Not many railroad companies today can boast of operating a successful branch railroad. Very few can boast of providing rail service for a true dinner train. Even fewer can boast of providing rail availability to a motorized rail car organization.Currently this situation is a reality on the Columbia Branch. During its history, the Columbia Branch has consistently been known for the unusual. Presently, the Columbia Branch is owned by a city, that operates its own railroad, which leases its line to a dinner train operation and rents its line to a motor car rally organization.

COLT GP9u & Dinner Train EMD F-7

COLT #2001 and Columbia Star Dinner Train #1950 at ColumbiaMarty Paten photo


Currently, the City of Columbia, Missouri owns the Columbia Branch Railroad and operates the Columbia Terminal Railroad (COLT) on its line. The Columbia Branch Railroad was officially purchased by the city of Columbia on October 2, 1987 from Norfolk Southern Corporation for $325,000. Official operations for the Columbia Terminal Railroad began on October 6, 1987. After threats to abandon the Columbia Branch by Norfolk Southern in 1986, officials for the city of Columbia determined that it was critical for them to purchase the line to protect city industries and to protect rail service to the city’s Water & Light Department’s coal fired municipal power plant. The COLT is operated by the city’s Water & Light Department.

Southbound Colt train on Columbia Branch

A southbound COLT train two miles south of CentraliaMarty Paten photo

Throughout its twenty-four year history, the COLT has operated trains mostly every day during daylight hours. On average, the COLT has made trips from Columbia to Centralia at least three days a week, generally on Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s. Commodities transported by the COLT have generally been, coal, lumber, paper, brick, steel, wax, and agricultural products.

COLT train at Centralia

A COLT train at Centralia prepares to head south on the Columbia BranchMarty Paten photo

Currently, the COLT has a crew of three full time employees and several part time employees. The COLT operates with two locomotives. COLT # 1, an EMD SW 1200 and COLT # 2001, an EMD GP9u.

COLT dumping coal at Columbia Power Plant

COLT #1 at the Columbia Power PlantMarty Paten photo

COLT operations are based out of the COLT Transload Facility located at 6501 North Brown’s Station Road. The Transload Facility is a full service short line rail, trucking and storage network that serves central Missouri. The 83,000 square feet climate controlled warehouse gives the COLT an advantage that most short line railroads don’t possess.

To learn more about the COLT please visit their website at:


Currently, the Columbia Branch provides rail availability for the Columbia Star Dinner Train. After months of negotiations, representatives from the city of Columbia, Missouri and Central States Rail Associates reached an agreement to operate a dinner train on the Columbia Branch Railroad. On June 21, 2010, the Columbia city council approved bill R 26-10, which officially gave the Central States Rail Associates the right to run their train on the COLT Railroad line. The Dinner Train’s inaugural excursion occurred on July 15, 2011.

Northbound Columbia Star Dinner Train near Columbia

A northbound Columbia Star Dinner Train heads for CentraliaMarty Paten photo

The Columbia Star Dinner Train is comprised of two EMD F-7 locomotives painted in the Wabash color scheme as a tribute to that railroad’s history on the Columbia Branch. The train also contains three cars: Two pullman articulated dining cars originally built in 1938 for the Southern Pacific Railroad as passenger coaches and a kitchen car that originally served as a baggage car for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. These cars are all painted in blue to conform to the Wabash color scheme.

Columbia Star Dinner Train north of Brown's Station

Columbia Star Dinner Train north of Brown's StationMarty Paten photo

The Columbia Star Dinner Train offers gourmet dining on the train during two three hour dinner excursions, one on Friday evenings and one on Saturday evenings. The dinner train also provides a one and a half hour brunch excursion on Sunday afternoons. The gourmet meals are prepared on the train. The food and the service is excellent! During its brief time in operation the Columbia Star Dinner Train has enjoyed significant success. For more information regarding the Columbia Star Dinner Train please visit their website at: or call (877) 236-8511

Inside the cab of Columbia Star F-7

Inside the cab of a Columbia Star F-7, Shane Riley, EngineerMarty Paten photo

The Dinner Train not only provides a great dining experience, it also provides a unique opportunity to take an excursion down the Columbia Branch. Those who take the Dinner Train will have the opportunity to purchase the book, The Columbia Branch Railroad directly on the train. A person can quickly examine the book to check out specific history that occurred on the line. Each event in the book has the mile-post location available and highlighted so that a person may know where that particular event occurred on the railroad. The person can then look in part two of the book to examine the provided maps to find the exact location of the event. The excursionist can also examine hundreds of pictures in the book and be able to put an image with a location. For example, the book contains pictures of many of the depots that existed on the Columbia Branch. One will be able to visualize a specific depot at a specific location. This unique opportunity is truly a rare situation and may not be available anywhere else. If you already have a copy of the book, make sure you take it with you when you enjoy an excursion on the dinner train.

It is a remarkable sight to see the Wabash flag flying once again on the Columbia Branch Railroad via the Columbia Star Dinner Train. It is an uncanny irony of the past meeting up with the present. This kind of irony could only happen on the Columbia Branch.


Currently, the COLT Railroad provides Columbia Branch rail availability for the North American Rail Car Operators Association. NARCOA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and safe, legal operation of railroad equipment historically used for maintenance of way. NARCOA began operating in 1980 and now officially has over 1800 members worldwide. NARCOA members travel primarily around the United States to ride their restored motor cars on a variety of railroads. NARCOA groups schedule excursions with railroad companies through a strict rental agreement. Branch railroads are usually the most accessible and safest for such excursions. The Columbia Branch is ideal for such an event and many of NARCOA’s members over the years have expressed their affection for the short line railroad. NARCOA usually holds one event annually on the Columbia Branch. Each event usually includes two round-trip Columbia to Centralia excursions for an approximate total of 84 miles. On average NARCOA has roughly between 20 to 30 motorized cars annually on their Columbia Branch excursions. The group usually leaves Columbia at the Boone County Lumber Company yards at 8:00am for their first excursion. They usually stop at Lee’s Chicken for lunch on their way to Centralia during their second excursion. The event is normally finished by 6:00pm. COLT Railroad employees work the event by providing help accessing the railroad and providing signal help and traffic control at specific crossings along the Columbia Branch. It’s always an interesting and enjoyable event for all involved. To learn more about NARCOA please visit their website at:

NARCOA Columbia Branch 2010

NARCOA excursion on Columbia Branch 2010Marty Paten photo

NARCOA excursionist on Columbia Branch

NARCOA Iowa Division excursionist pose at Centralia 2010Marty Paten photo

NARCOA excursion on Columbia Branch 2010  A northbound NARCOA excursionist on the Columbia Branch  2010
Marty Paten photo