• Accident prevention image, from 1932 booklet. Courtesy Mike Esbester.

    GWR accident prevention image, 1913. Courtesy Mike Esbester.
    (Click on the image to view the full sized original.)

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Welcome to the website for the Railway Work, Life and Death project, a joint initiative between the University of Portsmouth and the National Railway Museum (NRM), also working with other institutions including The National Archives of the UK. We’re making it easier to find out about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland in the early twentieth century – who was involved, what they were doing on the railways, what happened to them and why. Although today most people don’t realise it, working on the railways 100 years ago was incredibly dangerous, with hundreds killed and tens of thousands injured each year.

In the first phase of the project a team of volunteers from the NRM, to whom we’re immensely grateful, have painstakingly been through reports produced by the state-appointed Railway Inspectorate between 1911 and 1915, detailing investigations into railway worker accidents. They’ve extracted the details found in the reports – things like names, ages, roles, companies and details of the accident – and entered them into a database. This database is now available, on this website, so that anyone who’s interested can easily learn more about work and accidents on Britain and Ireland’s railways around the time of the First World War.

We’re currently working on 3 extensions of the project, which we expect to add around 40,000 additional cases to the data – a lot of work, so it’s going to take a while! Plus we’re investigating another possible collaboration to bring trades union records in, so it’s a busy time. Altogether, we think this work will be of great interest to all sorts of people: railway enthusiasts, family historians, railway museums and heritage centres, archives, the current railway industry and academics.

You can download the project information sheet here. Please feel free to spead the word widely.

The project is led by Dr Mike Esbester (Portsmouth), and Karen Baker (Librarian, NRM)/ Peter Thorpe (Search Engine public service manager, NRM), with the assistance of Craig Shaw (Volunteer Administrator, NRM). It draws upon Mike’s research, funded in the past by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK, and Karen, Peter and Craig’s wealth of experience. We warmly welcome your thoughts and questions, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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