WEST Somerset Railway plc has warned that the railway could be closed for a period if the freehold is sold elsewhere.
On Friday, Somerset County Council made the decision to dispose of the freehold at a meeting. Currently, the council own the freehold and lease the land to the plc who operate the attraction as part of the lease.
While the council will only go ahead with the sale if conditions over preservation are met, they said they are committed to making sure the railway operates as normal in the meantime.
However, the PLC has said a sale to a third party would cause disruption and could mean closure of the railway while transfers take place.
The West Somerset Railway PLC and the West Somerset Railway Association, a support charity, have both submitted bids for the freehold of the land.
A spokesperson from the PLC said: “SCC has confirmed that because of its importance to the local economy, nothing will be done to jeopardise the ongoing success of the West Somerset Railway.
“In order to avoid any possibility of closure during the transfer process orders for operating the railway must be in place at all times.
“The Light Railway Order currently vests the powers to operate a railway only with the County Council or the West Somerset Railway plc, so if the land was sold to any other third party, unnamed in the existing order, the West Somerset Railway would be closed for the running of trains until statutory powers were obtained by the new owner/operator.”
The railway would not reopen until powers were obtained.
As the WSR plc is the current operator of the railway, they already hold the statutory operating rights and say a transfer to them would avoid this.
They add: “Because objections to an application for a new order by a third party would lead to uncertainty, and with a public enquiry incurring very high costs, the report stipulates that the purchaser must pay all such resulting enquiry costs.
“We look forward to working with SCC and all our partners during the due diligence process to show how the plc option provides the solution.” A recommendation put forward by the council states that West Somerset Railway should remain as ‘operators of the railway’.
Cllr David Huxtable, the cabinet member for resources said that there has been a lot of support of the Railways Association proposals for the freehold.
Cllr David Hall added: “The West Somerset Railway is extremely important to Somerset, attracting thousands of visitors to the area and contributing greatly to the local economy.
“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.
“We will now sit down and work with all interested parties to do the right thing for Somerset council taxpayers and the right thing for West Somerset Railway.”
A spokesperson from the West Somerset Railway Assocation was unavailable for comment.