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What they said in Parliament about the Post Office Underground Railway

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

What future they envisage for the Post Office underground railway in London.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville):

My Lords, decisions on the future use of MailRail are a commercial matter for the Royal Mail board. The Government understand that the decision to discontinue the service has been reached because the system costs today more than four times as much to operate than using road transport. The Government understand that the company is actively seeking and considering alternative uses for MailRail from outside sources. No decisions have yet been taken by the company on this matter.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester:

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that answer. A number of Members of this House and another place visited MailRail at the invitation of the Post Office two weeks ago. Every member of our party was greatly impressed with the quality of the track and tunnels and of the infrastructure generally. Does my noble friend agree that it would be regrettable if this unique facility were to be closed permanently given the fact that it is capable of transporting significant quantities of freight under the streets of London in an entirely environmentally friendly way? Are the Government prepared to support the attempt, which I understand the Post Office will shortly be making, to change the legislation—particularly the Post Office (London) Railway Act 1913—to allow for freight other than mail to be carried on the railway?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville:

My Lords, the Royal Mail has agreed to pursue a legislative route to widen the scope of usage for the system. If it decides to seek an appropriate order under the transport and works legislation, my department would support such a move.

Lord Methuen:

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Post Office railway is beneficial from a congestion point of view? Would it be practical to extend the line to Willesden, where the main Post Office sorting centre is located?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville:

My Lords, as regards transport it makes very little difference. The company envisages using only a handful of extra vehicles after MailRail is taken out of service because a huge proportion of the mail it now carries will be transported on existing vehicle routes. As regards extension, MailRail used to connect nine different stations but, with the movement of sorting offices to new areas of population, it now covers only four. Extending it would make no economic sense at all.