The Loco and the Mule

26 May 2016

There’s always something curious going on down in Mail Rail. This time, while part of an old loco leaves, a mockup ‘mule’ takes to the rails…

This loco, nicknamed 'Banana', was painted yellow for 1991 Hollywood film 'Hudson Hawk'

This loco, nicknamed ‘Banana’, was painted yellow for 1991 Hollywood film ‘Hudson Hawk’

For 76 years, if a train down in Mail Rail came to an unplanned stop, a battery-powered locomotive – or ‘loco’ – would come to its aid.

Sometimes it was due to a simple technical fault, but other times there were greater issues, like when a metal mail-container landed on the track and shorted large swathes of it out.

Whatever the problem, the staff of Mail Rail always found a solution, and the three locos – hauling tools, equipment, and even whole trains if needed – played a pivotal role.

A driver's view, taking a Mail Rail loco through the tunnels

A driver’s view, taking a Mail Rail loco through the tunnels

Extraordinary circumstances called for extraordinary equipment. The locos were capable of shifting almost eight times their own weight – 54 tonnes each – in trials, and this required serious battery power.

Recently, one of these batteries – itself a conglomeration of smaller batteries – finally left Mail Rail for a well-earned rest. Here we follow its journey out through the only route it would fit down – or rather, up:

Part of the crew readies the old loco battery for hoisting out of Mail Rail

Part of the crew readies the old loco battery for hoisting out of Mail Rail

The view from above as a loco battery is lifted from Mail Rail

The loco battery is ready for lift-off

It may not look it, but the battery lift goes smoothly

It may not look it, but the battery lift goes smoothly

The battery is loaded onto a waiting truck for removal

The battery is loaded onto a waiting truck for removal

As one thing leaves the tracks, another takes its place: deeper into Mail Rail, train-builders Severn Lamb have been testing their ‘mule’.

How do you make sure that the new train you are building fits through a quirky and irregular set of tunnels? You build a wooden prototype, of course, matching the dimensions of your design at its greatest points. Then you put it on the tracks and see what happens.

The 'mule' traverses the Mail Rail tunnels

It may not look much, but it has proven very important, with designs being adapted to make sure that the new Mail Rail ride’s trains squeeze through safely.

Soon, the trains that will take thousands upon thousands of visitors around Mail Rail for the first time – a lot more shiny and comfortable than the mule, it must be said – will go into production.

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To find out more about The Postal Museum and what we’re doing in Mail Rail, have a look around our website and watch our blog for further updates.