THE last diesel railway engine to be built in Darlington was officially returned to the town yesterday after more than 50 years working away.

It marked a return of peace to the local railway world after the bitter battle over Locomotion No 1, which ended with museums in Shildon and Darlington sharing that historic loco.

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, cut the ribbon which marked the return of D6898 to the town where it was built in 1964, and said: “The dawn of the railway age is such an important historical event, not only for Darlington, not only for the North East, not only for the United Kingdom but for the world as a whole, if we are to properly celebrate it , if the artefacts have to be shared round a bit, that’s not a bad outcome.

“This is an engineering gift to the world which was born in the North East of England.”

Sir Peter, as a trustee of the Science Museums Group which owns Locomotion No 1, was involved in the negotiations over the 1825 loco’s future. During those negotiations, he discovered that another of his organisations, Network Rail, owned D6898, which was the last engine to leave Robert Stephenson & Hawthorn’s Springfield Works in 1964, and that it was in danger of disappearing through cannibalism.

“It is a complete accident of history that Network Rail owns this loco,” he said. “We have four others and they are used for engineering trains in Wales, and this was the fifth and they were taking parts off it for the others when they broke.

“I thought it deserved better than that and having resolved the future of Locomotion No 1 satisfactorily between the council and the museum trustees, I thought this would be a great thing for the town and people of Darlington to have - it was the culmination of the thick end of 140 years of locomotive manufacturing in the town.”

Restored and polished, D6898 has been installed on the edge of the Head of Steam site in front of the Hopetown Carriage Works where the A1 Trust is currently building its second mainline steam engine.

“This isn’t just about the past,” said Sir Peter. “We believe that what happened 200 years ago will be a source of jobs and skills for the future – the engineering tradition of the A1 Trust and Hitachi trains at Aycliffe, we see railways as a very potent force for employment in the future.”

Council officials naturally took Sir Peter’s visit as an opportunity to press their case for the town to become the headquarters of Great British Railways, which is the successor organisation of Network Rail.

Cllr Heather Scott, leader of Darlington council, admitted she was a little nonplussed when Sir Peter offered to return D6898 but was pleased to see the engine – which was the workhorse of the post-steam railways – in place.

She said: “It has polished up beautifully, and I am sure children will love looking at it.

“When we have Locomotion No 1, or we have its replica back working again, that will be the first, and this diesel is the last, so it covers the whole of railway history.”