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Austin to look for new Zilker Zephyr operator as current one steps down

Thursday, January 30, 2020 by Marisa Charpentier, KUT

The company that runs the Zilker Zephyr, the miniature train that runs through Zilker Park, will stop operating the ride. But the Austin Parks and Recreation Department says it’s looking for another company to run it.

The family-run business Texas Special Inc. has operated the Zilker Zephyr for the last 22 years. The train has been closed temporarily since May after heavy rainstorms led to erosion and the track was deemed unsafe.

When the storm happened, less than a year remained in the vendor’s contract. Repair costs were going to take longer than that for the company, which is responsible for the repairs, to recoup. Fixing the storm damage would have taken 14 months and cost about $286,000, according to city documents.

The parks department ultimately offered the company a three-year contract with two options to renew, the management company said in a Facebook post — an agreement the company says wasn’t sufficient.

“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,” Texas Special wrote.

Parks and Recreation had been looking into re-bidding the train service to “ensure the public receives the best services possible,” the department said in a statement Wednesday. The department says it tried to work with the vendor to create an agreement “to continue operations while preserving future bidding opportunities.”

Ultimately, the two parties were not able to come to an agreement. The city says it will send out a request for proposals for the management and operation of the train by late spring.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo courtesy of the Zilker Zephyr’s Facebook page.

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