Columbia Star Dinner Train Holds Grand Opening

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Star Dinner Train held its grand opening Friday despite a protest from disability advocates. One-hundred passengers boarded the train at 7 p.m. for a four course meal and a 2 1/2 hour train ride through mid-Missouri.

Disability advocates stood near the train holding signs proclaiming slogans such as "City Council: I have wheels, will you subsidize me?" and "Access for all!"

Since the beginning, disability advocates have spoken out against the train. They expressed concern since the train is funded by tax dollars but cannot be accessed by everyone.

Earlier this year mid-Missouri Advocacy Coalition spokeswoman Gretchen Maune spoke at a city council meeting saying MMAC is disappointed by the use of city money.

"To fund a public project that excludes a certain proportion of society, we don't feel that is right," Manue said.

The train was built in 1983 in California so it falls under the federal exemption for antique trains to comply with the current Americans with Disabilities Act law.

The train's manager Greg Weber said his business is not discriminating against anyone.

"We are just limited to what our train can do," Weber said. "Frankly these issues aren't brought up very often because of the way the cars were built in the '30's and '40's. They are limited on access and we don't have any choice on that."

Weber said his company has purchased an additional car which will eventually be modified so the train will be accessible to those with disabilities. Weber said it is just a matter of getting the money to bring the car to Missouri and engineering the chair lift. 

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine said he believes leaving out the community in wheelchairs to be a "mistake" and "hopes it never happens again," but he does defend Weber. He said Weber does want everyone to be able to use the train, it will just be a matter of time and money.

Amid the protests however, train owner Mark Vaughn said he hopes residents will feel the economic benefits the train will bring Columbia. He said it will attract people from all over the area.

Passengers can ride the train Fridays and Saturdays for $69. Train owner Mark Vaughn said the train should take passengers to Centralia and back. It costs $49 for the Sunday brunch and that ride is 1 1/2 hours. Vaughn said he expects the train to make it to Hallsville and back on Sundays.

The train is located at 6501 North Brown Station Road, off of Route B.

For more information visit the Dinner Train's website here.