Zilker Zephyr train operator calls it quits

A washout under train tracks near the Zilker Park Great Lawn is what led to the collapse of contract talks between the City of Austin and the operator of the popular Zilker Zephyr train ride. A notification of closure was put up at the train station next to Barton Springs Pool.

"It just, it doesn't feel right if they close it down,” said Travis Farren.

Like many kids in Austin, Farren grew up going to the park and riding the train. When he heard about the closure he rushed down to see for himself.

"Why would we let this happen to something we grew up with, you know it's 40-something years of memories going down the drain,” said Farren. 

On Facebook, the operators of the train wrote:

The train for more than two decades offered a 20-minute excursion into Zilker Park. The tracks run along Barton Creek as well as the Hike and Bike Trail. For some, the best part of the ride came toward the end. 

"Going in the tunnel,” said a young girl named Ruby.

The tunnel is where the train is currently parked. Getting it out seems pretty simple for a child.

"If they pay enough money for it, they could fix it,” said a young boy named Lucas.

The washout happened in May 2019 after storms moved through Austin. City officials said Wednesday that repairing the washout is the contractual responsibility of the operator, which still had a year left on its deal.

The operator stated on Facebook they wanted a new five-year contract, in order to recoup the costs. But it was claimed that the city countered with a three-year deal, including a possible two-year extension. The response to that by the operator of the train was also posted on social media:

With both sides parting ways, the city is already looking for a new operator. The drafting of a bidding process has already started. People who spoke to FOX7 questioned why the city didn't move quickly and make the repairs after the storm washed out the tracks this past May.

"I know I pay a lot of property taxes so it’s very likely that they could have the money to do it … that would be nice it’s been gone for a long time” said Stephanie Stout who brought her children to the park Wednesday.

Officials with the Austin Parks Department said they're "saddened by the temporary closure of the Zilker Zephyr." The statement also noted that rebidding for a new operator would "ensure the public receives the best services possible." 

RELATED: Zilker Zephyr train shuts down after 22 years of business

That new deal could include having the new operator make improvements to the facility and/or additional services. Completing the process may take a while. A request for proposals is not expected until later this spring.

FOX7 asked Mayor Steve Adler if he had considered having the city make the repairs to the washout, considering it occurred along the Hike and Bike Trail, as well as along Lady Bird Lake. 

In a post on social media, in response to the request, Mayor Adler stated:

"The Zilker Zephyr will chug on. It is an institution that contributes to the uniqueness of Austin. The City is already working to find a new operator, and engaged in discussions to make necessary repairs and restore service."