- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

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

He began the trip in Philadelphia and stopped in Wilmington, Del., and Baltimore before ending at Union Station, just blocks from where he will be inaugurated as the country’s 44th president on Tuesday.

Though he followed the path of the Great Emancipator, America’s first black president 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.”

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 10-car Amtrak train full of Secret Service personnel and three cars of reporters. Following that train was another, filled with more security personnel.

The Pullman, a Georgia 300 built by Pullman Standard in 1939 and reconfigured in 1949 to include a kitchen, two living rooms and a small bedroom, is privately owned and has been used by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as by Mr. Obama on a train tour last year.

All along the route, Mr. Obama and others blew the train’s horn at onlookers in their backyards and at crowds who gathered wherever they could find room. The crowds waved, cheered and held signs, braving the cold to wave at their next president and snap a picture.

In Baltimore, an estimated 40,000 people flocked to see Mr. Obama speak in the War Memorial plaza in front of City Hall, cheering wildly and some weeping 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, California Democrat and a Baltimore native.

The trip included two “slow-rolls” where the train went slowly enough for Mr. Obama to step out onto the back of the caboose and wave to large crowds from a railing covered in red, white and blue bunting.

During one of the two slow-rolls, 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 Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. 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.

By the end of the day, at his event in Baltimore, he wore gloves.

There was a noticeable security presence along the 137-mile route, with police cars parked at nearly every spot with access to the tracks.

Mr. Obama made speeches at all three stops, starting with a Philadelphia speech heavy on Revolutionary-era history and allusions.

“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.

Since being elected in November, Mr. Obama has 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.

He tried once again to lower people’s expectations for quick results.

“There will be false starts. There will be setbacks. There will be frustrations and disappointments,” he said in Baltimore.

He then added, in a line that was not included in his prepared remarks, “I will make some mistakes.”

“You’ll be all right,” a woman shouted from the crowd.

Mr. Obama’s remarks in Wilmington dropped the historical references and focused much more on working-class issues.

The president-elect spoke of “America at a crossroads,” and used Mr. Biden’s 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 No. 1 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,” said Mr. Biden, who boarded the train with his wife, Jill, at Wilmington. “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.”

More than 7,800 people came out to see the Wilmington stop, according to Delaware State Police. Some people waited six hours in the freezing temperatures, which had risen to about 18 degrees by the time Mr. Obama’s train arrived.

“Nothing was going to keep me away,” said Carolyn Tyson, a 55-year old advertising saleswoman for a local TV news station. “There’s a lot of history that’s in a book, but for me to be able to live this piece of history is just priceless.”

The president-elect also detailed some of the people chosen to ride the train, including Ford plant worker Mark Dowell, working mother 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 their 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.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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