A CAMPAIGN has been launched to save one of the North-East's most historic railway buildings before it is demolished.

The 167-year-old derelict building, off Haughton Road, Darlington, can claim to be the world's first main line engine shed.

Darlington Civic Trust has applied to English Heritage to have it added to the list of protected buildings following a developer's request to demolish it.

A trust spokesman said: "Part of our railway heritage is threatened, and we have moved swiftly to ask English Heritage to list it as an example of an early engine shed.

"Demolition would be a sad loss to the town's rich heritage."

An application has been received by Darlington Borough Council to demolish the shed and build 65 homes on the site - formerly sidings - around it.

The shed is at the end of the first stretch of the East Coast Main Line, which opened on March 30, 1841, between York and Darlington. The stretch of line, running north-south, terminated where it met the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which ran east-west.

The engine shed was built by the Great North Eastern Railway at that junction, with two lines running into it. It was big enough to house four of the first main line steam engines.

As the main line was extended north in 1844, it was no longer needed as a terminus and its role was downgraded to maintenance. It is believed to have been altered or rebuilt in 1854. Since the Seventies, the shed - opposite the new Darlington College - has been used as a car repair garage.

Now empty and derelict, it was sold in 2005 by British Rail.

Alban Cassidy, of CA Planning, in Preston, Lancashire, which is acting for the developer, said: "Our application does not set the outline of our proposed buildings in stone.

"There is a degree of flexibility. Our scheme would not preclude its preservation if that is what is demanded.

"The building is very large and industrial and we do not think it would be practical to convert it. It is structurally sound, but it is decrepit."

He said that for the past 30 years, Darlington's proposed cross-town route has been planned to run through the site of the shed.

Samantha Amos, of English Heritage, in York, said the listing process would take about three months.

If the shed is to be preserved, a new use for it will have to be found. One expensive suggestion is that it is dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt at the North Road Railway Museum, in Darlington.