COLUMBIA, 9/16/10 (Beat Byte) -- A $45,000 City of Columbia public subsidy for a "dinner train" that will run on the publicly-owned COLT railway from Columbia to Centralia has local disability advocates crying foul.
Though the city may spend $20,000 making its loading ramp accessible, the train won't be, they claim. None of the four, 50-passenger renovated vintage railroad cars will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The train's owners, Central States Railroad Company (CSRC), claim their project is exempt from ADA requirements. But a letter from Central States' Des Moines-based attorney T. Scott Bannister doesn't instill confidence in their position.
Calling ADA "the Americans for Disabilities Act," Bannister didn't even get the law's name correct in a letter to assistant city attorney Cavanaugh Noce.
In a complaint Columbia city manager Bill Watkins discussed at last week's Council meeting, Disability Commission members claim the dinner train is a restaurant and so must allow equal access for all. But CSRC counters that modifying the cars would be expensive (roughly $175,000); reduce customer capacity; and delay the project.
Additionally, Bannister claims ADA allows for an unusual exemption from its accessibility guidelines: historic railroad cars. Any modification that would "significantly alter" the historic character of the cars isn't required.
But that doesn't remove the rub: Does the public subsidy and use of the publicly owned COLT line impose a greater responsibility on Central States to make their project accessible to all members of the public? After all, people with disabilities pay taxes, too.
Addressing concern over potential lawsuits, "The train is not ours," Mr. Watkins wrote in a Council report. "Our contract calls for them [CSRC] to indemnify the city."