West Somerset Railway could be sold to private operator

Steam train going through West Somerset Railway line. The branch line was closed in 1971 and bought a year later by the council

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A Somerset heritage railway could be sold after the local authority decided to dispose of the freehold.

Minehead's West Somerset Railway (WSR), which uses steam locomotives, is run by West Somerset Railway Plc.

Somerset County Council, which wants to reduce its property portfolio to save money, said a sale would only go ahead if conditions over preservation are met.

It said it would now meet with interested parties.

The council has received bids from West Somerset Railway, which currently leases the land, and West Somerset Railways Association, a support charity.

Councillor David Huxtable said: "We have always said that the council is not in the railways business and it makes sense to consider selling the West Somerset Railway to a dedicated group who can completely focus on maintaining and improving the line."

He said the council would now meet with any interested parties to ensure they met the criteria for a sale.

Councillor David Hall said: "It's important that the railway continues to operate as normal while any discussions over a sale take place and we're committed to making sure that happens."

The 20-mile (32 km) line between Minehead and Taunton was closed by British Railways in 1971 as part of the Beeching cuts.

The following year, the council bought the branch line and leased it to the WSR.

A West Somerset Railway Plc spokesman was unavailable for comment.

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