UPDATE: Columbia Star Dinner Train might start service in August

Monday, June 14, 2010 | 2:28 p.m. CDT; updated 8:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 12, 2011

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Star Dinner Train, pending Columbia City Council approval, might start dinner service between Columbia and Centralia in August.

The train, operated by Central State Rail, would run on the COLT railroad Friday and Saturday evenings for dinner and make a brunch run on Sunday, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The basic round-trip dinner package is $69 per person, said Central State Rail President Mark Vaughn. He said they have not decided on other packages or prices, but they plan to work with local hotels and tour companies to provide packages with overnight stays in Columbia.

The train would aim to attract not just a local audience, but people in a 150-mile radius, Steiner said. The two-and-a-half to three-hour round-trip dinner runs would return to Columbia after 9 p.m. Steiner said she thinks the evening return time would increase the likelihood of overnight stays in Columbia.


Steiner said she anticipates a 1 percent increase in hotel occupancy, partially because of increased interest from group tour companies polled by the Convention and Visitors Bureau.


“About 50 percent said they would want to stay overnight,” Steiner said.


Columbia Star Dinner Train general manager Greg Weber said the train would be available for special event rentals.


Under a different name, the train ran a dinner service in Michigan for about 10 years, but the owners lost use of the track it operated on. Central State Rail then purchased and moved the train to Waterloo, Iowa, where the company is based.


Weber said 90 percent of dinner train services close because of issues with track ownership or track conditions.


Weber called partnering with COLT “an ideal situation.”


The usage fee the Columbia Star Dinner Train pays to COLT will account for any maintenance needed on the track and passenger cars, as opposed to freight cars, will cause minimum added wear and tear, Weber said.


Weber has helped set up around a dozen dinner trains and consulted on many more. In its first year, Weber said he expects 25,000 to 35,000 riders. Nationally, dinner trains average anywhere from 25,000 to 60,000 riders, he said.


The train consists of two 1950s Streamline locomotives from the Great Northern Railway, four Southern Pacific Dining cars with bar service and a full commercial kitchen car. Central State Rail expects to repaint the train blue and gray.


Vaughn hoped to locate the train downtown, but parking would be to inconvenient for patrons. Instead, the train plans to depart from the COLT Transload facility at 6501 N. Brown Station Road.


The location will need to have electric, water and sewer utilities installed to meet city standards, Columbia Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.


According to the contract, Kacprowicz said, Central State Rail is to fund the utility upgrades.


The Convention and Visitors Bureau Advisory Board approved $45,000 from the attraction development fund to help transport the 224-passenger train from Waterloo to Columbia. The train would not transport itself to Columbia but instead would be loaded onto another train, Weber said.

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