Several railway foundations, historic associations and academic institutions with a leading role in the field of railway history and heritage were represented at this founding meeting together with a number of European railway companies and UIC. A
second meeting held in November 2001 provided the opportunity to discuss a first draft of “Manifesto” for the foundation of an international railway history association that had been prepared by the Spanish railway foundation FFE. After the adoption of a new version of the Manifesto and the preparation of the Statutes, the founding general assembly of the International Railway History Association (AIHC in French – IRHA in English – AIHF in Spanish) took place in May 2002. Paris was chosen for the location for the association.
It is worth noting that most founding members and railway institutions who played a determining role by the creation of IRHA are still highly committed and represented in the governance of the association together with younger generations of historians or researchers. Nevertheless IRHA has been characterized during its 20
year history by a high degree of continuity and long term stability.
Among most visible results of the association’s life, 8 International Railway History Conferences were successfully organised under the leadership of two successive chairpersons, Michèle Merger and Henry Jacolin, in Semmering, Austria (2004), Lisboa, Portugal (2006), Bratislava, Slovakia (2009), Mechelen, Belgium (2010), Lviv, Ukraine (2011), Santiago, Chile (2013), Istanbul, Turkey (2016), Budapest, Hungary (2018). The pandemic had as a consequence the postponement of the conferences planned for the following years, especially the conference on “Europe and the Railways”. During the same period, editorial committees composed of members have been particularly active in the preparation and publishing of the conference books. Two books are still to be published in a near future, respectively on “Railways and the Cities” and “Railways in the First World War”.
One of the essential topics for this year 2022 will therefore the celebration of the 20 year anniversary of our association as part of an event that is still to be selected. It will provide an opportunity to demonstrate how our association managed to maintain its vitality and dynamism during the covid period and succeeded in encouraging close cooperation links among members despite all obstacles that hindered international relations. The 20 year anniversary should also set markers for the future of IRHA and prepare it for a successful evolution over the coming years.
The International Railway History Association has to cope with several challenges that were already identified. One of them consists in attracting – in addition to the “historic” members and founding institutions – new generations of young researchers and historians who will contribute with new ideas, new orientations and innovative working methods. It is also our objective to promote closer cooperation and partnerships with national and regional railway or transport history institutions from all 5 continents, IRHA being currently mainly represented in Europe and part of North and Latin America.
More effort has to be dedicated to increasingly using the latest communications networks with the aim to enhancing our reputation and image vis à vis all organisations and stakeholders dealing with railway history and heritage.
Finally an association is always successful when its members are personally committed to define the strategic direction and participate at the running and internal life of the association with ideas, proposals, decisions and action.
The 20 year anniversary in 2022 will have a strong value and provide a unique opportunity to express our pride in the work already completed during these two decades as well as our confidence in the future of our association.