Museum Offers Look at Mail Service Before Franking Machines

Royal Mail Services

Back at the turn of the 20th century, workers labouring below the streets of London constructed a rail line that would eventually transport letters and parcels from one side of the city to the other, for all but two hours out of each day. Though the rail line closed in 2003, the Postal Museum recently reopened a portion of it as a tourist attraction and educational experience. The rail line offers a rare look at what mail service used to be like before the era of smart franking machines.

Construction on the rail line began in 1915. The goal was to streamline mail services by creating a fast, uninterrupted flow of letters and parcels from the city's west side to its east side, underneath the streets. Given that London's explosive growth was not well managed back then, a rail line was seen as critical to keeping business and government open.

What was dubbed 'Mail Rail' operated 22 hours per day once it was up and running. Getting it running proved more difficult than planned, though. World War I interrupted construction, thus relegating the space to storage use. Construction resumed in time to have the rail line running at the outbreak of World War II. That proved critical, as the rail line guaranteed uninterrupted delivery during the Blitz of 1940-1941.

Mail Franking and Modern Mail Service

Mail Rail was eventually shuttered in 2003 due to falling demand. But the mail is not any less reliable or efficient for it. In fact, we could make the case that modern mail service represents a marked improvement over the Mail Rail thanks to things like mail franking and the smart franking machine.

The Mail Rail was a necessity of its day due to excessive traffic congestion on the streets above. Without a dedicated rail service, it would take forever to get mail from one side of the city to the other. Traffic is managed a lot more effectively in the modern era, and technology has more than made up for any remaining inefficiencies.

Consider a smart franking machine, for example. Franking machines have automated the process of labelling and marking business mail. Mailrooms can process higher volumes of mail in shorter amounts of time than ever before. When mail eventually makes it to the Post Office, very little human intervention is required to get it to its destination.

Automation is such that letter sorting machines can read address labels and mail marks at breakneck speed. Automated sorters send mail on to various destinations just as quickly. Thanks to technology, the volume and pace of mail delivery today far surpasses what the Mail Rail accomplished.

If you are interested in getting a look at what mail service used to be like before smart franking machines, consider visiting the Postal Museum. The portion of the Mail Rail line they have reopened to the public is certainly important to the history of mail delivery in London.

Sources:

Reuters – https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-post-rail-idUKKBN1AO1Y8

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