Walking and cycling path along Stockton and Darlington Railway route could be 'major heritage attraction'

Skerne Bridge, which carries the Stockton and Darlington Railway, is the oldest railway bridge in the world in continuous useSkerne Bridge, which carries the Stockton and Darlington Railway, is the oldest railway bridge in the world in continuous use
Skerne Bridge, which carries the Stockton and Darlington Railway, is the oldest railway bridge in the world in continuous use
A local authority developing plans to celebrate the bi-centenary of the world’s first passenger railway looks set to press ahead with a proposal to develop a walking and cycling route along 26 miles of the historic line.

Darlington Borough Council’s cabinet will hear some of sections of the planned route along the alignment of the Stockton and Darlington Railway will need significant work and it is unlikely they will be completed in time for 2025, but alternative options have been identified to ensure that a continuous route can be provided by the bicentenary.

The authority hopes the marathon length route, from Witton Park in County Durham, through Shildon, Darlington and Stockton will help the 1825 railway realise its potential to become “a major heritage attraction, international visitor destination and driver of long-term economic growth and regeneration in the area”.

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An officer’s report to the council’s cabinet states, while presenting many challenges, the project would have numerous positive outcomes, such as ensuring more people can enjoy the landscape and become actively involved in its conservation and its future management.

The report states the route, which is being planned for as near the original railway line as possible, would connect towns and villages with key employment locations, improving opportunities for active travel for commuters.

It also highlights how the route would link heritage sites and key tourism destinations, such as Locomotion and Head of Steam so more people can learn about the history of the railway.

The report states: “It has the potential to reduce emissions and noise pollution by reducing vehicle traffic levels and so improve air quality. There may also be business opportunities as has been seen alongside other long distance walking and cycling routes such as cafes, farm shops, bike hire and bike repairs.”

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Councillors will be told that feasibility work to identify a continuous route had found lengths of the route will need “significant work and resources” due to challenges over land ownership, legal processes to create public rights of way, planning permissions, technical issues, heritage constraints and ecological constraints.

The report warns that in some locations the challenges will mean to produce a route before 2025, it will need to detour away from the original railway’s alignment until the issues can be dealt with. It highlights a difficult section between the Durham boundary and Coatham Lane where the exact route will need to be agreed with landowners and Durham County Council and would be dependent in part on major developments coming forward in Newton Aycliffe.

The meeting will also hear a key consideration in the development of the route will be ensure that the design and construction enables as many people as possible to be able to physically access the route. This will be achieved through careful consideration of surface materials, lighting, gradients and minimising the use of barriers.


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