Environment and Heritage Minister Robyn Parker has called for public comment on the sale of seven historic Hunter steam engines.
The seven English-built Class 10 steam engines were among 14 operated by South Maitland Railways up until the 1980s which have remained intact and in the Hunter, until now.
The weighty piece of Maitland’s railway and coalfield heritage, has been sold by Maitland heritage conservationist Chris Richards to a North Coast museum pending the approval of authorities.
The other seven engines remain in the Hunter in various private collections.
Mr Richards confirmed he had done a deal that had raised concerns among some Maitland steam enthusiasts, who claimed the engines would be left to rot at the museum in Dorrigo.
The final transaction, he acknowledged, would be subject to approval from the NSW Heritage Council, which must sign off on the move after conducting community consultation.
“It’s standard procedure,” Mr Richards said. “There would probably only be a small group who would object but at the same time do nothing or give nothing to retain them.”
East Maitland residents Janece McDonald and Lawrence Henderson objected to the sale in a letter to Ms Parker.
Dr McDonald feared Dorrigo’s humidity, mixed with the soot from decades of service, would cause rust and ultimately the engines’ destruction.
“They will join a large number of rolling stock left in the open at this site for up to 30 years and thus not conserved and, significantly for the people of Maitland, not accessible to the public,” she said.
The engines have been stored at North Rothbury for the past 24 years and some parts have been taken to Dorrigo already.
Mr Richards said he bought the engines to save them from the scrap heap and sold them for similar reasons.
“They’re the only class of engine that has survived the cutter’s torch in their entirety,” he said.
“I resisted high offers over the years for individual engines. I resisted to keep them together as a collection.”
Dorrigo Steam Railway and Museum has given Mr Richards assurances the engines would be well looked after among the largest collection of historic rolling stock in NSW.
“They will be restored and operate on a branch line about 40 miles [65 kilometres] long,” Mr Richards said.
Ms Parker issued a statement that acknowledged community concern.
“I would encourage everyone with an interest in the heritage listed steam trains to have their say,” she said.