The disused blue and yellow trains at the Louisville Zoo will get a second life at a Texas zoo as well as a distillery closer to home.
The zoo recently sold both trains for over $470,000 combined. Model trains were used to ferry visitors around the park from the zoo’s first day of operation in 1969 until 2019, when an underground mine collapsed near part of the track. Louisville subway officials estimated that moving this part of the railroad would cost more than $1 million.
The trains to be auctioned were not the zoo’s first. These trains were first deployed in 2013 and designed to resemble North American steam trains. They can carry up to 21 people in various compartments equipped with hardwood benches. Usually a tour guide with a microphone was posted in the back.
Stephanie Moore, assistant director of operations at the Louisville Zoo, said many Kentucky residents reached out after news of the proposed train sale broke. They shared fond memories of their visit to the park, making the decision to part with it more difficult.
“We heard from many grandparents who came as young children and brought their children and grandchildren home to take the train,” she said. “We actually asked a family to ask if they could buy a train bell because their grandfather had worked at the zoo and one of his jobs was to run the train.”
This month, trains are scheduled to leave Derby City for two destinations: the Fort Worth Zoo and the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Franklin County.
The Fort Worth Zoo already has a train, known as the Yellow Rose Express, that takes visitors in/out at the Texas Wild! exhibit featuring native plants and animals.
A Fort Worth Zoo spokesperson said the Louisville Blue Train would allow them to do maintenance and tune-ups without any downtime. They hope to upgrade their track in the future to run two trains simultaneously.
For Buffalo Trace, the Zoo’s yellow train will be new alongside its main attraction: bourbon. The sprawling 130-acre property also has a botanical garden and views of the Kentucky River.
Amy Preske, public relations manager for parent company Sazerac, said the distillery grounds once had railway lines and “it was critically important to the prosperity of the distillery at the time”.
“We are very happy to bring a train back to the distillery,” she said in an email. “We look forward to showing the important role of the railway to our 300,000 [annual] visitors.”
Preske said plans for the train at the Buffalo Trace Distillery aren’t finalized yet, but they expect it to be up and running, not just for display.
Louisville Zoo officials said the decision to sell the trains was ultimately a financial decision. The Zoo doesn’t have the money to bring them back to life, and the sale could help fund future improvements.
The first portion of the proceeds, approximately $177,000, will be used to repay a loan the zoo received from the city. The Louisville Metro is currently keeping the rest of the money, but Moore said he hopes the money will be reinvested in the park.
“Our mission is to improve the connection between people and our planet,” she said. “We always have the improvement of animal welfare and animal shows in mind for any kind of funding we have.”
Moore said the zoo would like to use the funding for renovations to the MetaZoo space and offered new exhibits for animals native to Kentucky.