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Railway history course reaches global audience

Free online course explores Britain's industrial heritage and the lives of British railway workers.

Railway enthusiasts across the world have been exploring Britain's industrial heritage and the lives of railway workers in a new Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) from the National Railway Museum and the University of Strathclyde.

The free online course Working Lives on Britain's Railways: Railway History and Heritage, tells the often-unheard stories of railway workers from the early 1800s up to the outbreak of the First World War.

More than 1,500 people from 67 countries, including South Africa, New Zealand and Chile, have taken part in the first run of the course. Registration is open for the next session, which is due to begin in January 2020.

Available via the Future Learn website, the course features video footage from railway experts, interactive quizzes, first-person handwritten accounts and the chance to discuss the materials online with other students.

The four-week course focuses on a different railway occupation each week. The first looks at the role of the engine driver, week two explores the art of signalling and the role of the signalman. Week three reveals the lives of the navvies who built the railways and week four looks at clerks and other professionals who worked behind the scenes.

Leading the course are Dr. Oliver Betts, from the National Railway Museum, and Professor Kirstie Blair, from the University of Strathclyde. Access to the learning materials and the course website will continue to be available indefinitely to enable more people to take part in future,

Dr. Oliver Betts, Research Lead at the National Railway Museum, said: “It has been great to see so many people, from across the globe, coming together to explore the lives of Victorian railway workers. Talking with so many enthusiastic learners has given us new ideas and perspectives, and it is so exciting to see how much this key part of our national past ignites their interest. Their ideas will be really valuable when it comes to thinking again about how we tell the story of the Victorian railway in our upcoming redesign.”

Professor Kirstie Blair, Chair in English Studies at the University of Strathclyde and Head of the University’s School of Humanities, said: “It’s been fantastic to see the lively discussions among people taking this course, and their stories and memories of railways and railway work past and present. We were delighted that our partnership with the National Railway Museum enabled this course to happen.”

Following on from the launch of the course, Oliver and Kirstie will be talking in more detail about some of the literary and musical sources that both celebrate and document the life of the Victorian railway worker, at the Institute of Railway Studies Seminar on Wednesday 27 November at the National Railway Museum. Entrance to the seminar is free and no tickets are required.

Registration for, and information on, the course Working Lives on Britain's Railways: Railway History and Heritage is available for free at: 


For more information, please contact:

Simon Baylis, PR & Press Manager
01904 686 299

Peter Livesey, Communications Officer
01904 809 646

About the National Railway Museum

  • The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway objects in the world and attracts more than 750,000 visitors per year
  • The collection includes over 260 locomotives and rolling stock, 600 coins and medals as well as railway uniform and costume, equipment, documents, records, artwork and photographs
  • The National Railway Museum forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon
  • Admission to the National Railway Museum is free, for more information visit:

About University of Strathclyde

  • The University of Strathclyde was founded in 1796 and is Scotland’s third largest university
  • The University of Strathclyde was declared by The Sunday Times Good University Guide as the Scottish University of the Year for 2020
  • The University of Strathclyde has approximately 14,500 undergraduate students, of which around 17% are overseas students from more than 110 countries. There are around 9,100 students undertaking postgraduate taught and research courses. Approximately 3,920 students study part-time through the university each year
  • Notable alumni of the University of Strathclyde include: Dame Elish Angiolini QC, Principal of St Hugh’s College, University of Oxford, and Scotland’s first female Lord Advocate; Sir Tom Hunter, entrepreneur and philanthropist; John Logie Baird the inventor of the television, Henry Faulds a physician, missionary and scientist who developed of the process of fingerprinting and David Livingstone an explorer and medical missionary

For more information about the University of Strathclyde please visit: