After a two-year suspension in service, a decades-old Austin institution is getting back on track, and in a very Austin-tatious way.
On the 60th anniversary of the Zilker Park train, the eagerly anticipated new chugger, named the Zilker Eagle, will embark on a new era with its new name, a new look, and new specifications that both honor its history and embrace Austin’s weird culture.
Replacing the Zilker Zephyr, which was decommissioned in 2019, the new Zilker Eagle gets its name courtesy of the Austin community, which last fall submitted more than 750 name ideas and cast 7,000 votes for their favorites. It’s a fitting choice that harkens back to the train’s origins, as the Eagle was also the name of the first train to run the tracks at Zilker Park, beginning in 1961.
The Austin Parks Foundation, the presenting sponsor of the Zilker Eagle, will operate the new train, with proceeds from its business benefiting the treasured metropolitan park.
In addition to the train’s new name, APF has also unveiled the new logo and branding for the Zilker Eagle, which is expected to be up and running by this fall. The logo, designed by Austin agency Frank & Victor, features a midcentury-style eagle, and the overall look of the train mirrors that of a streamlined passenger train, similar to the Missouri Pacific Railroad’s Texas Eagle, which chugged through Austin in the 1940s and ’50s.
Most eye-catching, though, is the Zilker Eagle’s paint scheme: an unforgettable tie-dye design that pays homage to the long-held Keep Austin Weird attitude.
“In the ’60s and ’70s, wearing tie-dye was considered a public display of progressiveness and solidarity in the struggle for support of the human and political revolution,” APF notes in a release. “This tie-dye element, which is also the design for the train engine, represents the melting pot of Austin’s residents and culture. The design echoes the old Austin adage that everyone is welcome, and the revitalization of the train will provide an affordable family activity that is accessible to all.”
Speaking of being accessible to all, the Zilker Eagle — which for the first time ever will be all electric-powered — and the depot area are undergoing improvements to bring them into accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, including the addition of multiple wheelchair-accessible passenger coaches.
The Zilker Eagle is also getting some support from local organizations and businesses, among them the ACL Music Festival and the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which, as depot sponsor, is helping with renovations. And Austin jewelry doyenne and nonprofit champion Kendra Scott is the main underground tunnel sponsor, and will help with the development of a creative new installation.
APF says all Austinites will be able to ride the train, regardless of their ability to pay and, thanks in part to Scott’s sponsorship, it will institute community hours and enable local nonprofits — particularly those serving underrepresented communities — to enjoy the Zilker Eagle.
“Austin is known as a place where people can freely be themselves, a place where individuality is celebrated and where everyone is welcome, so we are honored to bring back one of our town’s favorite attractions in a way that represents that. And there’s no better way to pay homage to old and new Austin and our rich cultural tapestry than to dip the Zilker Eagle into some tie-dye,” says Colin Wallis, CEO of the Austin Parks Foundation.
“Part of what makes spearheading the return so exciting for us is getting to partner with some amazing Austin institutions like Capital Metro, Kendra Scott, and ACL Fest to bring our vision to life — from the depot to the tunnels. We’re full speed ahead and thrilled to have our community along for the ride.”