William Harrison III's Sept. 26 Close to Home piece on riding the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) qualified as damning with faint praise. Having commuted almost exclusively by VRE from 1993 to 1997 and again since returning to the D.C. area in August, I say emphatically that VRE is the Cadillac of public transportation.

VRE may seem expensive, but that is because the costs are all upfront. My monthly $162.60 ticket from Manassas to the District seems like a substantial sum. However, an analysis of commuting costs (and not just gasoline) reveal that the train is quite competitive.

And that's just talking about money and not the mental toll that fighting Northern Virginia traffic takes on commuters. As for delays, since my return to the area, the VRE has been within five minutes of scheduled time for arrivals and departures a remarkable 100 percent of the time. During Hurricane Floyd, when both CSX and NS left VRE without the ability to continue service, a reasonable plan was put forth that did not leave any train user stranded. I had no trouble using my monthly ticket to ride Metrorail. It is clear that the VRE management has worked hard to improve service across the board.

The two hours a day I spend on the train is quality time. While it is true that no one talks much on the train, not much socializing goes on in traffic jams either. While many of my fellow train riders sleep, I read. And while I can "beat the train" in the morning, I would challenge anyone to get from my office in Southwest to my home in Manassas in 75 minutes between 3:45 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a consistent basis.

I support necessary road construction, but we need to remember that infrastructure doesn't just mean roads.

-- Jim Michalowski