Obama Rides The Rails To DC For Inaugural Kickoff

Invoking hope and history, President-elect Barack Obama rolled into the capital city Saturday night after pledging to help bring the nation "a new Declaration of Independence" and promising to rise to the stern challenges of the times. He kicked off a four-day inaugural celebration with a daylong rail trip, retracing the path Abraham Lincoln took in 1861.

Obama began his day in Philadelphia, where he said the young nation had faced its "first true test" as a fragile democracy. He ended it in Washington, where his own tests await after his inauguration on Tuesday.

The president-in-waiting drew on a grand heritage of American giants as he appealed "not to our easy instincts but to our better angels," an echo of Lincoln's first inaugural address. He took note of the enormous challenges that lie ahead and promised to act with "fierce urgency," a phrase often used by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Riding a vintage railcar on his whistle-stop trip to Washington, Obama carried with him the hopes of a nation weary of war, frightened of economic chaos and searching for better days. Vice President-elect Joe Biden joined the journey en route, from his home in Delaware, and spoke for many when he said he was excited and ready for Tuesday.

Then, sobered by the challenges of governing, Biden added: "I think it's Wednesday we need to be ready."

Obama was smiling and confident throughout the day and across the miles, reaching at each stop for history's lessons. In Philadelphia, he noted the risks taken by the men who declared America independent from Britain. In Wilmington, he applauded the state that first ratified the Constitution. And in Baltimore, he hailed the troops at Fort McHenry who beat back the British navy and inspired the poem that became "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Washington pulsed with anticipation of Obama's swearing in as the nation's first black president. The city was aflutter with preparations for four days of parties and pomp, shadowed at every turn by layer upon layer of security. For every banner or piece of bunting that was going up around the city, there was a concrete barrier or metal fence at the ready as well.

Revelers eager to get a head start on the celebration already were flowing into the city.

Toni Mateo, 38, arrived on a packed train from Atlanta. It was a quiet ride at first, he said.

"I just screamed out `Obama,' and the whole crowd erupted," he said.

For all the travelers arriving in Washington, there were plenty headed the opposite direction — fleeing the crowds, the security, and the winter cold.

For traveler Obama, there was a celebratory air as his train pulled out of the station at Philadelphia.

"Welcome aboard the 2009 inaugural train to D.C," the conductor intoned.

Obama's blue rail car was tacked onto the back of a 10-car Amtrak train filled with hundreds of guests, reporters and staff for the 137-mile ride to Washington. Along the way, Obama and his wife, Michelle, appeared on the back balcony periodically to wave to shivering crowds bundled up in blankets and parkas who had gathered by the dozens, the hundreds and more along the route.

One held a sign that read, "Happy Birthday Michelle," taking note of the future first lady's 45th birthday. Another, in Delaware, waved a placard that said, "We came from Massachusetts 2 C U."

The well-wishers hoped not just for a glimpse of the 44th president-in-waiting but for a cameo role in history.

Joan Schiff, 47, a small business owner who campaigned for Obama, turned out for his departure from Philadelphia.

"At some point, you look up and think, 'I am in a moment,'" she said.

Carolyn Tyson, 55, came from Medford, N.J. to catch Obama's stop in Wilmington. She arrived a good seven hours early, at 6:30 a.m., to see the new president. "It's unreal, it's surreal," she said of Obama's election. Tyson, who is black, said she never thought she'd see a president of color.

The heady, celebratory air was tempered, however, by the tumult of the times, and Obama was quick to acknowledge them.

"Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast," he said. "An economy that is faltering. Two wars, one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely. A planet that is warming from our unsustainable dependence on oil."

"There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments," he said, "and we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."

While talking about the future, Obama reflected on the past, echoing the words of the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln and President John F. Kennedy. He cited the founding fathers who risked everything with no assurance of success in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776:

"They were willing to put all they were and all they had on the line — their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor — for a set of ideals that continue to light the world: That we are equal. That our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come not from our laws, but from our maker. And that a government of, by, and for the people can endure."

The president-elect's triumphant day started with a sober discussion of the country's future with 41 people he met during his long quest for the White House. Preparing to board the train, Obama said that "what's required is a new declaration of independence — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry."

Obama left the train briefly in Baltimore to address a frozen-but-hearty crowd of more than 40,000, echoing his earlier remarks and alluding to the men who defended nearby Fort McHenry.

"We are here today not simply to pay tribute to those patriots who founded our nation in Philadelphia or defended it in Baltimore, but to take up the cause for which they gave so much," he said.

Back in Washington, members of his administration looked beyond the inauguration to the details of governing.

Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors and asked for help pushing through legislation to jump-start the moribund economy.

