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Future of London's unique Post Office Underground Railway to be reviewed.
Options include mothballing Mail Rail.

Royal Mail today (Thursday 7 November) opened discussions with the Communication Workers. Union on the future of Mail Rail, the 75-year-old Post Office underground railway. The union and Royal Mail have now entered an extensive period of talks to consider the options before a decision is taken.

Union representatives were told this morning that a decision on the future of Mail Rail would be taken as part of a 'taking stock' review of mail services across the capital where customers have benefited from a three-year, 140 million investment programme due to be completed next March. Mail Rail employees are today being told that one option is to mothball the unique underground railway.

The major restructuring of London's postal network has involved construction of new mail centres at Greenford (serving Harrow, Uxbridge and north London), Feltham (serving Kingston and Twickenham), and a third at Bromley-by-Bow that, when fully operational next March, will serve east London.

When it opened in 1927, Mail Rail served 8 stations, rising to 9 at its peak - serving mail centres and delivery offices along a track running from Paddington in west London to Whitechapel in the east. Today it serves just four and that number will reduce to only three in March next year.

David Chapman, Royal Mail's London Programme Manager, said: 'Our investment programme in London has brought significant improvements in the quality of services we provide for customers. Indeed, we have halved the gap in quality that previously existed compared to operational areas. Of course, we realise we have a little further to go to deliver the top-notch services our customers deserve, but they can be assured that we are striving determinedly towards that goal.

Our investment programme is delivering the modern mails operations that will help us achieve our targets for Quality of Service agreed with the regulator, Postcomm, and the consumer council, Postwatch, and will contribute even more to the results of Royal Mail overall. However, it is clear from these changes that the importance of Mail Rail to a modern mails operation in London is substantially reduced. Our decision to start talking about its future, and possible mothballing, reflects that reality.

Mail Rail currently employs 76 engineers and other grades operating the underground railway in two shifts and based at four stations running east to west: East London Mail Centre (Whitechapel); London Central (Europe's largest mail centre, Mount Pleasant, at Farringdon); West End Delivery Office (in Rathbone Place, off Oxford Street); and London West Mail Centre (Paddington). The number of stations will reduce to three when the mail centre at Whitechapel closes in March 2003 and sorting of all mail for east London moves to the new 38 million operation at Bromley-by-Bow.

Discussions with representatives of the Communication Workers Union opened this morning with employees working on the railway being briefed as they started their shifts.

Mr Chapman said: 'It is a sensible, logical and proper commercial decision that we should be considering Mail Rails future, especially given the financial position of Royal Mail today. It serves fewer stations than originally intended and it costs us five times as much as moving mail by road. For a business losing 1.2 million a day that is clearly not sustainable.'

Royal Mail, however, recognises fully the historical and heritage value of the underground railway and, in reviewing the options for Mail Railway, wants to hear suggestions and ideas from businesses, heritage and other groups for the trains, tracks and tunnels.

Said Mr. Chapman: 'Mail Rail has played a vital part in delivering the capital's daily postbag over the past 75 years and we appreciate that. However, it is well past its prime. Of course, we understand the affection in which Mail Rail is held and the potential it offers for other uses. We want to talk to businesses with commercial propositions, as well as our unions, about how the trains, tunnels or tracks might be used, and are already in discussions with a couple of organisations. We would like to hear from heritage and other groups that might have realistic proposals.'

Meantime, as part of its 'Taking Stock' review, Royal Mail has launched an analysis of the mail centre capacity that will be required in London to handle the capital's daily postbag in five, ten, and 15 years time.

'The amount of mail posted in London over the last five years has dropped by nearly the equivalent of an entire mail centre operation, and those volumes continue to decline because of the economic climate and e-substitution' said Mr. Chapman. 'Our review will examine future trends to see what other changes might need to be made to the capital's mails operation, so that it provides an increasingly cost-effective contribution to our business and delivers an increasingly efficient service for our customers in the capital.'

Issued by the Post Office PR team 7th Nov 2002