully fledged freight network.

    There’s also the small matter of having to provide every customer for the network with access to the system. That’s easier to justify in a city like Chicago or New York, where buildings tend to be massive, with deep basements. But how do you retrofit access to such a system for, say, a shop in a Victorian-era property in Camberwell or Islington?

    Granted, modern automation might tip the balance in favour of profitability in a dense city like Chicago today, but I very much doubt such a network could ever be viable in London. Not underground at any rate.

  61. ngh says:

    Re James GB & Stimarco

    River Fleet flows under Phoenix Place to the west of RM’s Mount Pleasant site, the SSL/SSR lines are to the east.

  62. timbeau says:


    That explains such a lot!

    -why the ground rises up to the A401/A201 junction (indeed why Mount Pleasant is a “Mount” at all
    -why Rosebery Avenue bridges over Warner Street (the continuation of Phoenix Place and thus, as you have explained, the Fleet Valley)
    -why there are water works going on in Warner Street in the GSV view of the Phoenix Place /Mt Pleasant junction

    the next question is why the Met followed the more westerly route under the higher ground of Mount Pleasant instead of sticking to the Fleet Valley. It does suggest though that in that area the railway may be deeper than a simple cut and cover usually is.

  63. ngh says:

    Re Timbeau

    It may be something as simple as who owned (or rather probably who didn’t) the land down the alignment it took. The actual alignment also happens to be fairly straight compared to the snake like course of the Fleet. The Fleet is always to the west of the SSL/ SSR lines south of Acton Street (i.e it flows under Cubitt Street, Pakenham Street, Phoenix Place, Warner Street and then eventually under the A201 south off Clerkenwell Road.

  64. MiaM says:

    Really off-topic, but teletext is alive in other countries. For example in Sweden there is even an app that let you read teletext from SVT (“swedens BBC”).

  65. stimarco says:


    “Obsolete” doesn’t mean “entirely vanished overnight worldwide”. They’re still using steam locomotives to haul scheduled trains in some countries. And teletext is still useful for showing subtitles in some countries where subtitling of foreign language content is preferred over dubbing (including Sweden). Nevertheless, the original teletext technology was pioneered by the BBC and Philips, so the fact that the BBC formally killed off their teletext services last year is very much the writing on the wall for it.

    Digital teletext is a completely different technology. It hasn’t really caught on in a big way – the BBC dropped it a few years ago – and there will be an ever-diminishing demand for TV sets that support any analogue technologies within a few years as hardly any western nation will have any analogue signals left. (The UK plans to resell much of their analogue TV bandwidth for other purposes, such as mobile internet services.)

    The internet is a much more suitable medium for such communication. The rise of smartphones and tablets has effectively shifted that content away from the TV itself, to the extent that there’s even a term for it: “second screen”. There’s a lot of work going on in that field now. Teletext has evolved.

    That SVT still provides a teletext service is not an indication that teletext isn’t a dying, obsolete technology. It’s just taking longer in some countries than in others. And digital teletext is a completely different technology operating along different lines – it has more in common with the system used by Blu-ray devices to handle menus and fancy interactive features.

  66. LA1 says:

    I worked on Mail Rail from 1989 until it was mothballed in 2003.

    We used to have annual open days until the early 90’s, during the open days we used to get up to 200 visitors a day, also there was a small amount of daily visitors who were having a tour of Mount Pleasant mail centre, that stopped due to security and health & safety rules.

    Although Mail Rail had a “passenger” train driven by a Mail Rail engineer, only a small amount of people have had a ride on it, VIP’s (for example cast members of the film Hudson Hawk), staff and their family members due to a Christmas party.

    The death of Mail Rail was due to Princess Royal Distribution Centre (Stonebridge Park/Willesden), mail did not go via Mail Rail anymore (to/from Liverpool Street, King’s Cross or Paddingdon train stations), mail went directly by road to/from PRDC and it was not financially viable to extend a tunnel from Paddingdon station to PRDC.

  67. Graham Feakins says:

    OT bit – Japan uses fax extensively, with 1.7 million new fax machines purchased in 2012 alone: “Fax in Japan is anything but a relic”:
    My home fax still has good use as a result.

    stimarco directs us to the 1960’s Barbican redevelopment and the Met deviation work. In case you miss them, here are the two photos of before and after:
    Remember here that much of the realignment was through an area already devastated by the war.

