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Pledger takes her allegiance to another city

January 22, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -

Virginia Pledger had all she could stand and she couldn't stand no more.

Pledger, an eight-year resident of Martinsburg who had turned her opposition to late-night noise from idling locomotives at the city's MARC Layover Facility into a one-woman crusade, said this week she finally saw the handwriting on the wall, sold her house and lit out in search of a little peace and quiet.

"I felt it was a hopeless cause," said Pledger, 70, from her new home in Kentucky. "I'm just not going to be a policeman for the rest of my life."

Pledger, who sometimes remarked how much she resembled the stereotypical little old lady, took the podium month after month during the Martinsburg City Council's regular meetings from June 2004 until late last year to offer city leaders an earful about how much noise emanated nightly from the North Queen Street facility.

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She had become such a fixture at the council's monthly meetings that her absence was noted by Mayor George Karos.

Let the record reflect Virginia Pledger is not in attendance, Karos said late last year.

The layover facility behind the North Queen Street overpass served in times past as a freight station for the B&O Railroad. It was vacant for a number of years before city planning officials agreed to a proposal by CSX Transportation Inc. in 2001 to renovate the site and convert it for use as a maintenance facility for MARC trains.

Pledger, a former textiles instructor from the University of Maryland who had worked as a repair expert to prepare rare textiles for exhibition in museums - she has stitched everything from the burial garments of a fourth-century Coptic Christian to the flag flown outside Gen. George Washington's tent at Valley Forge to the spacesuit worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong - said she had been eager to complete her next big project after her move to Martinsburg - her garden.

Pledger had planted a garden she said she modeled after a Japanese strolling garden, complete with complex plant combinations and unfolding vistas that lured the eye forward. With a row of Japanese maples accompanying it, she turned her front yard into a sand pool so that the sidewalk resembled a bridge that led to her front door, she said.

"I had put eight years worth of work into it," she said. "I have regrets that I didn't get to live in my house when it was totally finished."

She said she left the house five years earlier than she had planned.

Pledger called the noise from the layover facility a low and rumbling grating sound that shook the walls and windows of her Boyd Avenue home, and left her sleepless at night and sleepy during the day.

She wasn't alone.

Boyd Avenue resident Charles Connelly said the noise is a persistent bother, especially in the winter when the trains are powering up throughout the night.

"You can just stand on the front steps and feel the vibrating and it just goes into your body," Connelly said. "When it's not running, you realize how bad it is when it is running."

Tests conducted at and around the site by consultants for the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005 concluded most of the noise stemmed from the locomotives' Head End Power (HEP) units, which power the trains' electricity.

A number of measures proposed to cut down on the noise and vibration, including reducing by one the number of trains at the site and switching to ground power, produced temporary results, Connelly said.

Officials with the Maryland Transit Administration did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In a May 2005 letter and report to Karos, MARC train official Phil Bissett said operating changes implemented last year to minimize the noise, including switching to locally supplied electricity and hiring a supervisor to monitor the new guidelines, added about $100,000 to the company's costs at the site.

Connelly said he still attends City Council meetings to complain. At December's meeting, he read from the city's newly passed video lottery ordinance to make a point about the effect of commercial activity on a residential neighborhood. He said he calls the police at the request of city officials.

"It's a pain in the neck to get up at 4:30 in the morning and call the police, but I do it," Connelly said. "I'm the only one calling anymore."

Pledger said leaving Martinsburg hasn't been a total loss. The move took her closer to her sister in Louisville, Ky., and to another in Missouri.

And despite the noise, Pledger said her house sold quickly.

"He liked my garden," she said.

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