DETAILS have been revealed of an ambitious plan to create a world-class attraction which would draw 250,000 visitors annually in a town which has not traditionally been linked with tourism.

If Darlington Borough Council achieved its target for its proposed Rail Heritage Quarter off North Road, the venue would surpass the number of visitors to the National Railway Museum’s Locomotive attraction in Shildon in 2019, and become one of the North-East’s top attractions.

A meeting of the authority’s communities and local services scrutiny committee heard the regeneration project was being funded with £20m from Tees Valley Combined Authority, and it was hoped a bid to the government’s Towns Fund will bring in a further £5m.

Councillors were told visitors arriving to the Rail Heritage Quarter by car would park near Skerne Bridge, the world’s oldest operational railway bridge, and be offered a virtual reality experience where they can point their phones at the bridge and see the first passenger train, Locomotive No 1, steaming across.

The meeting heard plans were being developed to ensure the Head of Steam Museum would have the “wow factor”, where visitors would sit in a carriage and be surrounded by “screens, projections, smells and heat and everything else”.

Councillors were told visitors would experience 4D rides, such what it would have been like to travel on the back of Locomotive No 1 in 1825, which would feature contributions from local residents and be themed according to the season of the year.

Other key plans outlined include creating a gallery space for changing exhibitions, such as one featuring early engines, in the former carriageworks and a unique railway-themed play park.

The council, which is negotiating buying buildings and land from Network Rail to complete the scheme, aims to start work on redeveloping the site next summer.

Councillor Nick Wallis described the council’s vision as “exciting”, but questioned the impact on the proposed attraction if the National Railway Museum successfully moved Locomotion No 1 to its museum in Shildon, despite vociferous opposition from the authority.

He added: “One of the problems we have with the railway museum at the moment is that it doesn’t change a lot and there is not a great deal to do.

“Even people in Darlington only really go the once. Clearly there’s been an expanded offer here, but do we believe we have enough to get people to come back again and again?”

Officers told the meeting there would be a significantly improved event programme, the play area would bring people in regularly and that visitors would be provided with unique, immersive experiences unlike any other rail museum.

They said the plans would transform the area from a museum into an experience that would be open to residents, with the local “blue rinse brigade” congregating at the cafe due to its “wonderful setting”.