    I went on a visit organised by “Modern Railways” to the Post Office Railway at Mount Pleasant shortly before the end and it shone out what a waste of infrastructure there was going to be. If only had the extension to Willesden been made some time before, then things might have been different. Even companies like Amazon could have arranged its logistics around the service eventually.

  68. jas says:


    Thank you for (indirectly) answering my query above re the passenger car I spotted on Flickr. The link in case you missed it is: Is this the car you remember with the dual Royal logos on the side? Did you ever have a ride yourself? I can’t imagine it would have been very comfortable!

  69. JohnM says:

    I read somewhere that Crossrail had accidently destroyed the tunnel by drilling through it – it was not on their survey

    I think it might have been in the Paddington – Tottenham Court Road area.

    Does anyone have any more information and was it repaired, filled with concrete or just left ?

  70. timbeau says:

    I find that very hard to believe that it could happen by accident. They will have taken great care to identify all tunnels, whether in service or not.

    For example, I understand that the Aldwych tram tunnel (closed 60 years ago*) was used as access for some Crossrail work. If they knew that was there surely they would know of a line closed less than 10 years ago.

    There was an incident on the Northern City Line near Essex Road earlier this year when someone drove an auger through the tunnel lining. It would seem that their preliminary research hadn’t gone much further than studying a tube map.

    * the subject of one of my favourite Goon Shows – Henry Crun was living in a tram down there and refused to come out until he was recognised as having driven the official Last Tram

  71. ngh says:

    Re JohnM and Timbeau

    Some of the initial breaking news articles on the day of NCL incident in March incorrectly linked it to Crossrail when there was no connection…

  72. Pedantic of Purley says:

    I haven’t heard of Crossrail destroying any tunnel. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened though. The problem is that sometimes there are things underground that are just not recorded or not recorded in the correct place. I believe that there is some contingency in the timescale and budget to allow for “undocumented features”.

    What has happened though, if I remember correctly, is that TBM Victoria came across an undocumented deep-level foundation pile in the Canary Wharf area. Tunnelling had to stop. Eventually the third-party documentation was found but it hadn’t been deposited in the correct place. It turned out the pile (and six others) was nothing more than a test pile of no structural importance and could be be destroyed and tunnelling continued. This incident is why TBM Victoria is now so far behind its twin Elizabeth.

  73. Anonymous says:

    Michael Portillo can be seen having a short ride in the Mail Rail passenger car in an old episode of Great British Railway Journeys.

  74. timbeau says:

    @anon 1324
    “Michael Portillo can be seen having a short ride in the Mail Rail passenger car in an old episode of Great British Railway Journeys”
    Repeated on Monday, so currently available on iplayer

  75. Eltham John says:

    Here is another idea about re-purposing the Mail Rail tunnels. The Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels were opened a similar time as the Mail rail tunnels and also 9′ diameter and remain important pedestrians and cycling links from north to south of the Thames (and vice versa)and were recently refurbished at a cost of over £12m. The 9′ diameter allows a single cycle lane per direction and lifts provide access to ground level. If this idea were used for the Mail Rail tunnels, cyclists could travel 6 miles from Whitechapel to Paddington, via the City and Oxford Street, via segregated cycle spaces with no traffic lights, cars, lorries, or pedestrians. Visitors and tourists could see the tunnels by bike, and perhaps a wheeled battery vehicle could take visitors when it is less busy. According to TfL cyclists comprise 23% of peak morning traffic. As another example, the Bath and Bristol tunnel is now a great tourist attraction apart from a valuable commuter link for cyclists.

    Acknowledging there are many issues to overcome, from technical , access, safety, cost, and who pays , owns, and operates the system. Would contributors support such a Cycle the Tube idea?

  76. Castlebar (Contra Crayonista) says:

    @ Eltham John

    + 1

    Brilliant idea

    I would support it

    But the impracticalities are “access & exit”, and safety, and I would expect this will be a non-starter on the grounds of ‘cost’.

  77. Paying Guest says:

    @ Eltham John

    + 1

  78. Hung Lee says:

    Tonight 7pm Wednesday 11th December 2013 BBC1
    The One Show is featuring Mail Rail.