Although Obama's path tracked Lincoln's and took on the same overtone of high security, it wasn't the journey of virtual secrecy that the 16th president-elect took so long ago on the eve of the Civil War. Lincoln was smuggled under cover of darkness from one train station to another to avoid a feared assassination attempt.

The FBI has been planning for the inauguration since June. Large trucks, a bomb-detecting robot, canisters with hundreds of gallons of water to disrupt a car bomb and other emergency response equipment stretch down a block near the FBI's Washington Field Office.

John Perren, a special agent in charge of counterterrorism, said there was no credible intelligence warning of any attack.

"We're very, very confident that if anything happens, we know how to respond to it," Perren said.

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  • by Coach M Location: RMT on Jan 18, 2009 at 10:06 PM
    Walter: So, in other words, you're saying that inmates released usually go back out and commit more crimes, I mean that Gitmo inmates that are released go back out on the battlefield? Wow, never new that before. But what has that got to do with this article? And Lavon, how old are you? You just seem to me to be of teenage or younger capacity due to the various comments I have read of yours not only on this article but others on WITN as well. It seems that all your points are on racial issues. I think that President Elect Obama is very proud of his heritage, as well he should be. I also doubt that He only refers to the Black community when he says, "Yes we can." He wants change not only of the racial variety but as a Nation in general. This point has made Him the best candidate for the Presidency. I hope that His prowless will turn out to be exactly what we need. When I say we, I mean ALL Americans black, white, hispanic and ALL races that make up this great nation.
  • by Blog Refuter Location: NC on Jan 18, 2009 at 06:28 PM
    And I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free. And I won't forget the men who died and who gave that right to me". "And you can vote however you like. I said, you can vote however you like. Yeah." (The last few sentences in quotes are from the remix of T.I.'s song by the kids at Ron Clark's Academy).
  • by Walter Location: NC on Jan 18, 2009 at 04:08 PM
    PENTAGON: MANY FORMER GITMO INMATES RETURN TO BATTLEFIELD PENTAGON REPORTS GITMO DETAINEES SELDOM GIVE UP THEIR WAYS EVEN AFTER RELEASE. DETAINEES ARE LIKELY TO KILL OR PLOT ATTACKS AGAIN, IF RELEASED FROM GITMO. As if we needed another reason to keep GITMO open, it appears now that according to Pentagon statistics an ALARMING number of former GITMO detainees released from incarceration are returning to the battlefield to wreak more havoc, kill more Americans and further attempt to destabilize Iraq or Afghanistan.
  • by Nauseated on Jan 18, 2009 at 03:04 PM
    Yep, he said it, he wants a new Declaration of Independence. He is the one who keeps making it about race. Well he does have some help from Michelle. I don't dislike him because of his color or his mixture of colors. I hate that he wants to make us a socialist country, and no matter how you sugar coat it, that is what he wants to do. God help us.
  • by lavon Location: kinston on Jan 18, 2009 at 01:31 PM
    I gotta tell you, now's a great time to be an american!!
  • by lavon Location: kinston on Jan 18, 2009 at 01:13 PM
    I love Obama I love Obama Ilove Obama I love Obama I love Obama. Our time is now. Yes we can Yes we can Yes we can YES WE CAN!!!!!
  • by Anonymous99 Location: right field on Jan 18, 2009 at 11:56 AM
    Yo; Anonymous its Ok to maintain your animinity, but come up with your own handle. It's hard keeping up with all of the misc. anonymouses, and which track they are on.
  • by Anonymous on Jan 18, 2009 at 08:52 AM
    This is for Jay..how can you say he's the worst President in history, Oh, you can predict the future. Why didn't you tell us that 9/11 was going to happen. Why didn't you warn our troops about the wars. Why didn't you let the people know not to get on the plane because it was going to land in the Hudson River. My point exactly. Nobody knows how this will turn-out. Yes, I voted for Obama. Everyone deserves a chance. Some people are just not giving him credit. Is it because his mother was white and his father was black. I mean what's the real reason for all this. This could be the best thing for America. Guess what I'm an eighties baby. It's not about us anymore. It's about todays generation, and the next generation. It's about paving the way for our youth of tomorrow. We as Americans need to have a more positive outlook on this. Because, more young people are becoming invovled because of Obama. This is what America needed. Change is great.
  • by WOLFGANG Location: CHOCOWINITY,NC on Jan 18, 2009 at 08:39 AM
    The race card will be pulled every time Obama is criticized. I can here it now. You Americans do not like what I am doing because I am a Blackman. Hay Big O you are a Whiteman too?
  • by Barlow Location: Winterville on Jan 18, 2009 at 08:29 AM
    We are already half way there. Privatising the profits, let the mortgage companies give out bad loans and collect. When people can't pay and default, socialize the debt by letting tax payers bail them out. They win you lose, they lose you lose. And the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
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