As the North East steams ahead to the bicentenary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025, local artists have begun gathering stories from today’s passengers and why the railway matter.

On Thursday 20th April, four of the six artist from the ‘Storylines’ project boarded the 09:55 from Darlington to Saltburn to launch a new initiative taking place this summer. Their journeys will follow the route of the Stockton & Darlington Railway as they chat to passenger and collect stories from those who use the line regularly to those visiting from afar. Opened in 1825, the original line is the world’s first locomotive-powered public railway which changed the way the world trades, travels and communicates.

The artists are seeking to capture the everyday stories of why people travel, passengers’ most memorable train travel stories and how they feel about riding along the route of the oldest locomotive-hauled passenger railway.

Storylines is commissioned by North East social enterprise Citizen Songwriters CIC in partnership with the Bishop Line Community Rail Partnership.

The Bishop Line’s Felicity Machnicki says “The celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Stockton & Darlington Railway is an extremely important event for the Bishop Line, being part of the original route. We’re so pleased to be working with all the creative partners on the Storylines project to help bring the 2025 celebration to the forefront of people’s minds and involve local people in preparing for this momentous celebration”.

The artists include writer, illustrator and storyteller Lizzie Lovejoy who translates local narratives into poems; Carmen Marcus, author, poet and one of the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain’s recipients of the New Play Commission Scheme; Rowan McCabe, Newcastle based poet and “the world’s first Door-to-door poet”; Harry Gallagher, Teesside born poet and former ‘BBC Tees poet for National Poetry Day’; Becci Sharrock, writer, theatre maker and creative producer and former writer-in-residence at Beamish Museum; and Sam Slatcher, singer-songwriter and
one of the founders of Citizen Songwriters and The Story Train, a creative arts train carriage in the Durham Dales.

For Lizzie Lovejoy, writer and storyteller, “there is something magical about this train journey. This line revolutionised the world of work and travel, providing opportunities for working-class people that didn’t rely on one town alone. It provided connection, between place and people. We are continuing that tradition”

Becci Sharrock, who is using her residency to develop a modern adaption of the Railway Children, remarked, “in a short space of time it was really clear how evocative train journeys are for people and how many memories are attached to this kind of transport”.

The creative output of the artists will be showcased at events marking the anniversary of the railway in September. Some of the poems will be appearing at the stations along the Bishop Auckland to Saltburn route.
Lizzie again: “Conversation is connection, and this first day of story sharing has shown just how important our words are”. For Becci, “it’s only day one and it already feels like a really special project to be a part of – I can’t wait to see where it takes us.”