  79. LA1 says:


    Yes that is the VIP passenger wagon/train.
    It is a tight fit but I was slimmer then when I had a ride (full capacity) in it back in 1990.
    Depending on the passenger and the amount of time available you would either sit 2 by 2 or 1 by 1.
    If you get to see this post in time, watch the BBC One Show tonight 7pm Wed 11th Dec 2013, to see Dan Snow (BBC presenter and an ex manager’s grandchildren have a ride on the Mail Rail train.

  80. stimarco says:

    @Eltham John:

    It’s an interesting idea, but there are a some very big problems with it:

    1. The tunnels were only ever intended to be used by automatic trains, so improved ventilation would be required to allow swarms of cyclists to use them on a daily basis. They’re also dark and claustrophobic, so you’d need to add tough panelling and lighting.

    2. A 9′ diameter isn’t all that much when you have cyclists whizzing along in both directions. That’s 4.5′ per direction – less given that the tunnels are round, not square, so you lose quite a bit for the centre line and on each side. I’d estimate that you’ll only have about three and a half feet or so of actually usable space per direction of travel. That means cycling in single file. Which means slower cyclists will be very unpopular as overtaking opportunities will be rare.

    3. The 9′ tunnel diameter only applies to the running tunnels between the stations. Said tunnel splits into smaller 7′ tunnels on the approaches to each station. Note the photo at the top right of the linked page, where you can compare the smaller tunnels with the workers in front of them to get an idea of scale. You’re not going to get a lot of cyclists through those. You’re definitely going to need an awful lot of “Mind Your Head!” warning signs. (Especially for sections like this!)

    4. History – especially the Brutalism phase of the ’60s and ’70s – also strongly suggests that cyclists (and pedestrians) don’t care for claustrophobic environments, and the Mail Rail tunnels are nothing if not claustrophobic. Once you’ve nailed on the panels, lights and CCTV cameras, you’re going to be left with a fair bit less than even that 9′ diameter.

    Throw on the lifts, ramps, etc. that you’d need just for access and it’s clear that it just doesn’t make sense. For now.


    That said…

    If, at some point, it was decided to rebuild some of the deep-level Tube lines to allow the use of mainline-sized trains, converting the old Tube tunnels for use by cyclists might well be viable: cyclists would be segregated by direction, so you have the entire tunnel to play with, and modern bicycles are already light enough to be carried down escalators. (Or you could fit a bike lift or two!)

    You’d need to build new station platforms (and access) ‘outside’ the old stations, but given that you’re already paying for a bunch of TBMs and everything else, it’s unlikely this would add so much more to the total cost of construction as to be prohibitive. Especially as you’d be getting two new / upgraded pieces of serious infrastructure for the price of one.

    Hmm. Must be time for my dried frog pills again.

  81. Long Branch Mike says:

    Vancouver BC has a mail tunnel too, albeit with a conveyor not rail:

    Heritage activists dismayed at plan to destroy Vancouver tunnel.

  82. Anonymous says:

    @ James GB and LA1

    The demise of the Mail Rail / Post Office Railway was indeed triggered by the construction of the Princess Royal Distribution Centre at Willesden, and the decision to cease running mail trains from Kings Cross, Liverpool Street etc, and run pupose-built EMUs from the (then) new hub at Willesden.

    However, I read on another forum that Royal Mail may not be using PRDC for much longer, as they may be moving the operation to a new hub at Radlett. There is a planning application under consideration by Eric Pickles, Secretary of State, for a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange (SRFI) at the former Radlett Aerodrome site

  83. Alex Mckenna says:

    Briefly off-topic: Somebody mentioned the Crossrail tunnels being under Holborn Station, which made me think of another question I have: Is the Fisher Street crossover cavern conveniently placed for a possible Holborn station on the line? Obviously there would have to be a long enough section of straight, parallel tunnels near to Holborn to facilitate this future option. At some point Holborn is due to have A LOT of underground work to link the Piccadilly and Central properly. Anyone know if secret plans have been made, or for passive provision for this extra stop?

  84. Chris L says:

    The area behind the main post office buildings has been sold for new development which has been approved by Boris.

    Tower blocks between 9 & 15 storeys and retail.

    It spans the Islington/Camden boundaries and will add significantly to the loads on local bus services.

