Saturday, February 26, 2011
CENTRALIA, Mo. – Columbia city leaders responded Friday to complaints that the new Columbia dinner train was supported with taxpayer money, even though the train is not handicapped accessible.
Disabilities advocates have said the train is breaking federal law by not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now, city officials say the
tax money spent will more than be repaid by increased commerce surrounding the train.
Columbia assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine said the train is exempt from federal accessibility laws because it is a vintage train.
“Admittedly, there have been some retrofits just to bring that train into modern day standards, but in terms of the actual dining car, I think the whole
purpose of the dinner train is to get an experience of what it was like to travel on that type of car when it was made decades ago, and to make it accessible
would basically ruin that experience,” said Romaine.
Homer Page, chair for the Disabilities Commission in Columbia, said the issue is deeper than just making the cars accessible.
“The issue for the disabilities community is not ‘Is it illegal?’ the question is should the city have invested public money supporting an inaccessible
service for the community.”
Page said the city has taken a very strong position on the city being fully accessible, but has now spent taxpayer money supporting something that goes
against those values.
Romaine said that while taxpayer money was invested, the city will get it back in tourism revenue from the people who come to use the train.