Handling His Majesty’s mails at Seventy Miles an Hour
MAIL VANS are specially designed to deliver and pick up the postal bags when the train is travelling at high speed.
EVERY year the Post Office handles over 6,000,000,000 letters and 150,000,000 parcels. Eighty per cent of the letters, amounting to 25,000,000 bags, and 140,000,000 parcels, travel annually in British trains.
When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was opened, in September, 1830, it was realized that the new mode of transport could be used with advantage for carrying mails, and on November 11 of that year the first dispatch of mails by train was made between these two northern cities. By July, 1837, Manchester and Liverpool had been brought, postally, within 16½ hours of London, partly by the use of the trains on the Grand Junction Railway, which had just been opened, and partly by coach.
But it was an invention, in 1838, which was destined to give the greatest impetus to rail transport of mails.
In that year the Grand Junction Railway Company, after some preliminary experiments made with a specially-
5,750,000 Miles of Mail
As the postal business grew, it became necessary to attach sorting coaches to more and more of the trains; these were usually the fastest over each main route, designated in the time-
In Great Britain there are 73 travelling post-
So that postal business shall not be disorganized by time-
The basis of payment by the Post Office to the railways is a census of the actual number of bags carried in one test week, when every bag is specially weighed, and a total weight for the week, with the total mileage covered, is thus obtained. This is multiplied to obtain the estimated total carryings for the year, and this figure remains in operation until the next census. It includes allowance by the railways for assistance given to them by the Post Office.
Mention has already been made of two trains, specially reserved for the carriage of mails, from which the ordinary passenger is excluded. The Great Western Railway was the first company in Great Britain to run a special mail train, which worked between London and Bristol from February 1, 1855, for postal traffic only, until a first-
But the most important of the railway postal services in the country is that which first ran, as a “special mail”, on July 1, 1885, between London and Aberdeen over the London & North Western and Caledonian Railways. This was a development of the “limited mail” introduced from Euston to Scotland in 1859, which included three sorting-
Officially known as “North Western TPO Night Down”, or “North Western TPO Night Up”, the “West Coast Postal”, to quote its more popular nickname, has now grown to large dimensions, and consists usually of thirteen capacious bogie vans. Six of these are sorting-
At seven o’clock in the evening the empty train is brought into No. 2 platform at Euston -
Long before the train starts the work of sorting has begun; and by half-
One of the principal scenes of activity is in the sorting-
Perched on swing seats or, more often, standing on the swaying floor of the train, the sorters take the bundles of letters, read the addresses one by one, and pitch the letters fifty, sixty, and even seventy to the minute into their appropriate pigeon-
Padded for Protection
Every precaution is taken to ensure that no accidents or mishaps should interfere with the work. The sorters must maintain a standard of physical fitness, as there is a certain strain involved in this work. So that the sorters shall not be injured should they be thrown off their balance when the train is rounding curves, all projecting corners and angles inside the coach are thickly padded. In order to reduce vibration to a minimum a special compound bolster type of bogie is used for the coach.
The first part of the sorting on the journey consists principally of “late fee” letters and mail which have arrived too late for sorting at the General Post Office. When this is finished there are the bags which come in at junction stations, by way of the exchange apparatus, while the train is travelling at speed. On one type of sorting coach there is a large net, made of stout rope, and held by a hinged steel frame folded neatly into a recess on the side of the coach. Just above the footboard of the coach, flanking each side of the main entrance doors, are four arms, known as “traductors”. These are hinged at the bases, and when not in use are secured in a vertical position against the coach-
It is this row of lights along the side of the train that looks so picturesque and romantic as the “West Coast Postal” sweeps through the dark countryside in the small hours of the night. The transference of the mail by the apparatus requires considerable care and vigilance. The ringing of an electric bell is the first warning that the mail is to be transferred. One of the doors is rolled back, and the net opened out ready to receive the incoming mail. The rest of the staff stand clear while one man -
SORTING OFFICE. The interior of a mail van, showing on the right the long benches where the letters are sorted and the pigeon-
Two leather pouches shoot into the van through the open door and drop on to the floor. A lever closes both the net and the door. The bell ceases to ring. Inside each of the pouches is a bag of mail. Because of the buffeting that they receive the pouches are made of leather. Each bag weighs 20 lb, and must not contain more than 30 lb of letters, so that the complete unit weighs less than half a hundredweight.
