Work has officially started on constructing the Railway Heritage Quarter in Darlington, which will be at the heart of the two-hundredth anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.
Using a firing shovel, Heather Scott, Leader of Darlington Council, had the honour of breaking the ground to mark the start of the quarter’s construction. Darlington’s Railway Heritage Quarter is a major project that is investing in the town’s rail heritage to create a national visitor destination.
Since the project started 12 years ago, the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust (A1SLT) has been closely involved, providing an input on strategy, capability, history, and engineering.
Essential improvements will be carried out to several significantly historic buildings on the site, and they will be linked together to create a cluster of attractions that includes the Skerne Bridge, the oldest working railway bridge in the world.
New facilities will be provided for the A1SLT, including a double-track workshop, administration block, storage, inspection pits, and an electrical workshop. These will be housed in a building with a direct connection to the national network and should be ready for use by Summer 2023. The trust also hopes to secure funding to provide a turntable next to the new facility by 2025.
History will be brought to life and plans through digital and technological investment. A new immersive ride experience will be created, similar to those that are only seen at theme parks. To make the quarter attractive for all generations to visit for years to come, there will be a café and shop, themed play area, show field, a live engineering building, temporary exhibition space, archive, and extended car parking.
The project is being supported by £20 million of funding from the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority.
Councillor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council, said, “The Railway Heritage Quarter is a key project in our plans to celebrate Darlington’s unique rail heritage and will give present and future generations the opportunity to use new technology to explore the history of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. This is urban regeneration and heritage celebration at its very best. Darlington has long been known for its engineering excellence both past and present and this fabulous project will help showcase our proud history.”
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said, “The Stockton & Darlington Railway was just one way our region had a massive impact on the world, that can still be felt to this day. Local people are rightly proud of this heritage and it’s only right we help tell its story.
“We’ve backed the Rail Heritage Quarter with £20 million to make sure it does justice to our history and becomes a major part of the region’s S&DR 200th anniversary celebrations. These exciting plans show the scale of ambition to make it a top-quality attraction, which will be a huge draw for rail enthusiasts, history buffs and families alike and help provide a boost for our brilliant businesses.”