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TrainWeb Visitor Travelogue

"Leon Bracey, Jr." wrote:

Here is the remainder of the trip-the train part.
Thursday, March 11, 1999

My Aunt woke me up very early in the morning. She told me that I could either take the early morning train, and arrive at 12:30. But I would have to wait until 3:00 pm before someone could pick me up. I said that was okay, I'd take the later train. I woke up at about 9:30, and pretty much loafed around all day. The train was scheduled to depart at 3:05 pm. At about 2:30, I began to get worried. My aunt wasn't there yet, and she called me at 1:30, telling me to get ready. She works at Howard University, which is a good 25-30 minutes from Oxon Hill. She came around 2:40 and made a mad dash to downtown Washington to Union Station. We arrived at about 2:50. I ran into the train station with all my heavy bags(I was comng back Saturday, the same day as my departure back home to Mississippi, so what was the point of unpacking for a two night stay???). The line was incredibaly long, but I got up there in about 5 minutes. I recieved my ticket, and ran to the gate.

Thank God that I explored the station the other day, or otherwise I would never been able to see the wonders of this station. I loved it for its elegance and it's airport like efficiency. I ran to the gate. The train was running 10 minutes late anyway. I plopped all my bags down, until departure time, and my aunt and I ran down the escalator to the platform. The Train had a new Genesis engine with Amfleet I cars. I got on the coach everyone else seemed to be getting on to. I found a seat at the very back of the car (Luckily, it wasn't by a bathroom!). my aunt kissed me goodbye, and I plopped down in my seat. The conductor yelled out a muffled PA about our destinations. I sat back and relaxed. We went through a dark tunnel under the station, and went over a viaduct on the southern side of downtown. We passed a station called "L'Enfant" on the viaduct. I found this highly unusual, because when I went on the metro, the L'Enfant Station was underground. Then, I realized that this was the station for the Virginia Railway Express, an extensive commuter rail service for the Northern Virginia Suburbs of Washington, DC. Northern Virginia is undergoing a phenominal growth rate, and the area has horrendous traffic like that of Los Angeles, and puts Atlanta's traffic to shame. I understand the need of commuter rail in this area for those far-flung suburbs that aren't served by Metro. We crossed the river into Virginia, and passed by the towers of Crystal City, and passed the back of a new shopping center. We arrived in Alexandria, VA at a busy commercial corridor. For such a historical area, Alexandria has a lot of new development. Condos, hotels, and some single family homes are all over the area. The train curves, and follows the metrorail tracks, passing several metro stations, before ducking under the Capital Beltway on its way to Springfield. The train passed the VERY huge Springfield Metro/VRE station (with its own Parking Garage), and went through a heavily wooded area with lots of new development. I looked at signs advertising new homes from the $210s and up. It reminded me of the housing prices in my native California. In Mississippi, you can get a decent new house anywhere from the $80s to the $120s. Mississippi may be lacking in some things, but affordable housing sure isn't one of them.

We raced passed the Lorton Auto Train Station, which is by I-95. The train headed toward the Woodbridge station, and made a quick stop, This too was a stop for VRE. All the VRE stations seemed to be pretty modern and clean. I've seen Amtrak stations in other parts of the country, and they don't look as nice as the VRE stations. At least the stations along this line weren't really as decrepit as the one in Jackson, although they are planning to remodel the station, and make it a big transportation center.

We went along the Potomac river with very beautiful scenery. There were gigantic riverside homes along the shores. Next, we were in Quantico, VA, home of the big Marine Base. The station has a real old-timey feel to it. Then, we arrived in Fredericksburg, VA, a historic city undergoing a huge growth spurt because people don't want to pay exorbiant prices for housing in DC, but are willing to make that 50 commute into the city. This was also the last VRE station on the line. We went through the woods for a while. I went to the Cafe Car, which was in the middle of the train. I also noticed three railroad cars with plenty of room. I was upset, because I could have had a smoother ride instead of the bumpy roughone on the wheels I came to know and "love" on this journey. I was also shocked by the price of some of the items ($1.50 for Pepsi?!), But I got a good hot dog and a soda and sat down. There were some passengers sitting across from me with a case full of CD's. By this time, I was getting tired of listening to my Busta Rhymes CD, so I asked them could I listen to some of their CD's. They said yes. I got Lauryn Hill's CD, the most critically acclaimed album of 1998, and one which swept the grammy's. If you are into a good mix of gospel and jazz influence with a good mix of Hip-Hop and R&B, this is a CD that you must get. I am planning to buy it after I spend my money for prom.

We raced through the Virginia countryside, which at this point changes from forest to farmland. I noticed that this state has barricades on all of their grade crossings. I wondered why Mississippi can't have barricades on all of their crossings?? It would certainly help a bad situation with all the grade crossing accidents we have in our state. If Virginia, a much larger state than Mississippi with more rail lines can do it, then why can't we?? We arrived in Ashland, Virginia in the middle of the street. It was a trip racing along Railroad Avenue in the heart of the city. We continued along until we arrived in Richmond. Actually, their station is ouside of the city. We went through the city slowly at first, then we went up to high speed as we raced through the VA peninsula. I ate a pizza, and had a conversation with my fellow passengers. They live in Maryland, but were originally from Hampton, VA. They told me that Hampton was a very nice town to live in, a lot better than Newport News. They hated the city of Baltimore. For some reason, the Virginia side of the Capital looks a lot better than the Maryland side. I have been to the Hampton Roads, VA area, and I love it a lot. It reminds me a lot of my hometown of San Diego. Not just because of the strong military presence, but because of the climate, and the diverse culture of the area. We raced through Williamsburg area, which was choked with retail and food outlets. All this for a small area with some historic houses. THe area had turned into a tourist trap over the last two or three decades. Oh well. We left the station, and it was a quick hop to the Newport News station. The station was modern and clean. I called my uncle who lived a five minutes drive away. He whisked me to his house to a piping hot meal of Greens, Corn, Smothered Beef and potatoes (Hey, I'm just a country boy at heart!!)

To be continued...

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