Equal care and vigilance are necessary before the mail is pivoted into the van. The line-
When he hears the approach of the “Postal” -
At many points on the route a double exchange is made, mail being both delivered and received by the train. When mail is to be delivered, the bags for delivery are strapped into pouches. The main doors of the van are now opened, to enable these pouches to be attached to catches at the ends of the traductors, which are swung down from the vertical to the horizontal position, so that the pouches, held well out from the coach, are then dangling from the side of the train, ready to be collared by the ground-
SWEEPING PAST these posts at the side of the line the train collects the mail-
Some of the consignments caught by the train are of considerable size. At Bletchley, where branch lines bring in the mails from the university towns of Cambridge and Oxford, four or five pouches come hurtling in, and at Nuneaton. six or seven: at both of these points the train is usually travelling at seventy miles an hour or more. At other places deliveries are as heavy, and even heavier; it is on record that one delivery of eighteen bags at Penrith, for the Lake District, required the use of the traductor arms on five sorting coaches along the train.
One of the most remarkable feats in connexion with the transference of mails arises out of the fact that the “West Coast Postal” does a certain amount of sorting for the “Irish Mail”, in order to relieve the two mail-
Some of the exchanges, however, are too big to be entrusted to any apparatus, and it is necessary to stop the “Postal” at the principal junctions along the route -
Mails have also to be handled by other railways in bulk, especially Continental and overseas mails, which specially concern the Southern Railway. Vast quantities of mail are dealt with at Southampton Docks, in particular, in connexion with steamer sailings to and from all parts of the world. When a liner from overseas is berthing, mail-
In connexion with the calls made by transatlantic shipping lines at Plymouth, also, the Great Western Railway has perfected some clever appliances for the rapid handling of mails at Millbay Docks. The steam tender which meets the incoming liner off Plymouth is specially designed with large decks, free of all obstructions, to make possible rapid movement of mail-
JUST ARRIVED. The mail-
Some mail trains are direct continuations of the mail coaches. The Irish Mails of the LMS, for example, succeeded the “New Holyhead Mail Coach”, which ran from “The Swan with Two Necks” in London by way of Birmingham and Shrewsbury to “The Eagle and Child” at Holyhead, crossing the Menai Strait to Anglesey over Thomas Telford’s famous Suspension Bridge.
Exactly a hundred years ago this coach journey occupied 27 hours -
There are two Irish Mails in each direction -
Considerable progress followed the opening of the Britannia Tubular Bridge in 1850, and it has steadily continued until to-
Both of these trains carry passengers. Restaurant cars are attached to the Day Irish Mail, while the Night Mail has sleeping cars. Two postal vans are attached to each service, and exchanging of mails goes on throughout the journey.
When the Irish Night Mails reach Holyhead, or Dun Laoghaire, as it is now called, three Irish sorting-
Some curious cross-
SORTING THE LETTERS continues unceasingly during the run. Those which are not transferred by the mail exchange apparatus are dropped into large postal sacks, to be collected by motor vans at the railway termini.
Among other unusual routes taken by postal sorting-
The Human Factor
All these main and subsidiary postal services have been evolved in a ceaseless endeavour to speed up internal communic-
In the few moments between stations the sorting and dispatching goes forward continuously, and works as smoothly as the running of the train itself. The system demands untiring efficiency and alertness. There is not a spare moment on the whole journey.
The success of the “TPOs” -
You can read more on “Carrying the Mails” in Cecil J. Allen’s Railway Wonders (1925)
SUSPENDED ON A STEEL ARM, and enclosed in a leather pouch, the mail-
ATTACHING THE MAIL-