This column was written for, and first appeared in, the Northern Echo
Stockton and the world’s railways are inseparably intertwined. Speak to anyone from Stockton or Yarm and they will all speak passionately about our rich rail roots and the vital and proud part our area played in the establishment of the Stockton & Darlington Railway; the world’s first public railway to use steam locomotives.
Now, Locomotion No. 1, the engine that historically chugged back and forth on this line between the coalfields of South West Durham to the newly invigorated port in Stockton (or at least a replica of it) is stored at the Shildon Railway Museum, having been moved from its original resting place in Darlington. Unfortunately, Stockton never had even a chance of being the home of this piece of history, probably since Labour-controlled Stockton Council has never been interested in celebrating our history.
It’s a tragic shame that even the world’s first ticket office which was opened in 1822 at St John’s Well and was the site of the first track to be laid of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, has nowt more than a plaque to commemorate this landmark. Compared to places like Darlington and Shildon, it is frankly embarrassing that we have barely acknowledged the role Stockton played in pioneering this technological revolution that changed the world. That needs to change.
The Government has provided Stockton two perfect opportunities to rediscover its roots. In October, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps fired the starting pistol on a competition to identify the new headquarters for Great British Railways, the new body that will take over from Network Rail and aims to deliver a radical reform of our railways. Moreover, there are plans in motion to use the £20m Levelling Up cash recently awarded to Yarm & Eaglescliffe to lay some track in Preston Park in honour of the original Stockton & Darlington line.
It will come as no surprise to you that I have launched our bid to make Stockton the new home of Great British Railways and we already have the King of Rail himself, Michael Portillo, backing the bid.
Thankfully, after a period of deafening silence I have finally received word that this campaign to bring jobs, investment and put Stockton back into the heart of British rail is likely to receive backing from the local Labour Party, however some local opposition activists have still taken to social media to oppose the bid, deciding to use this as an opportunity to play politics and restrict our potential by talking Stockton down.
The Conservative group has tabled a motion give the council the opportunity to put their money where their mouth is and lend their support to this exciting bid. At the time of writing, I wait with bated breath to see the results, because the only way to make this a success is with a unified approach. I look forward to working with our local representatives to put Stockton’s best foot forward and bring Great British Railways home.
It makes sense that the beginning of a new era of rail in this country is driven full steam ahead from where it all began: Stockton.