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Railway Work, Life and Death

This project is making it easier to find out about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland in the early 20th century.

Working on the railways 100 years ago was incredibly dangerous, with hundreds killed and tens of thousands injured each year. The Railway Work, Life and Death project explores who was involved, what they were doing on the railways, what happened to them and why.


  • To better understand railway employees' working lives and how and why they fell victim so many accidents, we wanted to bring the data together into one resource.
  • Initially cover the period 1911–1915, then look at adding post-1918 in a second phase.
  • Work with The National Archives to bring in lots more records. This may take some time, but once it's complete we'll have material from the late 19th century up to 1939.
  • We also expect it to reveal other relationships and impacts not yet known to us, so has the potential to generate new research directions.
  • Additionally, will be a useful resource for family historians and subject specialists, who are a key demographic to our research centre, Search Engine.


  • We have successfully completed a previous working-from-home volunteer project, so when this opportunity came along, we were in a good position to be able to offer resource.
  • From the academic perspective, worker accidents are under-researched, especially given the number (nearly 30,000 in 1913 alone, for example) and the importance of the industry to the British economy at this time (it was the third largest employer in the country)


  • Lots of interest generated, making people more aware of the subject area
  • Improved volunteer knowledge and understanding of the area, and we have benefitted from their general railway knowledge and enthusiasm
  • Allows greater participation from people who would like to volunteer in museum but live too far to make this practical


  • Produced a free database covering nearly 4,000 cases across Britain and Ireland for 1911–15, available from the website, along with a host of other resources about the topic
  • Preparing to submit PhD application based on resource
  • Articles published...
  • Talks held:
    • October 2018: '"Into the jaws of death": Working & dying on Britain’s railways, c.1890-1947', at the London Group meeting of the Railway & Canal Historical Society.
    • October 2018: 'Genealogists, Volunteers & Big Data Challenges: The ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ Project', at the Register of Qualified Genealogists Conference, National Railway Museum, York
    • September 2018: 'Greater than the sum of its parts: the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project and cross-institution collaboration', at the Science Museum Group Research Conference, Science Museum, London
    • Railway Work, Life & Death’ project', at 'Family & Academic History: The Value of Collaboration' day conference, Leeds City Museum
    • April 2018: 'Crowdsourcing, collaboration, archives & accidents: the Railway Work, Life & Death project', at 'Railway Cultures' conference, National Railway Museum, York
    • February 2018: 'Railway Work, Life & Death: a new resource for family historians', at the Guild of One-Names Studies seminar day 'Accidents Will Happen', held in Abberley, Worcestershire
    • November 2017: 'Another turn of the wheel? Co-production, engagement beyond the academe and the mobility research agenda', at the annual conference of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic & Mobility, Lancaster University
    • December 2016: 'Digital Disasters: Crowd-sourcing the railway accident', at the 'Making the Connections' conference, held in York
  • Lots of interest and volunteer engagement

This is a joint project with the University of Portsmouth. It will also involve working closely with the National Archives and the Modern Records Centre, Warwick.