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The Catch-22 of train ridership in Fredericksburg is closer to being resolved.
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The whistle blows, the shuffle begins--but Amtrak tries to cut the capers at city station
IN JOSEPH HELLER'S classic novel "Catch-22," World War II bombardier Capt. Joseph Yossarian discovered a fundamental irony: A flier who was concerned for his own safety was considered sane, and had to fly; a crazy man who flew into danger didn't really have to, because he was insane. Unless, of course, he refused to fly--which was the mark of a sane man, and sane men had to fly.
That was Catch-22, a version of which Fredericksburg Amtrak patrons have been playing for years. To catch a train, one had to be waiting trackside. But there was no indication on which track the train would come. So if you waited next to the track to catch the train, but were on the wrong side, you missed the train (or you found yourself scrambling down the ramp, through the tunnel under the tracks, and up the ramp on the correct side). If you didn't wait trackside, you also missed the train.
What to do? It's not our problem, alleged Amtrak, which cheerfully sold tickets to trains that might not be catchable. CSX Transportation owns the tracks, the passenger service said. But CSX, which routes train traffic from Sanford, Fla., doesn't carry passengers or control train stations. So what do they care?
While the Amtrak/CSX blame train threatened to circle back on itself infinitely, local officials intervened. Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, R-1st, and City Councilman Joe Wilson demanded action on behalf of train riders. Now, through their persistence and the miracle of technology, help has arrived. Thanks to a track-monitoring system bought by Virginia Railway Express and located in Alexandria, Amtrak employees there are watching the tracks between Washington and Richmond and announcing train arrivals in Fredericksburg over the local PA system.
With a little whining. Calling the new system a "work in progress," Amtrak spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski said that the company was doing its best, although announcing the trains was "obviously twice the work." In a letter to Mrs. Davis, Amtrak's vice president for government affairs, Joe McHugh, said the problem is that there is only one staff member at the Alexandria station for much of the day--not only that, but Amtrak must train its employees to use the new monitoring system, which--oh, dear--has a few glitches in it.
We have a solution. Amtrak officials should repeat over and over, "I think I can, I think I can." That way, when the little engine that could comes puffing up the track, the nearly $1 billion federally funded train megalopoly can tell passengers on which side of the track to wait.
Then riders can catch a train--not "Catch" a "22"--in Fredericksburg.