A GROUP has been set up to establish Darlington as the ultimate destination for railway tourism by 2025 – the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

The task of preserving and promoting the town’s railway heritage has been handed to The Rail Heritage Inquiry Group, which will draw up a masterplan for the project and identify funding sources.

Ideas include organising coach trips to visit the town’s railway heritage, creating a direct rail link to the Head of Steam Museum and putting more signs up around the town and on the A1 highlighting Darlington’s importance in the history of the railways.

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The group was formed at the Darlington Railway Heritage Summit held yesterday at the museum. It was attended by representatives from Network Rail, English Heritage, Tees Valley Metro, Friends of the Railway Museum and Darlington Historical Society, and the council.

It was organised by Chris McEwan, Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet member for economy and regeneration, who said improving the town’s image as a tourist attraction would create more job opportunities.

He was supported by the council’s conservation officer, Heather Nelson, who said: “On average, £1 of investment in the historic environment generates an additional £1.60 in the local economy over a ten-year period.”

Councillor McEwan said the borough council was unable to fund the project, but added: “I’m confident that our collective will and efforts can lever in money in terms of safeguarding our heritage and capitalising on it.”

A list of ideas for the project were discussed at the meeting. These included: * Creating an exhibition space in disused railway buildings and displaying the town’s art collection, currently in the cellar of Crown Street Library.

* Creating a website kept up to date with the latest progress of the inquiry group.

* To seek funding from local industry, such as Amec, Hitachi and Nissan.

* To ask community groups to provide time to the project.

* To seek funding from Network Rail.

* To improve a collection of buildings and structures close to Head of Steam.

It is hoped everything will be in place by 2025, the 200th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and the completion date of the Darlington Town Centre Fringe Masterplan – a council-led regeneration project that ties in with the railway heritage tourism plan.