A FORMER Cabinet Minister has thrown his support behind a plan to make a North East town the base for a railway company.

Former Cabinet minister, Michael Portillo, has come out in support of Matt Vickers’ bid for Stockton to become the base of Great British Railway’s (GBR) headquarters.

Mr Portillo, who currently presents railway documentaries such ‘Great British Railway Journeys’ and ‘Great Continental Railway Journeys’, has previously called Stockton “the start of the world’s railways” owing to the fact it was the home of Stockton & Darlington Railway (S&DR); the world’s first steam-operated public railway.

In early October, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that a competition will be run to identify the new headquarters for GBR, the single, accountable public body that will be responsible for running Britain’s railways from 2023.

The competition is set to recognise towns and cities with a rich railway history.

The Transport Secretary has committed that the national headquarters will be based outside of London, ensuring new skilled jobs and investment will be focused in other parts of the country.

A dinner held in Stockton Town Hall in 1810 led to the creation of the S&DR. In 1822, the first rail was laid for the S&DR at St John’s Well in Stockton. In 1825, the first ever rail passenger was booked at the world’s oldest ticket office in Stockton.

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Backing the bid, Mr Portillo said: “The name Stockton is associated around the world with railways. The first public railway to use steam locomotives opened between there and Darlington in 1825. The line pioneered the inventions that underpinned Britain's economic supremacy at the time and the technology that would change the world.

“Now, Stockton needs a boost. It could benefit from some levelling up.

“Let Great British Railways establish its national headquarters there. It could not find a more iconic name than Stockton - a name that resonates through the history of the railways.”

Mr Vickers said: “When it comes to Britain’s proud railway history, there are few people more knowledgeable or deserving of the title of the King of Rail than Michael Portillo. That’s why I am extremely pleased that he is backing Stockton’s bid to become the home of Great British Railways.

“With Michael’s full support, we steam ahead with our bid. I hope that our local representatives and many others will come on board and join the campaign to deliver even more investment and skilled jobs to Stockton – the birthplace of the world’s railways.”

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