Saturday, December 06, 2008

Inaugration Prep

The Inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States is about six weeks away. Washington is getting ready, with the inaugural stage on the West Portico of the U.S. Capitol almost finished. The Capitol Christmas tree is on the West Lawn, but that will be gone as soon as the holidays are over.

Only 240,000 tickets are available to attend the actual swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol. I say only because as many as 4-5 million people are expected to travel to Washington for the inauguration and parade. The National Park Service and the Obama transition team announced this week that the entire National Mall in Washington will be open for the ceremony. That is unusual because often parts of the Mall are closed as staging areas for the parade. Giant television screens will be erected so people can watch parts of the President's swearing-in and speech.

Hotel rooms are still available for the ceremony. Friday, the Washington Tourism Bureau, Destination DC, said more than 1,000 rooms are available in the metro DC area. However, there are restrictions - including a four-day minimum stay at some hotels - and rates are from $100 - $1,000 a night.

Construction also continues near the White House, with the reviewing stand for the President and other dignitaries under construction.

If you have never been to Washington, DC before, remember that L'Enfant designed it to frustrate an invading army. It does that every rush hour for those of us who live here, so patience will be needed on Inauguration Day.

The city is served by three main public transportation lines - the Metro, the Virginia Railway Express, and the MARC trains (from Maryland). Metro is debating whether to stay open 24 hours a day for the inauguration. They do not plan to have the escalators running at the busiest stations, which means the stairways will be locked in place and you will have to walk.

VRE - which runs from outside Manassas, Virginia (to the West) and from Fredericksburg (to the South) to Union Station in Washington - plans to run on its modified "S" schedule. That means there will not be as many trains.

Both lines - Manassas and Fredericksburg - operate double-decker cars. The Fredericksburg line tends to have the more modern cars, though Manassas is catching up. Tickets vary in price based on how far from downtown you are. There are ticket machines at the stations, and they do accept credit cards, but sometimes they do not work or have difficulty reading the magnetic stripe on your card. It is best to try to get tickets ahead of time if you can.

The MARC lines operate between Perryville, Maryland (Penn Line - which goes to Penn Station in Baltimore), Martinsburg, West Virginia and Frederick, Maryland (Brunswick Line) and from Camden Station in Baltimore to Washington, but they - like the VRE - do not operate all day.

For the Inauguration, they say "Penn, Camden and Brunswick lines will operate between 5 AM and 9 AM and between 4 PM and 9 PM. MTA monthly and weekly passes, 10-trip tickets and previously purchased one-way tickets will not be accepted. All trains will be reserved and tickets must be purchased in advance. For the Penn Line, there will no service north of Penn Station."

Look for more updates on this blog as the Day draws nearer. We will try to post as much information as possible and give an everyman's view of the celebration.

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