Space-age headsets to transport public to lost Clerkenwell Mail Rail

3D walkthrouh of the Mail Rail - ScanLab

3D walkthrouh of the Mail Rail - ScanLab - Credit: Archant

A lost rail network which ran silently under London for centuries could become a virtual world at a new museum.

Cross section of the Mail Rail platforms - ScanLab Project

Cross section of the Mail Rail platforms - ScanLab Project - Credit: Archant

Visitors to the Postal Museum and Archive in Clerkenwell might be able to use space-age headsets to walk around the former Mail Rail which sent £4million letters a day during its peak snaking from Paddington to Whitechapel and which tunnels were used to store important artefacts during the First World War.

The futuristic experience is created using 3D imaging and mapping, which was undertaken by Cambridge Heath company ScanLab Projects after spending a week in the disused tunnels.

The 3D mapping would also enable visitors to see London landmarks above them and view the otherwise unaccessible “train graveyard” located under the tunnels.

Other features at the museum, which is due to open in 2016, would see visitors scan areas of the old gallery with their smart phone or tablet to reveal a 3D view of what it looked like when operated as a workshop.

Viewing the Mail Rail car depot in layers - ScanLab Project

Viewing the Mail Rail car depot in layers - ScanLab Project - Credit: Archant

Martin Devereux, head of digital at the museum, said: “It’s like being there, you can even walk around. It’s surreal, you feel like you could reach out and touch things.

“It’s a different kind of experience that’s very hard to describe until you’ve tried it.

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“It’s much more claustrophobiac than the Tube, it’s like nowhere else that exists in London.”

The Mail Rail closed in 2003 but parts will be opened up with the museum next year before the rail its self is refurbished as a ride in 2019, changing the tunnels forever. The form of the virtual experience eventually takes will depend on funding the project can secure.

“This piece of London’s history is about to be lost forever, but thanks to ScanLab we’ve managed to freeze it in time,” said Mr Devereux.

“We’re trying to see how we can use the headsets in the museum environment, but a lot depends on funding.”

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