A PROJECT capitalising on the North-East's rich rail history and aimed at boosting tourism in the region has been launched.

The venture, led by Darlington Borough Council, will see numerous rail-related attractions linked together as part of a heritage trail.

The hope is to encourage more tourists to the region and get them to visit the attractions during their stay.

But the initiative will also mean money is spent on improving each site so all reach the same high standard.

The attractions include Darlington Railway Centre and Museum, Shildon Railway Village, the Green Dragon Museum in Stockton and Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum in Skinningrove, east Cleveland.

Claire Boston-Smithson, Darlington's tourism and heritage officer, said the project would be the first to link all of the sites together.

She said: "At the moment there are lots of little attractions all over the region. We are all very fragmented and trying to do our own thing.

"The role of this project is to pull all that together. It's quite exciting.

"It's not just pure rail either, it's about associated heritage and how railways have developed industry and social and cultural life in the area."

She said each site would be plotted on a Tube station-style map, which would be given to tourists.

"The hope is that we will produce some marketing literature. We are working on some branding and a logo for the project."

Angela Brockbank, railway and associated heritage project officer, said: "The project will concentrate on attracting a wider market than just the railway enthusiast by emphasising the qualities of invention, creativity and innovation that drove the industrial revolution in the North-East.

"It's a fantastic opportunity to bring together all of the various elements of our rich railway heritage in the region and make it easier to access our past."

Darlington, which has applied for a £3m lottery grant to renovate its railway museum, is working on the project with Northumbria Tourist Board and Sedgefield, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland borough and Durham county councils.

Val Lowther, from Northumbria Tourist Board, said it was excellent news for the region.

"Our railway heritage is a very strong pull for the region. This will make it far easier for visitors to see all the sites."

It is likely to be at least two years before the heritage trail is launched.