The system declines...

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Once the difficulties of 1945 had been overcome, there were only on average 8 blockages per year, and at the end 2,308 trains were running daily. Inevitably the arrival of the telephone took away much of the custom from the Pneumatic Post, although the growth of air mail correspondence from the 1930s enhanced the value of Pneumatic Post between the city offices and the Airmail collection point, from which the mail was taken by road to the airport. However, the Pneumatic Post's other function, of expediting telegrams to the Central Telegraph Office, became of less importance as the use of telegrams declined. As an example, in 1910 the traffic was 8.32M (million) items including 4.85M telegrams, 1.18M letters & 1.99M cards. By 1955 this had dwindled to 3.77M items comprising 0.97M telegrams, 1.77M express letters and 1.03M airmails.

The reinstatement of over 500 red collecting boxes added greatly to the workload of the staff, and the encouragement of "Bahnhofbrief" at a reduced surcharge of 60 groschen was a mixed blessing. A few stations were closed during this period.

The last train

Eventually the economics of maintaining the Vienna Pneumatic Post system in post war conditions led the authorities to close it down. The 2nd April 1956 was Easter Monday, and the pneumatic system "received a rotten Easter Egg" (said Turner, on page 88). At 13:25, the last pneumatic train ran from Post Office 129 (Webergasse 14) to the Central Telegraph Office, Börseplatz. It arrived there three minutes later and rang the familiar arrival bell, to find for the first and last time the station full of decorations, red-white-red streamers and honoured guests. Souvenir mail was taken from the cans and speedily delivered. A Special Delivery service in the Viennese area started immediately, using Lambretta three-wheelers or small cars (eg VW Beetle), which had the advantage that small express packets could be carried.

This event was noted rather abruptly in the Die Briefmarke issue of May 1956, page 235: "Die Wiener Rohrpost hat ihren Betrieb eingestellt. Mit dem letzten Rohrpostzug am 2. April 1956 sandte Ing. Turner noch dem Postmuseum eine letzten Gruß." - "The Viennese Pneumatic Post has ceased operation. With the last train on 2 April 1956, Ing. Turner sent the Post-museum a final greeting."

Turner’s book adds that he sent all his staff a thank-you letter in the following few days, and goes on to say that "P&TDion Wien Amtsblatt 4/1956, dated 7 April, confirmed the closure and that this was repeated in PuTVOB 13 of 28 April"; however this latter only says, at para 88, that "from 2 April 1956 stations 57, 73 and 129 will close". A 3-month period of intensive technical report-writing, suggesting partial closures or intermittent operation, produced no change in the decision. Trades Union protests went unanswered.

There only remained the dismantling of the now unnecessary 28 pneumatic offices, 59km operational pipe and 11˝km service pipe; this is documented with many photographs in Turner’s book. He seems to have had a copy of his book sent to every employee – accompanied, judging by those in the Technical Museum Library, by a letter asking "those who had no further use for it; or their heirs and successors ... to send it ... back to the Museum, via any Post Office".

Various experiments were conducted in the post-closure period, and these produced (extremely rare) covers which are a pitfall for the unwary. Turner p105 illustrates a piece of an envelope with full pneumatic markings and cancels but inscribed by hand to show that it actually went by 3-wheeler, taking 2 hours 5 minutes instead of the 30 mins routinely achieved by the Vienna Pneumatic Post. On his page 106 is a similar test piece for 2 May. Both had completely normal pneumatic cancels.

Was the end really the end?

Items exist dated after 2.4.1956 with folds and markings suggesting that they were transported pneumatically. See for example the last item on the inside front cover of "Die Briefmarke" for January 2003, where Heinzel discusses several examples from 1945 to 1956. The question has been asked: "Did the tubes and compressors actually cease operation on that day - they could, with no need for a staff to serve the public directly, have been used for a while to send express letters through Vienna?"

Yes, we believe: the end was the end. A Press Release from the Telegraphenbauamt dated 18 Feb 1975 for a commemoration of the Centenary of the Rohrpost notes the closure as reported above. And in practice, the physical system was such that to retain it for internal use they'd have had to retain all the pipes and all the compressed air and vacuum pumps and pay all the running costs; and also (a) retain all the machine-operating staff at every intermediate station on the routes they kept; or (b) dig up the streets outside every intermediate office and install bridging pipework. The above-mentioned Special Delivery service would have absorbed the delivery men and/or the counter staff. So basically it wouldn't have saved much if anything to withdraw public service and still keep the system running.

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