- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2009

UPDATED:

ABOARD THE 2009 INAUGURAL TRAIN — President-elect Barack Obama Saturday challenged Americans to pursue a “new declaration of independence,” paying tribute to history with his own four-city train tour retracing the path that President Lincoln traveled on the way to his first inauguration in 1861.

Mr. Obama traveled with his wife, Michelle, on her 45th birthday, along with their two daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, in a bright blue Pullman caboose car at the end of a full-size Amtrak train full of Secret Service personnel and three cars of reporters.

As the train made its way from Philadelphia to Wilmington and then on to Baltimore, Mr. Obama and others blew the train’s horn at the clusters of people, some standing in their back yards and others gathered in parking lots and fields who gathered in the freezing temperatures to wave at their next president and snap a quick picture.

In Baltimore, 40,000 people flocked to see Mr. Obama speak in the War Memorial plaza in front of City Hall, and cheered wildly despite the cold when he appeared.

“I love you,” someone in the crowd yelled.

“I love you back,” he said, drawing a loud cheer.

“As I prepare to leave for Washington on a trip that you made possible, I know that I will not be traveling alone. I will be taking you with me,” he said, again drawing loud cheers from an audience that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat and Baltimore native.

In Edgewood, Md, a roar went up from a few thousand people standing behind jersey barriers in a parking lot as the train went by. The train slowed and Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden waved to the crowd from the platform on the back of the train. Mr. Obama, who had not worn a coat earlier in the trip, had by this point donned one, though he still did not have gloves on his hands.

There was a noticeable security presence along the route, with police cars parked at nearly every spot with access to the tracks.


Mr. Obama made speeches at all three stops. Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and his wife, Jill, joined the journey in Wilmington.

“We are here today not simply to pay tribute to our first patriots but to take up the work that they began,” Mr. Obama said in Philadelphia, framed by the hall’s at least 10 American flags and joined by special guests invited by his inaugural committee.

Mr. Obama’s remarks in Wilmington focused much more on lower and middle-income families, and he dropped most of the historical references he made in Philadelphia.

The president-elect spoke of “America at a crossroads,” and used Mr. Biden’s middle-class upbringing to talk about how he will make the government accountable “to the conductors who make our trains run, and to the workers who lay down the rails, to the parents who worry about how they’re going to pay next month’s bills on the commute to work, and to the children who hear the whistle of the train and dream of a better life.”

Amtrak conductor Gregg Weaver introduced Mr. Biden as his company’s number one customer, in front of the train station Mr. Biden has commuted from for the past 35 years.

“Our economy is struggling. We are a nation at war,” Mr. Biden said. “Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s hard to believe that we’ll see the spring again. But I tell you spring is on the way with this new administration.”

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More than 7,800 people came out to see the President-elect and Vice President-elect, according to Delaware State Police.

The Whistle Stop tour marked the beginning of what will be a massive inaugural celebration over the next four days, as around two million people converge on the nation’s capitol to celebrate the election of America’s first black president.

The 10-car train is the length of two and a half football fields. Mr. Obama’s car is the Georgia 300, built by Pullman Standard in 1939 and reconfigured in 1949 to its current configuration. It is now privately owned.

It has hosted former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton, and Mr. Obama used it early in 2008. It has a kitchen, two living room areas and a small bedroom.

Though he followed the path of the Great Emancipator, the president-elect’s remarks called on the American people to reclaim the spirit of the nation’s founders.

“While our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not. What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed,” he said. “What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.”

As he has since being elected in November, Mr. Obama painted a grim picture of the current economic outlook.

“The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right. Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast,” he said.

The president-elect also detailed some of the citizens chosen to ride the train, including Ford plant worker Mark Dowell, working mom Shandra Jackson and unemployed Iraq War veteran Tony Fischer.

Mr. Obama described the group of 41 people he met on the campaign trail as “Americans from every corner of this country, whose hopes and heartaches were the core of our cause; whose dreams and struggles have become my own” and promised he would carry their voices with him in the White House.

He called on ordinary Americans to take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our union.

“Let’s build a government that is responsible to the people, and accept our own responsibilities as citizens to hold our government accountable,” he said. “Let’s all of us do our part to rebuild this country. Let’s make sure this election is not the end of what we do to change America, but the beginning.”

Christina Bellantoni reported from Philadelphia.

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