A RAILWAY museum is marking its reopening by announcing the world’s first iron railway bridge will be returning to the region for permanent display.

Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, will reopened today to rail enthusiasts, after being closed since March 17 because of the coronavirus crisis.

The special day will coincide with an announcement that Gaunless Bridge will become a permanent fixture at the museum.

Designed by renowned railway pioneer George Stephenson, Gaunless Bridge is the first iron railway bridge in the world.

Built in 1823 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the bridge spanned the River Gaunless in West Auckland, on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, just a short distance from Shildon.

The bridge was dismantled in 1901 and carefully preserved.

It was later rebuilt for an exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1925 and then became a centrepiece of the North Eastern Railway’s museum which opened in York in 1927.

The Gaunless Bridge was moved to its current location in York as part of the development of the National Railway Museum which opened in 1975.

Its move to Locomotion is the latest addition to an ambitious conservation project effort, including the preservation of a series of important historic buildings for future generations to enjoy.

In total, seven buildings are being preserved, including railway cottages, the goods shed and parcel office.

The buildings are a fantastic asset to the Locomotion site and add to the rich history of the area in terms of connections with the Stockton and Darlington Railway, Timothy Hackworth, and the development of the railways.

As well as preserving its historic buildings, a £4.5m plan will see the construction of a new, 4,000m2 ‘Building Two’, close to the existing visitor centre which will almost double the amount of covered space available to the public.

The building will house up to 50 vehicles from the national collection, bringing the total number of rail vehicles at Locomotion to more than 120.

Judith McNicol, director of the National Railway Museum, said: "When we closed the doors of Locomotion and the other museums in the Science Museum Group in March, none of us knew when we might be able to welcome back visitors. So being here today in Shildon to celebrate the reopening of Locomotion is a hugely significant and emotional moment. I am incredibly proud of the work that the team here in Shildon have done to make the museum a safe space, ready to be enjoyed once again by visitors. Our museums are nothing without them.’

Sarah Price, head of Locomotion, added: “Gaunless Bridge is an object of tremendous historical, cultural and technological significance for the North-East of England. Bringing it to Locomotion will return it to the route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, give a focal point to the redevelopment of the museum and restore a great source of local pride and identity to the community in which the museum sits.”