DARLINGTON is facing a race against time to save its top attraction following an “unjust” move to take it out of the town that has looked after it for 164 years, it has been claimed.
With just months to go until the National Railway Museum said it would move Robert Stephenson’s Locomotion No 1 to its museum in Shildon, Darlington MP Peter Gibson and Darlington Borough Council leader Councillor Heather Scott said it was vital residents illustrated the town’s strength of attachment to the first passenger-carrying railway steam locomotive.
The Science Museum Group (SMG), which runs the National Railway Museum, says it wants to double the size of its Locomotion museum to tell the story of the early railways ahead of the bicentenary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.
Mr Gibson said he had held “very constructive discussions” about the future site of the locomotive with Dame Mary Archer and Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, leading trustees of the SMG.
He said: “I have continued to work hard to emphasise the importance of Locomotion No 1 to our town. It is central to our identity. It is on the town’s crest, on railway bridges, memorial in the police station, emblazoned on top of buildings and even on the weathervane on top of the clock tower.”
While the SMG is publicly-funded, leading figures in the borough do not consider it to be democratically accountable as its leadership does not include elected officials, so are seeking to step up pressure on the organisation.
Recent weeks have seen Liberal Democrat and Labour party leaders Ed Davey and Sir Keir Starmer urged to join a cross-party campaign to show a united front to the SMG, following Boris Johnson voicing support to keep Locomotion No 1 in the town.
It remains unclear when the Locomotion No 1, which has been owned by the SMG since 1968 and is on loan to Darlington council’s Head of Steam museum until March next year, would be moved, but it is thought it could be as early as March.
Mr Gibson said: “We need to step up this campaign and the people of Darlington need to back it. Their support will make a huge difference. Time is of the essence.”
Cllr Scott added: “Darlington residents have been paying for it out of their council tax and we need residents to sign the petition and help show the powers that be how serious we are about keeping Locomotion No 1 in Darlington.”