Responds to allegations from a City Hall volunteer
COLUMBIA, 1/15/12  (Beat Byte) --  ColumbiaStar Dinner Train owner Mark Vaughn said he did "not feel it would be appropriate to comment on the third-party statements" made in a letter to the Columbia Disability Commission from a volunteer to Columbia assistant city manager Tony St. Romaine.   The Columbia Heart Beat forwarded the letter to Vaughn both last month and this month.
Vaughn did respond, however, to the long-running allegation behind the letter:  that his firm is stonewalling the addition of an accessible rail car to the ColumbiaStar. 

Accessibility is especially important, advocates say, because the dinner train received $45,000 and the right to use city rail lines from City Hall.   If the cars were this hard to make accessible, public funds should not have been used to subsidize the venture.

"As a company we continue to work towards finding a solution for the accessibility issue on the dinner train," Vaughn explained. "As you know, we are only in our sixth month of operation but have committed to attempt to find a financially feasible means of adding a car which provides access for individuals with all types of disabilities, as soon as possible.

"Our existing equipment does not lend itself to conversion from either a financial or mechanical stand point.  This requires us to locate suitable equipment for that purpose. To date, two of the cars considered for this purpose have proven not to be good conversion candidates.

"I personally made trips the first week of December to inspect some equipment with possible conversion potential.  The difficulty is that there are no cars which are turnkey, so you must locate the right piece of equipment or the cost of conversion could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.  
"Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of a 'blank check'.  There are many aspects to consider when taking on a project of this magnitude.

"I am confident that in the near future we will be able to locate a car that makes sense to convert and my sincere hope is that by fall we will be able to report that we have an accessible car available to the public."

Mark Vaughn
Columbia Star Dinner Train

(Carl Morrison photo of Mark Vaughn)