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Plans to turn London's abandoned postal tunnels into airport cargo system

Mail rail trains (13267574833)

Plans to retrofit Royal Mail’s abandoned underground rail network to transport passenger luggage from central London to the city’s six main airports have been revealed.  

The ambitious plans were revealed at New Civil Engineer’s Future of Airports conference last week by architects Weston Williamson + Partners. 

The plans would integrate existing London Underground and Overground facilities with the former Royal Mail autonomous cargo system (known as Mail Rail) to allow passengers to drop off their luggage at several check-in facilities across the Capital.  

mail rail concept

Concept design

Source: Weston Williamson + Partners

Concept design of the offsite-check in and baggage transport systems

Biometric data would be used to link the luggage to the passenger, which would be loaded autonomously into the network to be transported to the passenger’s departure airport.  

Airports included in the plan are Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stanstead, London City and Southend.

The system would reuse the existing infrastructure and wouldn’t require extensive building works or capital expenditure, however the proposals also suggest a 1.6km extension of the Mail Rail system from Mount Pleasant to Kings Cross International station to improve access to Gatwick and Luton airports.  

mailrail map

mailrail map

Source: Weston Williamson + Partners

map showing the possible integration of the Mail Rail system with London Underground and National Rail services to connect to London’s airports

Weston Williamson + Partners charted architect Joshua Jones said offsite check-in facilties would improve passenger experience and boost tourism, as well as reducing congestion in airports.  

“Many passengers find transporting their luggage to the airport stressful, relieving passengers of their bags earlier would make their journeys easier. If they drop off their bags, they are more likely to spend more time and money in the city – boosting the economy,” Jones said.  

Jones added that the offsite check in facilities would encourage better use of public transport in the city and would reduce congestion at airports facilities.  

The Mail Rail system opened in 1923 uses 60cm custom gauge rails in 2.7m diameter tunnels, and runs for almost 10km beneath capital, from Paddington in the west to Whitechapel in the east via Liverpool Street with nine stations in total.  

It was closed in 2003 as road transport became cheaper. A portion of the tunnels have been reopened as part of an exhibition at London’s Postal Museum.  

  • To get the full update on what’s happening in the rail sector join us at New Civil Engineer’s Future of Rail conference 26-27 June 2019. Call Ben Joudar on 020 3953 2623 to find out more.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Like all good ideas, this is simple, sensible and an ideal use of existing assets to provide a cost effective, efficient and potentially highly desirable addition to London`s infrastructure.
    However, in view of the issues affecting Crossrail as reported in NCE and the National Press, the associated delays, cost over runs and criticism of overall project management processes it seems predictable that the chances of completing such a scheme quickly, cheaply and effectively are, sadly, very low.

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