A CAMPAIGN to keep the world’s first passenger steam engine in the birthplace of the railways was launched yesterday.

The National Railway Museum, which owns Locomotion No 1, wants to remove the engine from the town after 163 years to make it centre stage of its redeveloped museum in Shildon,about 15 miles away.

“It is part of our cultural heritage,” said Tees Valley mayor, Ben Houchen. “It is what this town and this region has delivered for the world. We should be celebrating that and not sending a real piece of international history down the road to Shildon or anywhere else because someone in London or Manchester has decided that it is the right thing to do.

“It would be disastrous for the Tees Valley. We have a lot of USPs but nothing compares to the fact that we delivered the world’s first passenger railway. If visitors don’t come here to see this it would be a travesty in economic as well as cultural terms.”

Locomotion is currently in the Head of Steam museum which shares its rail heritage site with the A1 Trust, the builders of the Tornado locomotive.

Steve Davies, an A1 Trustee and former director of the NRM, was worried that removing the engine would dent the Tees Valley’s enthusiasm to commemorate the bi-centenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.

“It would be wrong to say any object should stay in one place for ever but given that it has not been a state secret that this part of the world has been planning for 2025 with Locomotion No 1 central to it, this smacks of a very poor understanding of other people’s sensibilities – it is like saying we are going to move Stonehenge to Gloucester and then just ordering it to happen.

“Although on paper Locomotion No 1 is part of the national collection, that’s a bureaucratic exercise and it is wrong for anyone to declare that they own it. The NRM maintains the national collection on behalf of the nation, and I now think this has to be resolved on a national level.”

The town’s MP, Peter Gibson, will be pressing the case with culture secretary Nicky Morgan next week, and council leader Heather Scott said: “It’s unthinkable to imagine Locomotion No 1 anywhere else but Darlington for the bi-centenary. I would welcome the prospect of talks with the NRM – the case for keeping Locomotion No 1 in Darlington is not just persuasive, it’s compelling.”

The Conservative politicians were joined by all of the town’s other parties – Labour, LibDems, Greens and independents.

LibDem Cllr Anne-Marie Currie said: “I’m a big believer in using history to bring capital into the town, and it will be a massive drawback to tourism if this is not in the town.”

Businessman Mike Matthews, a former president of the North-East Chamber of Commerce, also backed the cause of his hometown. He said: “Today in the internet age, we depend on logistics and this engine changed transport – it changed the world, and it should be to Darlington what Peter Rabbit is to the Lake District, attracting people from the world over to see it.”