BOSSES at Hitachi were well aware of the North-East’s rail heritage when they chose to site the company’s European rail manufacturing facility in Newton Aycliffe, just a stone’s throw from where Locomotion No 1 had its trial run.

Yesterday, as it launched its first commuter train, the firm confirmed it is ready to expand the site even further.

At almost exactly the same time, the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust was making an announcement of its own about multi-million pound plans to redevelop a historic Darlington engine shed to create a new base for its locomotives Tornado and Prince of Wales, as well as linking to the East Coast Main Line. The trust’s plans include educational and visitor facilities, and steam-hauled passenger rides. If funding can be found, the centre would be up and running in time for the 200th anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.

Loading article content

The A1 Trust and Hitachi are two brilliant examples of what can be achieved by thinking big. A group of train enthusiasts who hatched a plan on a night out in the pub go on to build the first steam engine for half a century, are now nearing completion of their second and are planning a third.

Developers dream up an audacious bid to bring train manufacturing back to its birthplace.

Getting on for a decade later, the Hitachi site employs more than 1,000 people and is preparing to expand even further.

This kind of ambition will stand the region in good stead as other plans are drawn up to make more of the region’s railway heritage, including a Tees Valley bid for Capital of Culture in 2025. Hopefully the drive and inspiration of those behind Hitachi and the A1 Trust can serve as templates for future successes.