The Royal Mail is to sell off the Post Office Underground Railway, better known as Mail Rail. For the uninitiated, this is basically the Crossrail project (the East-West rail link across London that is as eagerly anticipated by commuters as it is delayed by politicians and dreaded by taxpayers). The only differences: it exists in reality, not just as a gleam in John Prescott’s eye, and it only carries sacks of mail. Millions of them per day. Like Crossrail, however, it is too expensive – the Post Office says it is simply not economic to run any more.
The Times [to which Samizdata does not link], asks in today’s Leader for ideas on what use may be put to such a railway, bearing in mind it is only tall enough to carry passengers if they lie down like guests in a Japanese capsule hotel. Surely the collective ingenuity of Samizdata can come up with some good ideas?
Here’s two to start the ball rolling:
- Cross-London packet sevice. Surely it could continue in its present role if anyone – private individual, corporation, courier or freight company – could use it. Modern barcode technology could make it easy to identify the right packet to serve up at the receiving station. Mail Rail is infrastructure; if the Post Office opened their pipes to competing “content”, like telcos and ISPs do, then perhaps the infrastructure would be viable, and even extended?
- The real Crossrail. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to widen a tunnel that already exists than to build a new one? Everyone knows that Crossrail is desperately needed if London is not to sieze up – and risk losing companies migrating elsewhere to restore the balance. Everyone also knows that the £4bn estimate is likely to be spent several times over before the system goes into service – these projects always overrun. Isn’t this a good opportunity to cut costs?
The usual prize (kudos, not cash) for the most innovative suggestion.