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Early bird holiday train travelers in Aberdeen hope to avoid traffic, long distance driving

Taking an Amtrak train to Connecticut from Aberdeen sure beats driving to Connecticut from Ohio for the Thanksgiving holiday. That's what Blake Skoda was thinking as he waited for the 7:35 a.m. Northeast Regional Train at the Aberdeen train station early Wednesday morning.

"I love sitting back," Skoda said. "I don't know why I enjoy it, but I do. It's reliable, it's fun, and it's easy."

Skoda, a freshman at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio, decided to drive to Aberdeen, the home of his college roommate, John Fitzwater, and then take the Amtrak train home to Connecticut. He was one of several early birds who showed up at the station for the first inner city trains that make stops at the intermediate station between Baltimore and Wilmington.

"It's the most convenient [way to travel] for him and for me," Skoda said. Fitzwater has a car at Marietta, while Skoda does not.

"It's usually a 10 hour drive [to Connecticut]," Skoda said. "We decided to break it up a little better."

On Tuesday, the two drove from Marietta to Aberdeen and did not like the congested roads.

"We were caught up in holiday traffic the other day," Skoda said. "It gets pretty bad."

"It took us seven hours, and it should have been six," Fitzwater added. "Heck, it could've been 5 and a half."

"We were stuck on 695," Skoda said. He planned to change trains in Wilmington later Wednesday morning before arriving in Connecticut at 1 p.m. He plans to take the Amtrak train back to Aberdeen after the holiday and drive back to college with Fitzwater.

Also traveling north on Amtrak Wednesday were Edgewood residents Clark and Constance Row. They were taking the Northeast Regional Train to New York to visit their son, their daughter-in-law and their grandchildren, as well as other family members.

The Rows chose to travel by train because of "safety, and it's the best way to do it."

"It doesn't make sense to fly," Clark Row said. "We've tried Megabuses, but lately they've been unsafe."

Driving to New York also has its pitfalls. Traffic is so bad that Constance says "I won't drive to New York anymore. It's impossible, really. "

"It's the whole question of parking," Clark Row added. "You can't pay for the first hour of parking with the price of a train ticket."

The Rows travel by train as often as they can, choosing to travel via Amtrak or even MARC trains.

"We rarely go even to the District of Columbia by car anymore," Clark Row added. "We generally take the train for the same reasons."

Missing a familiar place

The Maryland House travel plaza, located on mile marker 82 on I-95 in Aberdeen, is typically packed with motorists on a holiday weekend like Thanksgiving. This year, however, the plaza is closed, while its main building is being replaced by a newer building that won't open until December 2013.

Subsequently, the Chesapeake House travel plaza on mile marker 97 in North East will have to handle a higher amount of travelers Thanksgiving weekend. By mid-Wednesday afternoon, however, there hadn't been a noticeable uptick in business.

"Honestly, we're not seeing much of a difference in traffic," said Carlos de Jesus, director of operations for Chesapeake House. "You would figure with Maryland House being closed and doing double the business, people wouldn't fit in here, but this isn't the case."

Holidays are always busier at Chesapeake House, especially Thanksgiving, de Jesus said.

"Considering this is the most traveled holiday in the Maryland strip, the business is significant, but it's so far proven to be equal to prior years," de Jesus said. He added that preparations had been made to prepare for the higher traffic earlier in the month.

"The [Maryland] Department of Transportation, as well as state troopers, as well as our organization [parent company Areas USA] had a meeting on the 2nd of November to prepare for this holiday," de Jesus said. "So far, everything is going as planned."

De Jesus also said that he expected the level traffic on Wednesday to be roughly equal to Saturday and Sunday. Typically, Thursday sees traffic die down around 4 p.m., while Friday has a normal level of traffic, de Jesus said.

Amy Walker was traveling with her husband and six-month old son from Richmond to visit family in Philadelphia, where she is originally from, when the stopped at the Chesapeake House Wednesday. She said traffic had not been an issue so far during her trip.

"Going through, it has not been that bad," Walker said. "Watching the news in Richmond, you'd have thought it was going to be gridlocked, but it isn't."

Walker said that the news in Richmond pointed to more traffic this Thanksgiving than in previous years. However, the only heavy traffic her family had driven through was in Northern Virginia and around Washington, D.C., Walker said.

John Benya was heading to Atlantic City from Carroll County for an overnight trip with his wife to visit the casinos. He said traffic was "not bad" so far.

"Baltimore was a little rough, but not bad considering the holiday," Benya said, adding that he planned to return to Carroll County Thursday afternoon to celebrate Thanksgiving at home.

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