In July, the Cedar Park-based Austin Steam Train Association hired new executive director Lil Serafine to help its train-centered tourism stay on track.
The ASTA was founded in 1989 and offers train rides that include murder mystery performances, costume parties and trips to Bertram and Burnet that can include tours of historic downtowns. A 15-member board of directors, seven paid staffers and a crew of volunteers keep the organization running, Community Outreach Coordinator Cody Eastman said.
Serafine began work at the organization July 1. She has about 25 years of experience with nonprofit groups throughout the U.S., including Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic—now named Learning Ally—and Grace After Fire, a group that assists female veterans.
"I was born in Chattanooga, and my first [train] experience as a child was on the [Chattanooga] train," Serafine said.
Serafine said she rode the Austin Steam Train years before she learned in May of the newly open executive director position. After riding the train a second time to Burnet, Serafine said she found a new appreciation for the tourism experience and the age diversity among train riders.
Older residents treasure the days when passenger trains were still common in Central Texas, she said, and many children enjoy witnessing what seems like a fantasy-world vehicle brought to life.
"This morning I was taking a tour with a group of moms and their little toddlers who were just having a thrill being on the train," Serafine said.
In March the ASTA moved to a new office space within the Railyard Shopping Center that would allow more room for a museum, Eastman said. Staffers and volunteers said they are not sure when the museum would open.
"We've always wanted to do something like this [museum]," Eastman said. "Before, our office was the museum."
Staffers need more funds and more time to plan a quality attraction, he said.
Organizers hope the museum can have free admission and oversight by volunteers who know and love the history of Central Texas railroads. Eastman said volunteers have donated items from Texas railroad history to the association such as vintage engineering equipment, 1940s train calendar pages, original passenger train pamphlets and a Southern Pacific Co. clock that dates to the 1950s.
Volunteers said they also hope to raise money to restore the ASTA's original 1916 Southern Pacific 786 steam engine, which was taken out of service in 1999 when inspectors found a crack in the boiler. Since then the train has been pulled by a 1960 Alco diesel locomotive. Work to repair and restore the steam engine has taken longer than the group expected, Eastman said.
"It would be a huge hit for us to make the restoration by 2016," he said.
Serafine said the organization hopes to use the repaired engine for train rides.
Meanwhile, staffers and volunteers will continue to promote the association, especially on social media, Eastman said.
"We want to keep growing," he said. "We're going to introduce a pumpkin patch ride here in October. We want to be sure to give people the best experience that we can and that they walk away knowing that they've been treated like family."
Austin Steam Train Association, 401 E. Whitestone Blvd., Ste. C-100, Cedar Park, 512-477-8468, www.austinsteamtrain.org