A cross-border brouhaha
COLUMBIA, Mo 7/12/15 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia Star Dinner Train owner B. Allen Brown -- who shuttered the train last October, sticking City Hall with over $12,000 in unpaid rent and utilities -- has tried to restart in Canada for at least a year.
His plans have reportedly run aground, leaving Canadians scratching their heads, partly over Brown's audacity after business failures in Michigan, Florida, and Columbia.
"When you start speaking with other companies he’s dealt with, there’s a management pattern. He’s taken viable hospitality trains and put them out of business in a matter of months," Al Errington, co-chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, told the Northern Hoot, an Ontario-based digital news service.
Brown's misadventures in Columbia started when his company, Michigan-based Railmark Holdings, took over the city-subsidized dinner train, a pet project of deputy city manager Tony St. Romaine.
City government gave the train's first owner, Mark Vaughn, $45,000 in public money, spending more tax dollars to rebuild a passenger loading ramp. The subsidies angered disability advocates because the rail cars never complied with ADA requirements.
Brown's problems escalated when he tied the train to complex business deals with Florida investors, two of whom -- John and Matthew Dent -- filed a Federal lawsuit over the deals. Court documents and stock filings reveal the Columbia Star lost roughly $170,000.
Promising over three hundred jobs, a freight rail line -- and a dinner train -- Brown approached city leaders in London and St. Thomas, Ontario last year with a plan to purchase a defunct Canadian Northern (CN) short line rail operation.
This year, he won a bid to operate a second, government-subsidized rail line between Sault St. Marie and Hearst, Ontario, the Algoma Central Railway (ACR).
"We are going to set up a Railmark organization that mirrors our business plan in the U.S.," Brown told reporters in Ontario.
Subsidized by the Canadian government, ACR would need "$7 million over five years," after which time Brown promised to make the the rail line self-sustaining. Canadian leaders ultimately agreed to give Brown and Railmark $5.3 million over three years.
"We believe Railmark is the team...that will be able to bring this to fruition," Brian Hayes, a Conservative Member of the Canadian Parliament, told reporters.
As Brown was pulling out of Columbia, he "hailed the announcement" of his Canada operation as a "a new future for Northern Ontario rail service."
But that new future hit bumps just as the train left the station. In June, it "ran afoul of some very important regulations" that left it parked -- and passengers stranded.
Brown also failed to secure a line of credit, prompting the city of Sault Ste. Marie to back out of a proposed agreement with him.
Canadian leaders were apparently aware of Brown's history. A March report in SOOToday, an Ontario news site, had St. Romaine trading barbs with Brown over the Columbia Star Dinner Train's failure.
"Brown said he has put the Columbia Star Dinner Train on hold until after the Sault Ste. Marie deal, with plans to move the train to St. Louis," SOOToday reported.
The African nation of Ghana may also be in Railmark's future, according to the company's Facebook page.
One photo (right) depicts Brown supposedy "discussing plans for the re-development of the Ghanian Railway System" with Ghana President John Dramani Mahama.