Plans have been revealed for the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone, which will see the 26-mile route of the railway boosted by an injection of funds and the collaborative efforts of a number of organisations.

Historic England is providing an estimated £700,000 in grant aid as part of the five-year scheme, which will focus on developing the railway as a heritage attraction, working towards its 2025 bicentenary.

New research will be carried out to help identify areas for repair and restoration, while other projects will help people to develop skills and training, encourage tourism, recreational activities and housing regeneration.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened in 1825. It was the birthplace of the modern railway system, changing the shape of the world’s communications, travel and economy. Some of the historic railway remains in use today.

Though the railway was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800’s, over the years it has become overlooked and neglected. Restoring the track as a heritage destination aims to give a much needed boost to the local area and economy.

The scheme is being led by a partnership which includes Darlington Borough Council, Durham County Council, Stockton Borough Council, Tees Valley Combined Authority, Historic England, A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership, Hitachi, Friends of Stockton and Darlington Railway, Network Rail, Northern Rail, Science Museum Group (Locomotion) and Virgin Trains.

Catherine Dewar, Planning Director for Historic England in the North East, said:

“We’re very proud to have three of the country’s 18 Heritage Action Zones here in our region and the Stockton and Darlington Railway is an incredibly exciting one. The 26 mile stretch of historic railway is coming up to its 2025 bicentenary and we’re thrilled to be working with a wide range of partners to develop the fantastic heritage along the route. 2025 may seem like a long way away but time will fly and we want to work with our partners to make the most of the railway heritage in this area with a view to recognising and celebrating the legacy of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.”

Councillor Nick Wallis, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Local Environment said on behalf of the three local authorities:

“Darlington Borough Council, Durham County Council and Stockton Borough Council are delighted that our Heritage Action Zone plans are now taking shape and we’re incredibly excited to get started. Plans to rejuvenate and revive the heritage along the Stockton and Darlington Railway route will benefit local residents and businesses, as well as attract visitors to the area. Through the Heritage Action Zone, we want to help the line achieve world-class status as a visitor attraction.”

Ben Houchen, Tees Valley Mayor said:

“Celebrating the birthplace of the modern railway is a critical part of the Tees Valley’s and County Durham’s heritage and we see developing and interpreting this internationally significant asset as a critical element of our economic development strategy for the Tees Valley. Through preserving our heritage and celebrating it through events such as the bi-centenary in 2025 and the City of Culture bid, we celebrate the legacy of our region as one at the forefront of innovation and technology in the past, the present and the future.”

Trish Pemberton, Chair of the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, said: “The Friends have been working to raise the profile of the Railway for many years, and save its important heritage. We are so pleased that this Partnership will help us achieve this, and more importantly, make sure that the economic regeneration it can stimulate is maximised – and that new generations know about it and value it.”

There are now 18 Heritage Action Zones in villages, towns and cities across England identified by Historic England as places in need and where the historic environment can create economic growth and improve quality of life for people.