So, we just spent basically the entire day at the historic, picturesque train station of historic, picturesque Harpers Ferry because our historic, picturesque inn had an 11:00 a.m. checkout time and our train had a 5:16 p.m. departure and historic, picturesque train stations don’t have any place to check or stow your luggage.
We’d come prepared. We had things to read and our electronics and sufficient battery power to overcome any historically picturesque lack of outlets, and as long as one of us stayed put to watch our things it wasn’t hard to go up the hill into town in search of takeout lunch and drinks.
I’m glad that we did have so much time there, because when we’d reconnoitered the station I had completely missed that the tiny station had two platforms, one on the far side of the tracks inside a much smaller, slightly less picturesque historical shelter, with no obvious way of reaching it without (crossing the tracks.
Now, this historic, picturesque station has a historic, picturesque lack of signage indicating things like which platform is for which direction, or how the other platform is reached. I knew that trains follow the keep right rule in the U.S. (or at least, I *thought* they did, but that knowledge had never been important to me before), but I didn’t know which compass direction was which, or if the trains passing through on this stretch would be strictly going east-west at the moment.
So I searched online to see if there was any mention of the platforms. Amtrak’s website informed me that the stairs to the other platform were under the tracks and not wheelchair accessible (their official advice, enshrined in their website, is to board at another station.) So I knew what to look for, and I found a smaller shelter at the end of the main building with stairs leading down into the tunnel where Slenderman lives, which came out the other side in the small platform. I looked around for signage; there was none.
By sheer chance we were there when the Capitol Limited to D.C. went through on the near tracks, which was a pretty good clue that they were the eastbound lane. I’d been on the Twitter horn with @Amtrak, who confirmed that my train would be on the opposite side, and that they do follow the right hand driving rule in these parts.
At the same time, Jack had the bright idea of opening Pokemon Go, which helpfully includes a compass. and let us find east and west. So we had triple confirmation.
Almost enough to quiet my anxiety, so I carefully noted that every train heading east was on the near track and every train heading west was on the far track, just in case they didn’t have some weird track switching thing going on or had harnessed the power of ghost trains that can go through each other,.
Remember, babies, we showed up in town a whole day early in order to make sure that everything went according to plan. My first train trip (Omaha to Chicago, Chicago to Memphis and then New Orleans) I did something similar, staying overnight in Chicago just to make sure I made my first connection on my first train trip.
When I’m anxious about something, I give myself plenty of time and I seek out information, from as many angles as possible. (This might be why I’m so relatively well-informed about politics these days.)
So we made the decision to mosey on over through the tunnel where Slenderman lives at about 4:30, which was well more time than we’d need but would ensure we could take it nice and slow with our bags up and down the steps and not feel like we were cutting it close.
Right around about 4, other people started showing up for the same train, including a gentleman with a bike who had apparently *also* scouted the location the day before. “Don’t worry, the train is on time as of now,” he told me.
I have phone alerts, so I’d known this, but we thanked him. He’d checked the day before and it had been delayed by more than an hour. We told him we were getting ready to go move over to the platform, and this is when he told us it was impossible to know which track it would be on.
“Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks, so they are at the mercy of the freight train companies.”
I tried to explain that this might be true, but the tracks are still directional so there was in effect only one track here, with two lanes, but he wasn’t interested. He’d talked to Amtrak and they’d told him that “The only way to know for sure is to look down the tunnel when you see the train coming, and see which side it’s on.”
I told him we’d also talked to Amtrak, but he wasn’t impressed.
So we took our luggage down the stairs and into the tunnel where Slenderman lives and we hauled them up the stairs and settled in for the 30-40 minute wait, while he stood with his bike on the other side looking smug and self-satisfied. Two other guys showed up while we waited, and the guy quizzed them about what side they thought the train would come on, and each time they assumed it would be the near side and he called across the track to tell us “This guy’s pretty sure it’s over here.”
“On what basis?” I asked the first time.
Didn’t really get an answer, but it seemed like all three guys thought this was hilarious. It kind of felt like the biggest reason they thought they were right was that we thought otherwise.
Being questioned usually doesn’t do much for my anxiety, but in this case it just hardened my resolve to know that this guy Had Been Told By Amtrak.
Babies, I have done enough customer service and customer service-adjacent work to know that the answer he got was the We Are Not Responsible answer. There are a lot of stations, a lot of stations with a lot of tracks, and a CSR on the phone cannot tell him in advance which track he’s got to be at because They Are Not Responsible for that.
Very possibly he expressed disbelief that they couldn’t tell him, at which point he would have been given the explanation that Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks or make the decisions. Very possibly he would have asked them what he’s supposed to do, and would have been told that he could watch the train as it approached. And very possibly, he filed away this hard-won knowledge as gospel writ, because he had prised it from the stubborn jaws of a lazy, no-nothing phone rep.
Of course the westbound train came on the far tracks, the northern side of the station, the side we were on. And of course the gentleman with the bike and the other two gentlemen (both apparently cis and white) who chuckled along with him at our stubborn foolishness made their own hurried treks through the tunnel where Slenderman lives to join us.
Sometimes, it’s nice to be right.