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VRE carries crowds to date with history
VRE train carries inauguration-bound passengers into the heart of Washington

 VRE conductor Melvin Johnson Jr. (right) talks with a passenger aboard the 5:15 a.m. train from Fredericksburg on its way to Washington for yesterday's inauguration.
REBECCA SELL/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 1/21/2009

BY KELLY HANNON

Before sunrise yesterday, about 150 passengers eagerly awaited the first Virginia Railway Express train pulling into the Fredericksburg station.

When the Washington-bound train chugged into view, a huge cheer rose from the crowd.

It was not your typical workday on the VRE.

Briefcases and lunch coolers stayed at home. Instead, passengers wore fanny packs and clutched small purses that met security requirements. Business suits were replaced by puffy parkas.

An SUV with Texas plates parked outside the station had "Yes, We Did!" chalked on the rear window. And an "O-bam-a!" chant swept through the crowd just before the 5:15 a.m. train boarded.

"This was the simplest route we could take in to the historic inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama," said Marva Boatman, 53, of Ruther Glen, summing up why she rode VRE with her sister and brother-in-law from Huntsville, Ala.

VRE charged $25 for a round-trip ticket, and assigned passengers to specific trains. The system carries between 16,000 and 17,000 passengers on the Fredericksburg Line and Manassas Line on most workdays. More than 18,000 people rode VRE trains yesterday.

VRE staff working the train platforms to help passengers unfamiliar with the system included VRE chief executive officer Dale Zehner, who was spotted loading trains and making announcements yesterday afternoon at L'Enfant Plaza.

VRE trains operated without major delays. This contrasted with long and chaotic lines at Metro stations near the National Mall, where hundreds of people waited just to enter the stations.

There was a minor delay on the last VRE train from Fredericksburg to Washington. The train was just about to leave when three cars in a row pulled up to the station.

The first driver lowered her window and asked Karen Hedelt, Fredericksburg's interim director of economic development and tourism, where to park.

Hedelt blurted out directions to the city parking garage a couple of blocks away, then added, "and hurry."

Most of the cars' occupants--a family of about 15 from Norfolk--piled out immediately, while the drivers went to park.


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