The Mail Rail was a small underground railway that operated in London from 1927 until 2003. The network spanned 6.5 miles from Paddington to Whitechapel, carrying millions of letters daily between the city’s mail sorting stations. The Royal Mail shut down the railway when the running costs became significantly more expensive than using road transport, but thanks to the brand new Postal Museum the Mail Rail is running once more. The trains have been modified so now, instead of carrying letters, they carry people instead.
In the months prior to the opening of the Postal Museum I’d been keeping a close eye on their twitter profile, ready to snap up tickets to ride the Mail Rail as soon as they became available. It has now been open for a few months and is still popular so you should definitely pre-book your tickets. At the time of writing, weekends are fully booked until February 2018 aside from a few time slots which have single tickets still available.
When you book your Mail Rail tickets you get to choose a timeslot for your ride. You should plan to arrive close to your booked time slot, then you just need to have your tickets scanned at the entrance and you can head straight downstairs for the ride.
Since the trains are so small you’re not able to carry bags or other belongings on the ride. There are lockers available at the entrance on the ground floor, as well as a cupboard on the platform to store your personal items. Each seat on the train can fit one or two people although taller people may find it a bit cramped.
The ride lasts around 20 minutes and stops at some of the old station platforms. A running commentary is played within the train and audio-visual displays are projected on the station walls, bringing stories from the railway to life.
The short video below shows what its like riding through the dark tunnels while the commentary explains how the Mail Rail used to work.
After your ride you can explore the Mail Rain Exhibition to learn even more about the story of the postal railway. There are some interactive exhibits where you can control the railway line, or try sorting the mail as quickly as possible.
With your Mail Rail ticket you are also able to visit the Postal Museum, which is located across the road. Here you get an overview of the history of the postal service, dating all the way back to the 16th century. The exhibition is clearly aimed at young families so we didn’t stay for too long, but it’s definitely worth a quick look since you already have the ticket. My favourite part was the pneumatic tube which runs across the ceiling of the museum, so visitors are able to send messages to people on the other side.
- The Postal Museum is located at 15-20 Phoenix Place London WC1X 0DA, and is open every day from 10am – 5pm (except 24-26 December). The closest tube stations are Chancery Lane, Russell Square, and Farringdon.
- You can book tickets for the Mail Rail online. Only a limited number of walk up tickets are available so it’s best to pre-book. Adult tickets for the Mail Rail cost £14.50 and include entry to all the exhibitions. If you want to visit the exhibitions without riding the Mail Rail, an adult ticket costs £10.
- Loose items are not permitted on the Mail Rail so try not to bring too much stuff with you when you visit. Lockers are available but you need a £1 coin to use, otherwise you must leave your belongings in the cupboard on the platform before boarding. These are attended by staff but not locked.