DARLINGTON is the subject of unprecedented investment in our railways and our railway heritage.
£135m pumped into a much-expanded Bank Upper Station, £35m into our much-improved Heritage Railway Quarter, a purchased No.1 Locomotion replica and new premises for A1 Locomotive Trust as they complete the Prince of Wales after the success of Tornado.
However, part of the puzzle is missing, and I was first alerted to this by a concerned Darlington resident who has a family member in a wheelchair and is effectively unable to use North Road Station. The station is a small station on the Bishop line, the first stop on the journey from Darlington mainline station. It is tucked away behind trees, off North Road, near Skerne Bridge.
A station existed here on the original Stockton & Darlington Railway, but I think it would be fair to say that the founders of the S&DR would simply be embarrassed by the current state of affairs. A tiny platform with a Harrington hump to aid carriage access, it features ugly furniture and an unused station canopy that now serves only as a home for defecating pigeons.
It is in this context that a few weeks ago I brought together Network Rail, Northern Railway, Historic England, The Auckland Project, Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership, The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, Friends of the Stockton & Darlington Railway , Darlington Borough Council, Tees Valley Combined Authority and Councilor Mike Renton, the council’s Heritage Champion, to explore what can be done.
I was thrilled with everyone’s positivity and enthusiasm, and even more thrilled with everyone’s willingness on the Zoom call to visit the station. So, on a sunny Thursday morning this week, everyone gathered at the train station.
We were shown the extensive work the council will be doing as part of the £38million spent on the museum, which is dramatically improving access to the station, including much needed wheelchair access. With Northern Railway having access to funding to make the station accessible, the question arises, are we going ahead with their proposed ‘box’ at the top of the platform which will improve the height of the platform, and if yes, what would that look like?
Is covering the beautiful masonry of the platform the right thing to do? Is the current security fence that separates the platform from the museum really appropriate for this heritage station? Does pulling back the fence to deepen the platform make things better? What additional benefits would extending the platform outward and moving away from the track bring? How much will it cost? Can Network Rail and Darlington Council agree to have trains stop under canopy?
All of these considerations are now firmly in the hands of willing rail partners and, in my view, set us on a journey to see a much improved station, fit for purpose, fit for the future, respectful of the historical context of its location. , and above all accessible to all.
There is still a lot of work to be done, in terms of design and funding, but I am confident that we will be able to see some much needed improvements. I am happy to have been able to bring together all these interested parties. Full steam ahead for North Road Station!