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A year in the life of the project

Today we reach a significant project milestone: it’s a year since we made the database of nearly 4,000 British & Irish railway worker accidents available to the public! That’s as good a time as any to take stock.

It’s been a busy time. We’ve been promoting the project as widely as possible, to get people using the resources we’ve made available and finding out more about working life and accidents on the railways. We’ve given talks to and had discussions with a variety of audiences, including family historians, academics, museums & heritage professionals, archivists and the current rail industry. With the help of a design student at Portsmouth, we’ve produced our data visualisations to make some of the detail in our database easier to grasp. And we’ve been plugging this website (including these blog posts, which have been featured at least once per week and have included several guest posts), resulting in over 16,000 website views from across the world.

One of our data visualisations.

And what of the data at the heart of the project? It’s been freely available for all to make use of – an important aspect, as we want to ensure the topic is better known and understood, and also a reminder that we share the past. We’ve had over 2,100 downloads, again from across the world – the majority in the UK, as we might expect, but also Ireland, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Greece, Hungary, the USA, Canada, Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, Thailand, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. We’re thrilled that our work has been of such interest and had such reach.

We’ve been on Twitter (@RWLDproject) since late October 2017, and have gained well over 800 followers – and more importantly, enjoyed really interesting and important discussion. This has sometimes included some spirited debate (though always civil!), and we’ve benefited from the help and advice offered willingly by you all. That has been immensely positive.

We’ve been tweeting an accident a day since November, many of which are visible in the #OnThisDay Twitter feed on the homepage. We’ve wanted to do this to give an impression of the cumulative total and the normality of accidents – scroll through the feed to see (and be shocked at what it adds up to, though only a small fraction of the cases in our database, itself only a tiny minority of the total number of accidents).

What next? We’ve got more talks in the pipeline and we’ll keep up the work with the blog and Twitter feed. More significantly, we’re working on new resources (more to come on this in the future), as well as on extending the project data. We’ve already got 2 extensions in place at the National Railway Museum with the help of the Office of Rail and Road, which we’ve discussed here and here, and we’re working with The National Archives on another – watch out for a blog post on that in September as it gets underway. We’re also talking with the Modern Records Centre to see if we can work with them to bring trades union records in.

All of this been done by volunteers, and to them we’d pay tribute. We’ve had exceptional help and work from the NRM volunteers, as well as others at Portsmouth and around the UK who have contributed in all sorts of ways: to them all, our thanks.

The project has been largely unfunded, except for small pockets of support for specific things and the indirect costs like staff time – itself not an inconsiderable contribution from the NRM and University of Portsmouth. We’re now trying to find funding to continue our work and expand it, as this is the only way we’ll be able to make it sustainable in the long term. There’s clearly great interest in the area, and willingness to help; it has great potential for the future and we’d like to think can make a difference to how we think about and understand this aspect of our railway past.

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