ONE engine, two museums – Locomotion No 1 cannot be stationed in two places at once. Someone will lose out.

This moment has been rushing down the tracks towards us since 2004 when the National Railway Museum opened a warehouse in Shildon, on the site of the world’s largest railway sidings, to store its spare items from York. That warehouse has been evolving, and this week it was announced that it will evolve next into a £4.5m museum telling the story of the Stockton & Darlington Railway with the iconic No 1 as its centrepiece.

If Darlington had shown enthusiasm 20 years ago to host that warehouse, perhaps on the large green breakers’ yard next to the Head of Steam, all might now be different. Perhaps if Darlington had shown enthusiasm for its railway heritage over a longer period – it allowed the 175th anniversary to slip by with only an embarrassing peep of a celebration – all might now be different.

It didn’t. And that milk is spilt. So perhaps Shildon does deserve the engine.

But more recently, there has been a change in Darlington. Spurred on by the combined authority and the success of the Tornado engine whose home is alongside the Head of Steam, and realising the benefits of heritage-led regeneration, Darlington has plans to treasure its railway heritage.

So it is ironic that the NRM should hit the town with a hammerblow just as it is moving in the right direction.

I’m really torn here. I can see that the extended Shildon site, surrounded by oodles of free parking and £4.5m of central funding, will tell a fantastic railway story.

But while I jump for joy for Shildon, I fear for Darlington – and not just for its museum and its regeneration quarter.

To justify basing the story in Shildon, the NRM will tell a Shildon-centric story: that is where Locomotion No 1 started its inaugural journey; that’s where it was stabled; that’s where Timothy Hackworth made the engines work; that’s where the world’s first railway town grew up. It is a very good story.

The danger for Darlington is that its money, ingenuity, vision, bravery, daring, perseverance and ability to pull a wheelie which built the railway, which constructed Locomotion No 1, which created Shildon will be airbrushed from the Shildon story.

OK, this is a silly squabble. Yesterday I received emails from people pressing the case for the Hetton Railway into Sunderland in 1822 as the first railway in the world, for Killingworth, where George Stephenson built his first engine in 1814, as the birthplace of the railway, for Cornwall, where Richard Trevithick designed the first engine in 1802, as the start of the railway era.

All these cases are well made – but if Darlington doesn’t make its own case, no one will make it for it.

And this is a profound case. If Darlington is not the birthplace of the railways, what is it? If it is just a notable railway engineering town, then it will share that claim with Swindon, Crewe, Doncaster, York… It will cease to be unique.

And that will eat at the psyche of Darlington. After all, Locomotion No 1 is so special to the town that has preserved it and displayed it for 163 years. The engine is so iconic that its chimney features on the council logo; it is so identified with the town that it has been on the town’s coat-of-arms since 1867.

If it loses Locomotion No 1, those will have to be redesigned. Darlington will have to be rebranded. Can it be the "birthplace of the railways" if its first born has been snatched by somebody else?