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London's other underground

Deep below the capital's streets, tourists are getting a unique glimpse of subterranean London. Barry McLoughlin rides Mail Rail

Once you're inside the new battery-powered train- one or two based on original designs- a transparent canopy is secured over your head. It's a bit like boarding a fairground roller-coaster and there's a similar sense of anticipation.

As you set off at a maximum speed of 7.5mph, the tunnel walls with their limescale stalactites re within touching distance. (It;s much slower than the original trains, which averaged 40mph and could get from Paddington to Whitechapel in 20 minutes.)

The journey is punctuated by ingenious special effects. You stop at eerily deserted platforms where projections on to the walls show just how hectic and intensive was the job of loading and unloading the mail bags.

Major historical events such as the Blitz are also features, and a theatrical experience brings the station back to its bustling heyday in the Thirties.

At one point the train comes to a halt and you are left in total darkness in a simulation of the power cuts that sometimes affected the service.

You see trackside sandbags and a special floodgate designed to prevent water from the River Fleet breaking in. Below is a 'graveyard' of old and disused original Mail Rail trains.

It's not one for the claustrophobic...

Because it's in such a confined space, the safety rules are quite strict. in the event of an emergency, trains may have to be evacuated in the tunnels, so visitors must ensure they are comfortable walking without assistance on uneven terrain, in a confined space and with low lighting levels for around 100 metres (382ft).

Mail Rail warns that the carriages are small and may be uncomfortable for some visitors. The trains measure 51in from floor to canopy and 34in from the seat to the top of the canopy. Door-to-door width is 31in and the seats are 17in apart.

After the ride you can wander through the engineering depot-turned-exhibition space. you can step into a replica Travelling Post Office and try to sort the mail as the floor starts to shake to simulate a real-life mail train at speed. Interactive displays allow visitors to race pneumatic cars, and use 'time telescopes' to explore Mail Rail as it was. Also on display are some of the rail-way's original rolling stock, and the remains of a Victorian pneumatic rail car, a 19th century ancestor of Mail Rail. 

Have you been? Read the full story in the May issue of Choice

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