Sunday, September 19, 2010

Accessibility argument threatens to derail Columbia dinner train

Disagreements over whether a dinner train should be accessible to people with disabilities have stalled the project.

City officials and representatives of Central States Railroad Associates had hoped the Columbia Star Dinner Train would begin making its trips to Centralia and back this month. Advocates for people with disabilities, however, are insisting that the train have at least one car that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA prohibits discrimination and seeks equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The city is spending around $20,000 to ensure that its train facilities, including restrooms, parking spaces and the ramp to board the train, are in compliance.

Central States, however, argues that vintage trains are specifically exempt from the ADA and that creating a compliant car would cost about $175,000, making it economically impossible for now. The Columbia Star passenger cars were built by Pullman-Standard more than 70 years ago.

Making a vintage dining car comply with the ADA would require an accessible restroom, wider aisles and a side entry door. Lorah Steiner, the director of the Columbia Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said the number of seats that would be lost to such a modification would render the car unprofitable, and would force Central States to raise prices for all its products and services to a level that would make the project infeasible.

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