What We’re Doing

The Railway Work, Life and Death project is making use of accident reports produced by the Railway Inspectorate, the body appointed by the state to oversee railway safety. The reports give details – sometimes rather brief, amounting to only a few hundred words – of investigations into railway worker accidents. We want to unlock the mass of details – some minor, some startling, all significant – they contain, and show how valuable they can be as a means of accessing the experience of working on the railways at the start of the 20th century.

This work is an innovative attempt to build stronger connections between museums, volunteers and academic researchers. It draws upon recent moves towards crowd-sourcing and the idea of ‘citizen scientists’ as interested people freely giving their time, interest and energy to projects that benefit all involved, as well as the wider public.

The project is a great chance not only for the volunteers to contribute to cutting-edge research, but also to shape its direction. Volunteers are doing important work in collating details of the accidents, making them more easily available for everyone, and much more quickly than had it just been one or two people working on the task. At the same time, it’s not just about transcription; we’re also interested in the volunteers’ thoughts and the questions they might have as they read through the reports.

The accident reports, an example of which is given below, are an incredibly rich source, but under used – most people tend to think of passenger accidents on the railways and don’t realise that worker accidents were far more numerous. These reports can tell us all sorts of things about working conditions on the railways, relationships between the state, companies and unions, who was involved in accidents and attitudes towards safety. So, we hope that with this project we can change the balance and help people to think about the dangers railway workers experienced in the past.


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