Mail by Rail
Mail by Rail
EMU 325014 at Crewe 30/03/2001 © Steve Jones
| EXIT | Overview | Travelling Post Offices: Night Mail | Nene Valley |
| Railnet | The Post Office Railway | References |

In its history, mail by rail has taken many forms, but none is more noticeable than the fabulous Royal Mail red livery of the Class 325 Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) as in the above photo. These modern day trains were developed for RM as part of the Railnet project with operating contracts up to 2006.

However, on 6 June 2003, the Royal Mail announced that it was going to withdraw its entire rail network of services for mail distribution by March 2004, in favour of a road based distribution network.

"It's all about quality, but if quality can be had by other means then changes will be made."

Post Horn (magazine of the Post Office Vehicle Club) reported in its June/July 2003 issues...

  • 49 train services currently serve Royal Mail's distribution network each day.
  • 33 of these are freight services, used for the distribution of large volumes of mail across the country.
  • 16 of these are Travelling Post Offices, on which mail is sorted during the journey.
  • Most of the 14% of mail presently carried by rail will go on the roads.
On 15th October 2003 Allan Leighton said of the competitive post-privatisation market which the Royal Mail now faces, and the role of TPOs...

"This is about the modernisation of the Royal Mail. The fact that we have stock which is 50 years old travelling up and down with people sorting on it when we have machines which can do it a thousand times faster means we are not going to be able to compete."

  • Allan Leighton became a Non-Executive Director of Royal Mail Group in April 2001. And interim Chairman in January 2002 and was appointed permanent Chairman on 25th March 2002.
The Travelling Post Offices and their staff have been loyal servants of the Royal Mail for many years and have considerable expertise in sorting mail at speed on the move...

The TPO (Travelling Post Office)

As well as mail being carried in bulk stowage vans, it was for many, many years, sorted 'on the move' in purpose built windowless carriages which were developed as Travelling Post Offices (TPOs). A TPO carriage could run as part of a passenger train, but more often than not would form a complete train, as a 'Mail Special'.

  • The first TPO carriage ran on 20th January 1838.
  • The last TPO trains ran on the night of 9th January 2004.
Night Mail
Night Mail
Royal Mail Travelling Post Offices

A more detailed study of mail trains and Travelling Post Offices (TPOs).

Learn more...

Photo: 'Penny Black' 90 019 at Darlington on 29th August 2003 © Nigel Burkin
TPOs on the Nene Valley Railway 
TPOs on the Nene Valley Railway
In preservation, the TPOs on The Nene Valley Railway turn back postal history with an operational pick-up and set-down of mail bags.

Photo July 2009 © Light Straw Archive.
Towards the end of the 20th century, a review of 'mail by rail' lead to a new project to modernise the whole process with a greater integration of the road/rail networks, easier transfer between the two and improved sorting facilities... 
The £150 million Railnet project was financed by Royal Mail (before privatisation) with the aim of having a network of 'state of the art' rail to road handling depots, planned for 'economies of scale' to efficiently handle large volumes of mail.


Photo: EMU 325007 Car 68312 Crewe 17/09/99 © Steve Jones 2000
The Post Office Railway
A unique railway under the streets of London
The Post Office Railway
A unique railway, under the streets of London, carrying the mail at speed... Sadly the railway was mothballed in 2003 and no longer speeds the mail, but remnants of it can be discovered at various museums throughout the UK.

In 2017, the Postal Heritage Trust leased a section of track at the former maintenance depot of Mount Pleasant, to operate a fascinating new train ride attraction for old and young alike.

Photo: Mail Rail at Debden © LS Archive May 2014.

With special thanks to Steve Jones and Nigel Burkin for the use of their photos. Also, Post Office Vehicle Club, Post Horn; Mail by Rail, Peter Johnson.

An Illustrated History of the Travelling Post Office Mail by Rail The British Travelling Post Office
These three books by Peter Johnson give the complete history of the TPOs:

Travelling Post Office: 2009

Mail by Rail: 1995

The British Travelling Post Office: 1985
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