The inscription on the east portal begins: "Let all the ends thou aimst at be thy Country's, thy God's and Truth's. But it takes more help than that if thou aimst to find a parking space near Union Station, at North Capitol Street and Louisiana Avenue.

As of last week, there were 55 legal, public parking spaces within 300 yards of the railroad terminal's main entrance, including 22 around Union Station Plaza itself. All spaces were metered, and one hour was the maximum one could park in 45 of them. At 10 spaces, half an hour was the limit.

More than 700 spaces lie within 600 yards of the terminal. But the vast majority belong exclusively to U.S. Senate staffers and those having official Senate business.

In addition, for the last five months, the Senate parking space total had been increased by 72 spaces with the closings of parts of Louisiana and Delaware Avenues NE. Senate parking permit holders were parking in two parallel lines along the median strips of the two closed streets, as well as along both curbs. The two streets were reopened late last week.

The street closings did not "cheat" prospective Union Station parkers, since spaces along the curbs of the two streets already "belonged" to Senate permit holders. But the street closings did make access to the station even more difficult than it already was. And it was difficult.

"I get them all the time," said Samuel Humes, a redcap stationed at the front entrance one recent morning. "First they don't know which lane to come to, then they don't know where to park. It's really congested. It's really a madhouse up here."

Approximately 5,000 passengers arrive at or depart from the station every day, according to John Jacobson, an Amtrak spokesman.

With the reopening of the closed portions of Louisiana and Delaware Avenues NE, access to the station should improve. But the parking crunch shows every prospect of continuing.

There is a 2,000-space solution: a partially built, multidecked concrete lot above and slightly behind Union Station.

But construction on the lot has been suspended for the better part of a year as a dispute between the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Interior over the future of the National Visitors Center continues.

Neither agency wants to fund the rest of the lot's construction cost until they are sure what kinds of customers will use it. If there is to be an ongoing National Visitors Center, as there has been for a year and a half, Interior would pay. If the center is turned into a part of the railroad station, as it used to be, DOT would pay.

Meanwhile, the nearest place for the public to park for more than one hour is a Colonial Garage at 400 North Capitol St., almost half a mile from Union Station's entrance.

Victor Hughes, the shift attendant at the garage, said his trade is "about 50-50" - 50 per cent desperate train travelers and 50 per cent office workers from the immediate area.

"I tell them you can park on the street, but they'll ticket you," said Hughes, whose employer charges $1.15 for the first hour and $4 for 10 hours or more. "And it's kind of hard to find parking on the street."

An occasional "train parker" can find a space in the five fenced-in lots that the Senate sergeant-at-arms maintains along the southern edge of Union Station Plaza.

T. W. Jewell, a Capitol Police officer assigned to lot 12, said that if he still has vacancies in his 132-space lot at 10 a.m., "I try to help 'em out."

But the demand is ferocious. In addition to Union Station and the Senate's two office buildings, the immediate neighborhood includes Amtrak headquarters, three large office buildings and the main city post office.

More than 25,000 people report to jobs at one of those places every weekday. Only the Senate provides close to enough parking. More than 2,700 spaces are under the direct control of the Senate sergeant-at-arms, and another 200 or so are set aside under a variety of Capitol Hill office buildings.

Douglas Schneider, the District's transportation director, said he agreed to devote the closed parts of Louisiana and Delaware Avenues NE to Senate parkers last May.

Schneider said the two streets would have been closed then anyway because of road reconstruction around Union Station Plaza. He said average daily flow along the closed stretch of Louisiana Avenue had been 4,200 vehicles, or less than three a minute. Delaware Avenue's total was even lower.

According to Mel Fish, special assistant to the Senate sergeant-at-arms, the Senate will recoup the 72 spaces it has lost by "stacking" cars bumper to bumper in its existing lots.

College students will be hired on a part-time basis to park and fetch cars, Fish said. At present, permit holders park and fetch their own cars, and lanes are kept clear so they can do so. The "stacking" system will use up the space now devoted to the clear lanes.