Still no sign of an ADA-accessible dining car

COLUMBIA, Mo 12/2/13 (Beat Byte) --
The Columbia City Council last month approved the sale of the controversial Columbia Star Dinner Train to B. Allen Brown, whose firm Railmark Holdings provides products and services to the railroad industry.  

Brown purchased the train from Mark Vaughn, whose Iowa-based Central States Rail Associates started the 244-passenger restaurant in 2010 with help from $65,000 in city taxpayer funds.   Controversy erupted when disability advocates discovered Vaughn would not include an ADA-accessible rail car.  Access for persons with disabilities is mandatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act for virtually all restaurants.

Vaughn claimed historic railcars are exempt from ADA requirements, so the city's disabilities commission and other groups argued he should not have received taxpayer funds, used in part to construct a new boarding platform at the city's COLT rail station.   The train runs between Columbia and Centralia.

Brown signed a new "passenger services agreement" in November that covers his use of city-owned rail tracks, warehouse, and office space.   It does not, however, provide for an accessible rail car, which has dominated news of the train almost from the time city officials announced its arrival. 

Publically arguing over the issue as late as Dec. 2012, Vaughn and dinner train manager David Tenny gave conflicting stories to reporters about when -- or if -- they would add an accessble car.  Vaughn insisted the rail car was "still possible," if only he could get more taxpayer funding.   Tenny, on the other hand, said an ADA-accessible car was not financially feasible.

"It sucks that they can’t ride,
but it’s either a small portion of people can’t ride or no one can ride," Tenny told reporters, referring to people in wheelchairs and other mobility restrictions.

The city's agreement with Columbia Star terminates in 2015, and may not be renewed without an accessible car. 

"The bottom line is if they don't make some significant steps toward meeting accessibility requirements, I think it would be somewhat doubtful whether the city would be interested in renewing an existing contract,"  Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine told reporters last year.

The new owner has experience operating similar trains in other states under the corporate moniker "Train Travel, Inc." according to the company website.   B. Allen Brown's flagship company, Railmark, also provides "green" solutions to railroad lines, including biodegradable lubricants.