Dispute Over Dinner Train Rules in Favor of Business
COLUMBIA - After three weeks of dispute over disabled accessibility, the Columbia Star Dinner Train is back on track to start its business in October. The antique dinner train will take passengers on a three hour dinner ride from Columbia to Centralia.
Central States Railroad Associates (CSRA) agreed on a five year contract back in June with city officials without including any considerations from residents living with disabilities around the area. Due to an exemption from the Americans with Disabilities Act, the train company had previously built all of it's dinner trains without any ADA accessible passenger cars.
After arguments from advocates for accessibility early in September, The City of Columbia demanded CRSA accomodate everyone's needs with accessible passenger cars within the first two years of opening the dinner train. However, the council dropped its demands after the train company threatened to not continue the project because of "unreasonable costs."
Now, new agreements have been reached for the company to move forward without any accessibility requirement. The company stated it is willing to accept grants or outside funding to help make an accessible passenger car, but will not privately fund the project itself.
Columbia City officials recognize that the new proposal doesn't please everyone including people with disabilities. Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romaine stated that it was a lose-lose situation deciding between a company that was legally allowed to operate under the ADA exemption or a community fighting for equal rights.
Services for Independent Living Executive Director Aimee Wehmeier moved to Columbia 21 years ago because of the city's accessbility. She stated that not only was it wrong to not include people with disabilities in project planning, but it is also wrong that as a citizen of Columbia, she is forced to pay tax dollars on a public restaurant she is unable to use.