AN iconic locomotive which has been a familiar sight on the West Somerset Railway for over 40 years is leaving the line next month for a three-year stint on a Hampshire heritage railway.

This will enable Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust (SDRT)to put the hire fees for its 95-year-old heavy freight engine, 7F 53808, towards its next major overhaul in 2023, for which it will return to the WSR workshops.

The locomotive will leave Minehead by road in the next few weeks ,bound for the 10-mile long Watercress Line at Alton, Hampshire, which is operating a limited service throughout the summer season.

Rescued from a Barry scrapyard in the late 1970s, the engine was restored at Washford by SDRT members and later at Minehead before going into regular service on the WSR line. The operating agreement between the two organisations has now been suspended to allow 53808 to be hired by the Watercress Line.

A spokesman said: “The WSR recognises the need for the trust to generate income from using the locomotive in order to contribute towards the cost of overhaul when the boiler certificate runs out.

“The WSR has indicated that it wishes to discuss the return of the locomotive to West Somerset and to discuss funding options which would enable the overhaul, due in 2023, to be carried out as planned.”