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A $1 million heritage steam park for Maitland would spur a new generation of steam enthusiasts according to Steamfest chairman and city councillor Peter Garnham.
Apprentices at the Hunter Valley Training Company would learn the intricacies of steam machinery from the hands of former South Maitland Railway workers as part of the development in the Red Shed at the training company's Telarah base.
A train maintenance facility and a museum would also be part of the project.
Maitland MP John Price said the State Government had allocated $1 million to the heritage park and an announcement from transport minister John Watkins was "imminent".
"It's going to happen," Mr Price said yesterday.
"The money has been allocated and the minister will make an announcement shortly.
"The biggest problem has been finding a location - there has been some obstructions that no one would have dreamed of.
"We'll have something we can be very proud of for next Steamfest."
Sites near Maitland Railway Station, along the rail corridor near the Federation Centre and near the Steamfest rally site, were suggested when the idea for the park was posed in 2001.
But the Red Shed, at the South Maitland Railways site now home to the Hunter Valley Training Company, was Cr Garnham's first preference.
He said the $1 million State Government boost would pay the lease for the building for 30 years, as well as maintenance for the premises.
The shed would be a fully operational steam maintenance site, with the yard and equipment to be brought into line with WorkCover standards.
But the jewel in the crown for the steam park project was the apprentice training centre, according to Cr Garnham.
His vision was for apprentices at the Hunter Valley Training Company or other educational centres to restore the 1042 steam engine on display at Maitland Visitors Centre to working order.
He had approached the Maitland Lions Club for their blessing to relocate the engine.
"The best part about it is we'll be getting young kids skilled in working on steam machinery," Cr Garnham said.
"They'll get the passion for it and they'll continue it on when we're all gone."
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