Part four of a five part series.

Download all five parts as a Kindle eBook from Amazon today or read part one here.


Although the railway was formally closed down in February, its ghostly echoes lived on as it had left behind a fair amount of detritus to clear up.

At the end of 1871, the Official Liquidators of the company issued a notice that any creditors wanting to make a claim against the remaining assets had until the following month to submit their claims to John Parsons, a solicitor in Victoria Street[23].

The Waterloo and Whitehall was now just a failed memory, but the notion of the pneumatic railway itself did not die with it. Indeed, there were several more proposals for such railways in London, but none of them got any further than the occasional newspaper article.

One of the more notable proposals though was by the undaunted Mr Ranmell who came back with the South Kensington Pneumatic Railway of 1877, which would have been a short branch line running from South Kensington railway station up to the Royal Albert Hall.

The railway would have followed the route of the current pedestrian subway that was later constructed in 1855, with a station just outside the Science Museum, and the terminus by the Hall itself.

Despite warm approvals in the press, and apparent support from the Metropolitan Railway, the scheme vanished leaving barely a trace of its existence save drawings occasionally sold as curios by antique map dealers.

Proposed railway between South Kensington and the Royal Albert Hall

An attempt to build a pneumatic railway in Mersey[24] got as far as constructing the tunnel – but they chose an alternative form of locomotion.

The grandest proposal though came in 1869, to use the principle for a tunnel under the English Channel[25]. Even if they had managed to construct the tunnel, by the time it was finished, the early electric locomotives would by then have been available, so that frankly would never have been a pneumatic railway.

In the USA, the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company was opened in New York in 1870 as a trial to prove the technology, but closed after just a few months.

The London Pneumatic Dispatch Company, which was carrying postal mail under the streets of London carried on working reasonably well until 1874, when the Post Office decided that the time saved by the railway simply wasn’t worth the extra cost, and cancelled their contract.

With just one possible customer, who was no longer using the service, the company also collapsed and was closed down. One of the original carriages sent racing along these subterranean tunnels is at the British Postal Museum & Archive warehouse in Loughton, Essex.

Although the Waterloo and Whitehall Railway was officially abandoned, in that curious way that legislation works, the various bills authorising the railway were still live legislation. They were not formally submitted for repeal until May 2009 as part of a general tidying up of red-tape by the government[26].

Tomorrow – the aftermath of a failed railway

The web research notes will be published in part five.

Download all five parts as a Kindle eBook from Amazon today


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One comment
  1. Alan Burkitt-Gray says:

    There’s a good account of the Parisian pneumatic despatch service, which lasted until the 1980s, here:

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