Site Records

SiteName: Post Office Railway (MailRail)

Between Paddington & Whitechapel

Sub Brit site visit 15th March 2003

[Source: Nick Catford]

After the war there were further plans to extend the railway with braches to Euston and Kings Cross but no new lines were ever built. There was however a quarter mile deviation to the existing line with a new Western District office at Rathbone Place and a new station beneath it, opening on 3rd August 1965. The stations serving the Western Parcels Office and the Original Western District Office were closed at the same time. The disused sections of tunnel are now used as a store with some track remaining in place.

The depot at Mount Pleasant
The car depot and workshops are at Mount Pleasant where there is space to store 81 of the original 90 cars although they are usually stabled at various points along the line to avoid the necessity to run back to the depot at the end of each working day. All maintenance of the stock is carried out in the workshop that also acts as a base for tunnel and track maintenance. There is also a shaft for lifting rolling stock in and out of the yard adjoining Phoenix Place.

The three tracks into the depot are reached by reversing from the top of the incline up from Mount Pleasant Station.

Initially the railway ran 22 hours a day with staff working in three shifts, the two hours when the line was not in operation was used by the maintenance team, larger maintenance jobs being carried out on Sundays when the line was closed. The service has now been reduced to 19 hours a day, 286 days a year.

In recent years King Edward Building and the West Central District Office in New Oxford Street have been closed and sold with all links between the buildings and the stations below being sealed off. The station at Liverpool Street has also closed leaving just four stations, Paddington Sorting Office, the Western Delivery Office at Rathbone Place, Mount Pleasant Sorting Office and the Whitechapel Eastern Delivery Office.

Photo:Train at the western end of the eastbound platform at Mount Pleasant Station
Photo by Nick Catford

Although initially hailed as a great success, in the last quarter of the 20th Century the line has been continually losing money and on 7th November 2002 Royal Mail announced that the whole line had become uneconomical with losses of 1.2M a day. Unless a new backer and new uses could be found the line would close in the near future.

In early 2003 it was announced that the line from Mount Pleasant to the Eastern Delivery Office will close on 21st March 2003 and the remaining section from the Western District Office at Paddington to Mount Pleasant will be mothballed on the 29th March 2003. The sorting office at Paddington will also be closed and be relocated to Rathbone Place. There will be no compulsory redundancies with staff taking voluntary retirement or redundancy or being redeployed elsewhere in the industry.

Mount Pleasant Station track diagram
Drawn by Derek Bayliss

Until a few years ago it was possible for interested groups to visit the railway but with new Health and Safety regulations these visits were discontinued. However with the announced closure of the line, 15th March 2003 was set aside for one final open day with 120 people being shown round Mount Pleasant Station in Groups of 8. Subterranea Britannica was able to secure one of these tours and at 12 noon we gathered outside the administration entrance in Farringdon Road.

Photo:Locomotive on the eastbound platform at Mount Pleasant
Photo by Nick Catford

We were taken up to the 2nd floor briefing room where we were shown a short video while we waited for our guides to return from the previous tour. 20 minutes later having walked along the labyrinth of corridors at Mount Pleasant we descended to platform level by lift which opens into a short cross passage at the eastern end of the two platforms, each 313 feet long.

We moved first onto the eastbound platform where one of the 1980's driverless Greenbat Locomotives with four mail wagons was standing at the eastern end the platform, ready for loading. Each loaded train cannot move off until a signal is given from the platform and we all had an opportunity to press a button (cherry) above our heads and watch the empty train disappear into the tunnel where it ran around a loop to re-emerge on the westbound platform. One of three emergency battery locomotives were also on display on the platform loop. These are permanently stationed at various points on the railway.

Photo:The manual control box at Mount Pleasant
Photo by Nick Catford

Since 1981 the railway has taken its power from the National Grid feeding five sub-stations along the line. There is a central conductor rail at 440 volts DC which allows speeds of up to 40 mph in the tunnels. In the stations the trains supply voltage is reduced to 150 volts which allows the trains to run at a maximum speed of 7 mph The old manual control room with its illuminated track diagram, describer board and 56 lever frame is located between the platforms and is kept in good usable condition. Until 1993 each station had it's own line controller. His job was to control all train movements at the station, sending trains into the station or routing them via the loop on to the next station.


Further information and pictures about this site continues here

[Source: Nick Catford]

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