Politics & Government

Inaugural trip, minus the traffic

CORRECTION

The original version of this story contained erroneous time references, including those for president-elect Barack Obama's inauguration and the train's departure from Raleigh. Obama will be sworn in as president Tuesday. The train left Raleigh for Washington on Saturday.

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Stephan and Kim Jackson of Durham agreed months ago that they must be in Washington on Tuesday to witness the historic inauguration of America's first black president.

But they didn't want to take part in what could be a history-making traffic jam on Interstate 95.

So the Jacksons booked passage on a rolling hotel that picked them up Saturday morning at the Amtrak station in Raleigh. They'll join travelers on a pair of private rail cars, operated by a small South Carolina railway company, traveling to Washington attached to the Amtrak Carolinian.

The trip includes gourmet food and drink, and a four-night stay in the center of the nation's capital -- on the train, parked at Union Station. The fare is $1,800 a person.

"Economically, we are sort of taking a leap of faith, because we've never ridden on a rail car before," said Stephan Jackson, a real estate agent. He and his wife, a physician, are in their late 30s.

Amtrak's trains to Washington sold out weeks ago. The Lancaster & Chester Railway still had four berths available on its private cars when The News & Observer published a story about the train on Jan. 3, but the train sold out within a few hours.

The Jacksons and their daughters, who are African-American, campaigned door-to-door for Barack Obama last year. They were inspired by the struggles of their ancestors.

"This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events," he said of Obama's inauguration. "A lot of our wanting to go is also to be there for people who have benefited our lives and helped our generation."

That's just what Rupa Redding-Lallinger of Chapel Hill was thinking as she and her husband, Gunther, prepared to board the same rail cars in Raleigh.

Both are physicians. They're paying $600 apiece for the round-trip ride to Washington, and they'll stay in a Maryland motel.

Her father was a civil rights attorney who helped overturn institutional segregation in Delaware, where he was the state's first black lawyer.

"I feel like I'm going there and representing my parents, almost," said Redding-Lallinger, 55. "This would have been so unbelievable for them, and I just want to be there to see it happen."

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