Wells Harbour Railway could face closure, Holkham Estate confirms

The Wells Harbour Railway takes people from the town to the beach Credit: Graham Hardy

A narrow gauge railway which takes holidaymakers to the beach in Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk could be closed by 2023.

The Wells Harbour Railway (WHR) runs from the town to Pinewoods Holiday Park near the beach, parallel to the sea wall.

The Holkham Estate, which owns the land the railway runs on, has confirmed it is reviewing whether to renew the lease given to the WHR's operators, which expires in 2022.

In a statement the estate said it was hoping "to find better solutions for getting people to and from the beach - ones that offer an easier and safer experience".

It said the current operator was planning to retire in the near future, and had asked for another ten-year lease so he could sell the railway to a new operator.

According to Companies House, the railway has been operated by Gary and Alison Brecknell since 2003.

Renewing the lease for another ten years would "delay the opportunity" to deal with issues of overcrowding at the beach car park, Holkham said.

It said solutions might "involve altering how, where or when the railway runs, or replacing it with other ways for visitors to move to and from the beach and enjoy the best of what the Wells and Holkham area offers".

Rumours about the railway's possible closure have drawn criticism on social media.

Writing on the Holkham Facebook page, Judith Chesworth said the railway was "such an iconic part of Wells. Devastating."

Meanwhile Judith Rolfe wrote: "PLEASE. PLEASE, PLEASE save the little railway down to the beach. It IS part of Wells' charm."

The Holkham statement did not confirm that a decision to close the line had been made, and acknowledged "there is definitely the possibility of an extension to the existing railway operation".

According to the WHR website, it has operated since 1976, with three changes of ownership in that period.


Read the statement from the Holkham Estate in full:

The current operator of The Wells Harbour Railway notified Holkham in Autumn 2020 that he wanted to stop running the railway service in the next year or two. He asked Holkham to give him a new 10-year lease so he could sell the equipment and the lease to a new operator.

We have all seen the number of day visitors to Wells beach increase and more days each summer when the car park at Wells beach is full by mid-morning. The Holkham team hopes to be able to find better solutions for getting people to and from the beach - ones that offer an easier and safer experience. The current railway was designed to help holidaymakers at Pinewoods get into town and back to the site in the evening. Today the need is different, to help day-visitors get from their parked car or from the town as close as possible to Wells Beach.

Renewing the lease on the existing track for another 10 years would delay the opportunity to resolve these matters, which isn’t ideal. Over the next 12 months we will involve Wells Town Council and other stakeholders in Wells in discussions about this opportunity to improve the visitor experience. That may involve altering how, where or when the railway runs, or replacing it with other ways for visitors to move to and from the beach and enjoy the best of what the Wells and Holkham area offers.

Until a better solution is designed we would like to see the railway continue. The current licence includes summers 2021 and 2022, and if our discussions lead to a solution that needs longer to put in place then there is definitely the possibility of an extension to the existing railway operation.