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Wrong side of the tracks -- Amtrak passengers never sure where to catch the train
Date published: 2/15/2004
By EDIE GROSS
Aurora Torres had a strategy.
She stood with her mother on the east platform at the Fredericksburg train station Friday morning, awaiting Amtrak train 86.
If the train arrived on the west track--a distinct possibility--the women were stationed close enough to a passageway that would lead them downstairs, through a tunnel and up again, hopefully in time for Torres' mother and a friend to catch the train to Massachusetts.
Torres was running late for work, but she didn't dare leave her mother at the station.
"I need to go to work, but I can't take the chance that she needs to run to the other side with all that luggage," she said, pointing to a pile of suitcases.
Torres and the other 30 or so people waiting at the downtown station for the 9:20 a.m. northbound train got lucky. It was 25 minutes late, but it arrived on the east side, where just about everybody had decided to stand.
That's not always the case.
"[Sometimes] we have to zoom off and run down on the other side," said Rita McKenzie, a friend who accompanied Torres to the train station. "It's ridiculous."
There is no one at the unmanned station to announce which track the train will be arriving on. And unlike the Virginia Railway Express, Amtrak doesn't use the public-address system to communicate with passengers.
That leaves travelers guessing which track the train will use. And sometimes they guess wrong.
A year ago last fall, attorney William Scaife Jr. and his wife stood on the east platform awaiting a train to New York. When it pulled in on the west track, they gathered their suitcases, made their way downstairs, under the tracks and up to the other side--just in time to see the train pull away.
"We wound up getting up early the next morning and going to National to catch the shuttle," said Scaife. "I can't believe with modern electronics it wouldn't be simple to provide some kind of message board."