    The Thameslink tracks dive under the LUL tracks below the Betsy Trotwood pub in Farringdon Road.

    The LUL tracks reappear on the north side of the Post Office site behind the hotel.

  85. Fandroid says:

    @Chris L. Where are you talking about? I’m mystified.

  86. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Alex – my memory may be a bit defective but I can certainly recall plans *many* years ago that had a Crossrail station at Holborn. I believe LRT (LT) bought an old building on Southampton Row as a potential location for a station worksite. It was certainly the case that LU occupied that building as I’ve been inside it a number of times. Crossrail today have worksites to the rear of that building and in the disused tram subway. However I cannot believe that any “secret” provision is being made. It would have had to have been declared in the powers sought and in plans submitted to Camden Council. There is absolutely no evidence (AFAIK) that such exists.

    I believe an oversite development has been approved over the small Holborn worksite. Ah yes – . This is to the rear of the Southampton Row building I was referring to.

  87. Patrick Hickey-Hynes says:

    I was,in the nineties, a Mount Pleasant Guide. We would meet the visitors and give them a grand tour of Mount Pleasant, finishing with a trip down to the Mail Rail and what a thrill it was for them. I worked with a great team of guides and we were ordinary postal workers when not guiding. I, for one hope is reopened and I would love to visit it again.As always in England, we don’t realise how fantastic something is, until it has gone

  88. michael botley says:

    so sad the post office railway closed down.a few years back I worked as an Electrician for the post office as an installation electrician[ POST OFFICE ENGINEERROMEC.they was great days I was there from 1975 to 96 lot of different buidings king Edward buildings Mount pleasant to name a few,and occasionaly we got jobs down on the platforms usually lighting and power.working down there we got to know some of the engineers and one man a technical offier showed us the workings electicly .He was a great bloke and totally dedicated .Part of of what he showed us was a working mercury ark rectifier.which if not known converts AC to DC electricity.I think it a great idea to show people the grat engineering of the time

  89. MikeP says:

    Ah, Mercury Arc rectifiers. The lifeblood of the DC rail system for many years. I well remember standing on Putney Bridge station of an evening with the substation visible across the tracks. As trains accelerated, the violet glow through the windows grew brighter and brighter.
    In the days when the it was a Proper Museum, the Science Museum had one on display too. Went well with the 11 a.m. discharge demonstration.

  90. Taz says:

    Should this be the route suggested for cycleway conversion?

  91. timbeau says:

    I thought this had already been discussed – the running tunnels are 9 feet in diameter (twin 7 foot diameter on the approaches to stations). Raise the floor high enough to get a six foot wide two-way cyclepath and the headroom is only about 6 feet.

  92. Kingstoncommuter says:


    In what way is the science museum not a proper museum, I feel your comment is somewhat unnecessary…

  93. Southern Heights says:

    @Taz: You should 10 points from the moderators for catching out timbeau…

  94. Southern Heights says:

    You should get…

  95. LO Ben says:

    It strikes me that in a time when we are trying to drastically cut the number of vehicles coming in and out of central London by road, Mail Rail might be a really useful way of bringing freight into the West End – retail deliveries and such like – rather than a Tesco truck pulling up in front of your West End mini-supermarket or an M&S truck bringing in the latest consignment of navy blue knickers, load it all onto an underground goods train, bring it to the surface at your choice of convenient zone 1 locations and then take it the last few hundred yards by electric buggy.

    It might not totally eliminate lorries in central London but every little helps as our friends at Tesco like to say!

  96. Graham H says:

    @LO Ben -have you any idea of the cost of providing new underground stations every few hundred yards,complete with lifts and goods handling space,new bulk break areas at the terminals (?) – not to mention the cost of running the gismo on a daily basis of running same?

