The “enormous” potential of its Whitehead base was hailed as the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland unveiled 50th anniversary plans.
East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson also highlighted the employment created and skills preserved by the steam rail heritage group.
Mr Wilson, who sponsored an Early Day Motion at Westminster saluting the RPSI, said: “I congratulate the Society on its many achievements over the past 50 years. At Whitehead it has assembled an unrivalled collection of heritage steam engines and carriages.
“I wish the Society every success in its efforts to build for the future by developing its Whitehead centre as a tourist attraction, something which will be of economic importance to Whitehead and East Antrim.”
Mr Wilson added that he had been very happy to work with the Society on a number of grant aid applications.
He said: “I believe that apart from the jobs that the RPSI has created and apprenticeships it has made available, the preservation of our industrial heritage is important. In my view, the tourist potential from the activities of the Society is enormous.”
News of the tabling of the EDM was given to members and guests at last Wednesday’s ceremony at Castleview Road.
Denis Grimshaw, the RPSI chairman said: “We are most gratified by this recognition in terms of an Early Day Motion at Westminster and it is something that our members very much value.
“We are delighted that interest in steam engines and heritage engineering is now cascading down the generations. The active involvement of so many young people at Whitehead augurs well for the future.”
Lord O’Neill, president of the RPSI, drove the 1932-built No. 85 Merlin, which has undergone a major overhaul and will be returning with the RPSI’s Easter Eggspress specials on April 21 and 22, through a tape across the track to mark the occasion.
John Harcourt, founding chairman, presented recently elected board member Mark Walsh with a historic railway single-line staff to hand over the baton to the younger generation.
And the Mayor of Carrickfergus, Alderman Billy Ashe, conveyed congratulations to the RPSI on behalf of Carrickfergus Borough Council.
As part of the golden anniversary event, a specially commissioned 30-minute documentary film about the Society’s past, present and future, produced by RPSI member and movie maker Mike Beckett, received its premiere.