Devon rail enthusiasts are celebrating a grant of £49,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to improve access to its railway studies collection.

Housed in the newly revamped Passmore Edwards Centre in Newton Abbot, the collection is the largest in the UK outside the National Railway Museum in York and is popular with researchers and historians across the world.

Containing over 80,000 items, most of them original and unique, the collection covers all aspects of Britain’s Railways and includes information on standard gauge railways, broad gauge, narrow gauge, industrial lines, miniature railways, underground railways and preserved railways.

The project, which is being developed by Devon Council’s Library Service, seeks to improve access the collection, and better promote it.

A dedicated online database and new website will be created to allow worldwide access to the collection 24 hours a day. The site will bring together existing catalogues and indexes into a single search tool so people can go online and explore the full range of resources available. It will also display images so it can become a virtual permanent learning resource for those who cannot visit the collection in person.

It is supported by the ‘Friends of the Railway Studies’, with 20 regular volunteers who help manage the collection’s many resources, which include books, periodicals and leaflets along with timetables, postcards, maps and railways society literature photographs. There is also lots of audio visual material such as slides and illustrations.

The grant will help broaden the appeal of the collection by increasing volunteering opportunities, particularly in relation to the preservation and conservation of the collection. People will also be encourage to enhance the collection themselves by adding new legacy materials such as photographs and through film making and intergenerational reminiscence work to document oral history.

Local arts education organisation, Daisi will plan a programme of creative workshops to encourage local people to discover the railway heritage of Newton Abbot and the surrounding area, and attract new audiences, including young people to the collection. Through these workshops relevant and inclusive learning materials will be produced such as ‘discovery boxes’ for people of all ages to handle, explore and learn about the collection.

The project also aims to promote and extend the collection by developing further links with organisations to promote and extend the collection including Newton Abbot Town Museum, the museum of the South Devon railway at Buckfastleigh and other railway heritage groups.