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UNVEILED: Plans for a “gamechanging” railway tourist attraction

UNVEILED: Plans for a “gamechanging” railway tourist attraction

Plans for a gamechanging railway tourist attraction have been unveiled, Image: Darlington Council

Plans for a “gamechanging” railway tourist attraction featuring holograms and a theme park-style trip through time have been unveiled.

The planned attraction will put Darlington and the Tees Valley on the “world map” with a celebration of heritage, and regenerate a deprived area as part of town “rebrand”, it is hoped.

The free museum would use “virtual augmented reality” including holograms of trains coming in and out, busts of rail pioneers George Stephenson and Edward Pease talking to each other, “talking portraits” and “a mirror where you’ll see yourself transported on to Victorian station”.

Rail Heritage Quarter

Picture of the proposed Rail Heritage Quarter, Image: Darlington Council

A key paid-for element, a Disneyworld or Universal Studios theme park-type ride where groups will be taken through the ages, is currently being developed.

The eye-popping plans for the North Road site were revealed at a meeting of Darlington Borough Council’s communities and local services scrutiny committee.

Ian Thompson, assistant director of community services, said: “Is it a destination tourist attraction, a heritage attraction, urban regeneration scheme, a museum?

“The reality is the Rail Heritage Quarter, that’s only a working title at the moment, is all of those.

“It is going to a gamechanger for that local community and a significant step up.

“By 2025 it will put Darlington and the Tees Valley on the map, and the world map.

“This is where rail started, in effect. Modern passenger rail began here and it changed the world from here and it started to connect communities around the world. It all happened here.

“It will provide that legacy and a catalyst to regenerate that area and move that area on, hopefully.

“And nowhere else can claim or has that connection with historic rail assets. We’ve got the oldest operating railway bridge in the world, Skerne Bridge.

“The goods shed, the museum which was the original station, the carriage works, are a very early collection of railway buildings that informed what happened thereafter that you don’t get anywhere else. Nowhere else will have what we will have in terms of that unique attraction.

“It’s about where the past will meet the future. 1825, 2025, and beyond.”

He added: “2025 is Tees Valley’s 2012, Olympics opportunity, in terms of putting us on the map, getting people enthused and interested and motivated to what we are going to do and how we are going to celebrate in 2025.

“It is a celebration of our heritage and it will be another key attraction in the Tees Valley bringing people into the area to experience the area.”

He said the project created opportunities for change in communities concerning health, well-being and quality of life, fitting with other projects in the town.

“There’ll be green spaces, parks, which will be accessible all the time while the museum is open for people. The museum’s being refurbished, restored. It will be a community hub.

“The tourism that will come in is part of this overall rebranding of the town. There will be opportunities for careers and training on site for the local community. It will increase the pride and cohesion of the area.”

Planning consideration and further design and costing will follow the coming weeks. It is hoped the scheme will go to the council’s cabinet and work will start on site early next year, aiming for completion in the summer of 2024.

Rail Heritage Quarter

Picture of the proposed Rail Heritage Quarter, Image: Darlington Council

Councillor Steven Tait, chairing the meeting, said: “The project at the Rail Heritage Quarter is really exciting for Darlington and it’s seen some significant investment.

“I can’t wait to see work start on that one.”

Councillor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said: “This is urban regeneration and heritage celebration at its best.

“Darlington has long been known for its engineering excellence both past and present and this will help to showcase our proud history.

“It is a key project in our plans to celebrate our unique rail heritage and will give present and future generations the opportunity to use new technology to explore the history of the Stockton and Darlington railway.”

Councillor Andy Keir, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for leisure and culture, added: “I am delighted to share these plans for what is an ambitious and exciting project for the town, the borough and the whole of the Tees Valley.

“Alongside celebrating our fantastic and unique place in the history of rail travel, the quarter will breathe fresh life into an area that was once at the forefront of world rail engineering.”


Words: Gareth Lightfoot, Local Democracy Reporter

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