The future of a much-loved miniature railway on the north Norfolk coast has been thrown into doubt.

The Wells Harbour Railway, which runs from Wells-next-the-Sea quayside to Pinewoods holiday park and the beach, is being reviewed by the track's owners, Holkham Estate.

A spokesman for Holkham said the railway's operator told them last autumn he wanted to stand down "in the next year or two" and asked for a new 10-year lease in order to sell the equipment to a new operator.

The spokesman said such a renewal would not be "ideal" as the area's needs were evolving.

Holkham said: "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."

Mike Gates, mayor of Wells, said the railway was an "integral part of the beach scene".

Mr Gates said: "It is very popular and it would be a shame to lose it, especially since we haven't heard what would replace it."

He said he had always thought the railway could be extended from its current terminus in the south of the Pinewoods site, so it would run closer to the beach itself.

Eastern Daily Press: Mike Gates, the mayor of Wells-next-the-Sea.Mike Gates, the mayor of Wells-next-the-Sea. (Image: Archant Library)

Mr Gates said: "You could almost say it's an integral part of the transport system in Wells because it's a quarter mile walk down to the beach and that's too far for some people."

A spokesman for the estate said it would work with the town council and other stakeholders to determine the next steps, but that it would like to see the railway continue until a better solution was found.

They said: "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."

The railway was established in 1976 and runs every 20 minutes at peak times, during its normal operating season from mid-March until October.

It is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the narrowest gauge railway - 10.25 inches - to operate a scheduled passenger service, a record it holds jointly with the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway.

The harbour railway has also been approached for a comment.