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Railway Work, Life and Death

This project makes it easier to find out about railway worker accidents in Britain and Ireland from the later 19th century to 1939.

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 at the time and after, and why. Working with volunteer teams inside the National Railway Museum and beyond, the project is expanding the ways in which people collaborate with the Science Museum Group. The project started in 2016.


  • To better understand railway employees' working lives and how and why they experienced so many accidents, we wanted to bring the data together into one resource.
  • Covering as much of the period before 1939 as possible.
  • Work with external organisations to bring in more records. This is taking some time, but once it's complete we'll have material from the late 19th century up to 1939.
  • The project is developing other relationships and impacts not anticipated at the outset, so is generating new research directions.
  • It is already 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 (as one of the largest employers in the country).


  • Thousands of downloads of the project dataset, 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.
  • At March 2023, the project database amounted to c.50,000 entries, available from the project website.


This is a joint project with the University of Portsmouth and the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick. It also involves working with The National Archives of the UK and the RMT Union.