Dinner train arrives in Centralia; company hopes to start runs this spring

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 | 6:17 p.m. CST; updated 8:38 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 12, 2011
The Columbia Star Dinner Train was moved from Mexico to Centralia on Wednesday. Central States Railroad President Mark Vaughn said the train will hopefully be running by May.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Star Dinner Train is on the tracks in Boone County.


After six months of delays and debate, the vintage train cars pulled into Centralia on Wednesday afternoon, said Mark Vaughn, president of Central States Rail that owns and operates the train.

When service begins, the train will travel between Columbia and Centralia and offer appetizers, drinks and a five-course meal by candlelight. Four restored dinner cars from the 1930s and 1940s will seat up to 224 passengers. The ride will last about three hours and cost $69 per person.

Restoration of the dinner cars was mostly completed before the train reached Missouri. Now, Central States and Columbia are working on parking, bathrooms and ramps for the train on Brown Station Road in north Columbia.

Vaughn said his company was shooting to begin operating the dinner train between April 1 and mid-May. “We’ll start taking reservation 30 days in advance of the start up,” he said.

As the day of the first run nears, Central States will complete inspections, hire staff, and, finally, start selling tickets.

The Columbia Visitors and Convention Bureau approved $45,000 in June 2010 from the Attraction Development Fund to help get the train from Iowa to Columbia. At the time, service was planned to start in August.

Those plans slowed, and in the fall questions were raised about the lack of access for people with disabilities. Central States said the $175,000 cost of making a vintage rail car accessible to people with disabilities wouldn't work financially. In September, the Columbia City Council approved a compromise plan that approved the tourism funding for the dinner train and required Central States to make one of the cars accessible within five years.

“We, as disability advocates, understand that not every business can be made accessible,” Gretchen Maune, chairwoman of the Mid-Missouri Advocacy Coalition, said. “Our main concern is that public tax dollars were used. People with disabilities are taxpayers, too.”

“We want to be an all-inclusive attraction,” Vaughn said. “In the meantime, we’ve worked up some plans on one of our existing cars.”

This new plan could bring a fully accessible car to the train within 12 to 18 months. Vaughn was quick to point out these plans are preliminary and the engineering is yet to be done.

Since receiving council approval, the cars have slowly been making their way from their previous location in Waterloo, Iowa, to Centralia.

“I think it's very close,” Amy Schneider, interim director of the tourism bureau, said on Monday. “I feel safe to say it will be up and running in the spring.”



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Ryan macker February 24, 2011 | 8:28 a.m.

I still think this is just stupid. Sure it sounds nice, and I'm sure people will file on board this thing. With a POS public transit system packed with people and roads in a sorry state, it's a big waste of tax dollars (even if it is only $50k). But then again, the city is usually quite good at doing that.

Speaking of tax dollars: "People with disabilities are taxpayers, too.” Very true. I couldn't agree more, disabled persons should have access. But aren't we all "taxpayers"? And yet, despite that fact, many of us "taxpayers" aren't always treated equal. I mean, after all, it's an American tradition!

(Report Comment)
Delcia Crockett February 24, 2011 | 10:27 a.m.

From article:
“We, as disability advocates, understand that not every business can be made accessible,” Gretchen Maune, chairwoman of the Mid-Missouri Advocacy Coalition, said. “Our main concern is that public tax dollars were used. People with disabilities are taxpayers, too.”

My response:
Definitely, there are some people who will refrain from using this train until it is made accessible to all taxpayers.

I will not, even if invited with all expenses paid - and I am not alone.

This is totally unfair to taxpayers who are footing the bill on it, but denied use of the train.

And, this is not in a sense of rudeness or rebelliousness to refrain from using this, but just to be a part of being fair to all concerned.

(Report Comment)
Ellie Funke February 24, 2011 | 12:32 p.m.

"The ride will last about three hours and cost $69 per person."
So you think all taxpayers should have access to it? The cost may prove more prohibitive than the access. Although, it will bring in more tax dollars on its own won't it?
Overall I like the idea, will need to free up some discretionary budget of my own before I can afford it but like the concept just the same.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 24, 2011 | 1:12 p.m.

This is hardly a new concept: similar trains have operated or are operating here in the Midwest (e.g., Minnesota and Iowa).. Some cost more than information given for this one, but distance and character of the scenery are also factors. Some only run seasonally.

Probably most of these trains garner a number of riders when they first start operation; what happens after that is what makes or breaks the operation. Because you or I want to ride the train once doesn't mean we're willing to make a regular habit of it.

I enjoyed the ones I've ridden (and dined) on, but can't say I'm interested in repeats. I would suggest trying this one.

Contrast this type of service with scheduled train passenger service in Europe. You can board an express train in Amsterdam in the very late afternoon, have a good meal in the train's dining car, and be home in Frankfurt (Germany) well before bedtime, all at a reasonable price*.


*_ With some of the rail passes available, especially to non-Europeans, it gets very reasonable.

(Report Comment)

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