Darlington’s ‘Disneyworld’ Railroad Heritage Attraction Makes Progress

PLANS for a £35million railway heritage attraction described as an ‘ambitious and imaginative opportunity’ have moved forward.

Council leaders are being asked to use £14m-15m on the Darlington Railway Heritage Quarter (DRHQ).

An “immersive driving experience” usually only seen in theme parks is promised for the multi-million pound programme.

Council reports estimate that it will attract nearly 370,000 visits per year.

The project aims to be completed in time for the Bicentenary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2025.

Artist’s impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like. Credit: Darlington City Council.

Councilor Heather Scott, leader of Darlington Borough Council, told a cabinet meeting: ‘This is one of the most ambitious and imaginative opportunities to put Darlington on the world map and celebrate our heritage and its culture.

“We are working with others in the region and further afield to make the 2025 Bicentenary celebrations, both nationally and internationally, a place to visit.”

Read more: Plans for the Rail Heritage Quarter in Darlington unveiled

The total cost of the project is £34-35 million.

Plans include the repair and restoration of the freight shed with “an immersive digital media experience for visitors and a Hologauze projection of locomotives”.

The North Road station building, which houses the Head of Steam Museum, will be “refreshed” to provide a “rich visitor experience”.

“Engaging visuals” will include augmented and virtual reality installations and “hands-on interactive exhibits.”

The Echo of the North: an artist's impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like.  Credit: Darlington City Council.Artist’s impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like. Credit: Darlington City Council.

The firm’s report states: “Probably the most memorable encounter of all within the museum will be the Black Box experience, an extraordinarily vivid immersion in passenger rail transport from 1825 to the present day (if not also the future), and the extraordinary impact it has traversed societies and cultures around the world.”

Currently under development, this may include a “4D cinema-like experience” with moving seats.

People will be charged for this experience, but the museum as a whole will be free.

The attraction will also include the Carriage Works housing locomotive exhibits, an archive store, study center and reading rooms, a live steam engineering building, a restored 1861 shed and a link to the main line with the possibility of taking steam train rides, and an “unmissable playground”.

Visitors will be able to “experience the sights and sounds of Victorian Darlington”.

The Echo of the North: an artist's impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like.  Credit: Darlington City Council.Artist’s impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like. Credit: Darlington City Council.

The firm’s report states: “Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter is a major project which invests in our rail heritage ahead of the bicentenary in 2025 to create a national tourist destination in Darlington.

“The development will transform the DRHQ into a major tourist attraction by 2024 so that it can be a central feature of the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) Bicentenary events in 2025.

“Key improvements will be made to a number of significant historic buildings on the site, linking them together to create a series of attractions, including Skerne Bridge, the oldest working railway bridge in the world.

“Digital and technological investments will bring the story to life and there will be a new immersive driving experience only seen in theme parks.

“DRHQ will have a cafe and shop, themed play area, exhibition grounds, new live engineering building, temporary exhibition space, archives and extensive parking, which appeal to all generations. to visit for years to come.

“The site will be a key location for the 2025 Bicentennial events, which will put Darlington and the wider region on the world map and lay a solid foundation for the new DRHQ, demonstrating the council’s commitment to enhancing our heritage and our culture.

“It will tell the story of a place, a time and a range of people who brought together unique combinations of existing ideas and technologies and new solutions that combined the ingenuity and determination of engineers, contractors, financiers, surveyors, builders, marines, and countless nameless individuals who have given their knowledge, expertise, and faith to great corporations that have changed the world.”

The Echo of the North: an artist's impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like.  Credit: Darlington City Council.Artist’s impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like. Credit: Darlington City Council.

DRHQ will focus on Darlington’s “global innovation” in the birth of the modern railroad through modern times leading to regeneration and investment with the lasting influence of the railroad.

It will “create an impressive and memorable ‘sense of place’ and the realization that ‘it happened here'”.

The advisers released around £20m of funding from the Tees Valley Combined Authority in January 2020.

Plans for a “game-changing” rail tourist attraction with holograms and theme park-style time travel were unveiled last October.

The free museum would use ‘augmented virtual reality’, including holograms of incoming and outgoing trains, busts of railroad pioneers George Stephenson and Edward Pease talking to each other, ‘talking portraits’ and ‘a mirror where you’ll see yourself transported on Victorian station.

The Echo of the North: an artist's impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like.  Credit: Darlington City Council.Artist’s impression of what the Darlington Rail Heritage Quarter might look like. Credit: Darlington City Council.

A key paid feature – a Disneyworld or Universal Studios theme park-style ride where groups will be taken through the ages – was in development.

The cabinet agreed to recommend to the board to approve and release the funds.

This is £9.75m from grants and contributions from external bodies and capital funding, including £1.6m from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £300,000 from the Arts Council England if applications are successful.

The council will also be asked to note the use of £4.6million from the Towns Fund.

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