The Railway Benevolent Institution (RBI) came into existence in 1858 “to provide some form of care and financial aid to needy railway personnel” and “to establish an institution for necessitous railway children”. Railway employment was very dangerous at that time, with virtually no social provision.
The first general meeting took place on 8 May, 1858 where it was agreed the managing committee would consist of top railway company chairmen and managers. At an early meeting on 16 March, 1859 the Chairman, Joseph Locke M.P. said that he hoped "the railways would combine to support this most excellent and valuable institution”.
Progress was slow, especially in terms of financial support from within the railway.
Some income was raised through annual dinners. The Marquess of Lansdowne, William Cubitt, the Duke of Devonshire, and HRH the Prince of Wales, as presidents of the institution, chaired these occasions as did Charles Dickens.
Dickens drew particular attention to the gratitude he felt industry leaders and travellers owed to railway staff, who performed their duties in hazardous conditions, and he sought support for their welfare.
Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was patron of the RBI for 63 years and always took a great deal of interest in the affairs of the institution.
The RBF is an international charity, given that it has a branch operating exclusively in the Republic of Ireland, with its own regional board since the foundation of the State in 1922.