  97. Mark Townend says:

    @Graham H

    I note your caution, but think it is likely some form of affordable automated goods delivery system will be possible one day in cities as a result of autonomous road vehicle developments, and smaller but otherwise highly standardised vehicles based on this technology might be able to use small dedicated tunnel infrastructure like Mail Rail, perhaps as a part of a larger network also incorporating surface sections, dedicated or otherwise). In some ways such a system could be quite similar to the old Post Office railway, with powered carrier drays conveying wheeled cages, but the carriers need not be rail based. They might instead be something a little more flexible like an Ultra pod. Handling the cages at stations and in lifts, moving them along pavements and passageways to and from stores would remain a challenge. Short trains of cages might be hauled by semi-autonomous walking-pace mules that could follow a store employee collecting a shipment whilst avoiding obstacles, or staff might just manhandle the cages as they do in truck loading bays today. Loading and unloading cages from carriers could be automatic with some degree of automatic movement and marshalling on the platforms so the immediate loading area could be kept free, or an (expensive) attendant might be retained at a platform as on Mail Rail, so empty drays can clear a bay quickly and move on to pick up another load. There’s no way developing such a complex bespoke system today for the Mail Rail tunnels alone would be viable I agree however, and to be useful for store shipments today you’d need an extension out to a warehouse/freight terminal district like Willesden or Barking. It’s worth continuing to mothball the Mail Rail tunnels for the foreseeable future I think, rather than threading communications cables or other services through them. With autonomous vehicles and warehouse automation both very rapidly developing fields, it’s possible solutions for the tunnels’ reuse as some form of transport might fall in price significantly.

  98. ngh says:

    Goods Deliveries:

    Just relaxing the rules on good vehicle operating hours would be much simpler, cheaper and beneficial for a much wider area than could be served by mail rail…

  99. LO Ben says:

    ngh – the point was the congestion and pollution caused by goods deliveries – especially those made by heavy diesel vehicles. We want to keep these journeys OFF the streets.

    Graham H – I’m not suggesting any major new fixed infrastructure. The postal railway had “stations” local to Bond Street, Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road and a couple in the City. There would need to be a certain amount of repurposing, as with any reuse of the facility, but it’s already designed to transport fairly bulky goods across London, raising them back to the surface and then distributing them to their eventual destination. I’m not saying you can just swap out the mailbags for cornflakes, but there is definite crossover.

  100. ngh says:

    Re LO Ben
    If the lorries aren’t stuck in slow moving traffic the emission will be lower…
    Or Like M&S + Waitrose have done for years run your delivery lorries on CNG so virtually nil particulate and NOx emissions by comparison to diesel. Others like Tesco, Coke-Cola, Stobart are using some LNG delivery vehicles (Mostly landfill origin Bio-LNG).

  101. Graham H says:

    @LO Ben – fair enough about the intermediate stations; however, there is a difference between post office operations and deliveries to department stores/shops etc. and that is that the Post Office sorts its consignments out before sending them onto the streets, so no space was required to do that at any of the intermediate stations. A similar arrangement to WDO or whatever would therefore be required to enable consignments to be sorted and grouped before sending down the mail rail system – I don’t know where you could find such a space in the right place these days.

    @ngh – at least the Army and Navy in Victoria Street has an internal trolleyway between the store and the warehouse in Greencoat Place. I don’t know what sort of traction or guidance, if any, is used but there is certainly a fixed path. (This first came to my attention because my office, which backed on to the warehouse, would periodically be interrupted by a noise very similar to that of the Northern below certain theatres – and I briefly pondered as to why you could hear the District so far away from the other side of Victoria Street. A little more research and – hey presto!).

  102. Walthamstow Writer says:

    People may be interested in this short video of the Mount Pleasant site based on 3D scans of the site before construction work starts. Really interesting.

    There are also still shots on

  103. MikeP says:

    @KingstonCommuter – belatedly (long story) that was a tongue-in-cheek comment harking back to the halcyon days when precocious little brats could run around the museum pushing buttons and turning handles with little understanding of what was going on within the elegant wood and glass cabinet (what ?? me ??). Of course, the interpretative and educational aspects of the museum are much better now. I was shocked to find a few years ago that the shipping section remained in the state I remembered the whole museum.
    Although a daily demonstration of an absolutely massive and deafening electric discharge should be brought back….

  104. Kingstoncommuter says:

    Oh I thought it was a reference to it being free now, thank you for clearing that up

  105. Walthamstow Writer says:

    A glimpse of the Mail Rail in happier times courtesy of a Thames News clip from the 1980s.

  106. Graham H says:

    @colinflowerday – whether the punters would like to travel very far in the man-riding cars is a moot point. Still more moot is the cost of adapting the existing PO stations to passenger use. Not a high capacity system…

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