THE Northern Echo has long been calling for the region to make more of its railway heritage.

We have campaigned for years for the North-East to wake up to the tourism potential of having the world’s first passenger railway.

The 175th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2000 proved a missed opportunity, and other plans to capitalise on our unique rail history have come and gone in the years since.

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If we were in the US, we would have neon signs proclaiming our status on every roundabout and street corner.

Of course we are not proposing the region adopts quite that method of self-promotion, but with the 200th anniversary now fast approaching, it is heartening to see bodies including Stockton, Darlington and Durham councils and the Tees Valley Combined Authority coming together with ambitious proposals for a “world-class” visitor experience, and a heritage action zone based on the original route of the railway.

In Darlington, the plans are part of a wider project to regenerate areas of the town, and bring together its rail heritage with the revamped Hippodrome theatre to entice £26m a year of extra visitor spending.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the proposals is that they are designed to create a lasting economic legacy that goes beyond a one-off event or festival marking the 200th anniversary year.

And when aligned with the Tees Valley bid for Capital of Culture status in 2025, there is the potential to at last get some region-wide momentum behind efforts to allow the birthplace of the railways to take full advantage of its remarkable claim to fame.