Off Track

Austin's beloved Zilker Park tiny train 'permanently closes' after 20 years

Austin's beloved Zilker tiny train 'permanently closes' after 20 years

Zilker Zephyr train
The Zilker Zephyr is now closed.  Zilker Zephyr/Facebook

Update: At 3 pm, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department released its statement regarding the Zilker Zephyr, calling the closure "temporary." The city says it will issue a request for proposals in late spring to find a new train operator. Read the city's full statement here.

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It appears the Zilker Zephyr has run out of steam. After 22 years of carting Austinites and visitors around the Zilker Great Lawn, the tiny train is now closed.

Zephyr management revealed the news to friends and fans in a Facebook post, saying: "After 22 years of serving the people of Austin the time has come for the Zephyr to say goodbye. First, we want to thank the people of Austin for sharing the last two decades with us during your visits to Zilker Park. We are proud to say as native Austinites and a family owned business, that these years have been a pleasure."

It then ominously added, "We had a great experience in Zilker Park up until our closure of the Zephyr due to rainstorms in 2019."

According to Zephyr management, Austin's wet spring weather led to erosion along the river bank. As the train tracks are perched along the very top of the bank, the Zephyr closed in May 2019 to address safety concerns, with plans on reopening later that year.

"We had countless meetings with parks and recreation staff and our professional engineer that we personally hired," says the post. "During this time we developed options and a final solution to get the Zephyr back on track."

In order to justify the cost of the repairs, the Zephyr asked the city for a five-year contract extension. The post then outlines the Zephyr's version of contract negotiations over the next seven months, which ended in December with the city reportedly offering the Zilker Zephyr a three-year contract with the possibility of two one-year extensions. 

Citing financial costs, the Zilker Zephyr said it has no other option but to close. An email to the Austin Parks and Recreation communications rep to clarify the city's version of events was not immediately returned. 

"While our decision to turn down the offer was not taken lightly, we had to take into consideration that ultimately it would not have been a good business decision for us," the post reads. "Due to the amount of money we had projected we would have to invest for the repair — we understood only a contract with a guaranteed five years would make financial sense for our level of investment."

Attempts to reach Zephyr management were not immediately returned. When reached by phone, a voicemail message for the business said simply, "We regret to inform you that the Zilker Zephyr is now permanently closed. Please check our Facebook page for more information."