Hopping on the Obama Train

The incoming president and vice president of the United States won't be arriving at the nation's capital in a private jet or fancy limousine.

President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden have chosen a more traditional form of transportation -- the train.

The Obama and Biden families will kick off inaugural festivities Saturday with a train ride from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., reflecting past presidents' journey to the White House.

Although the Obamas moved to Washington shortly after spending their Christmas holidays in Hawaii, they are traveling with the Biden family and "everyday Americans" by train in the "whistle-stop tour" that resonates the Lincoln aura.

Abraham Lincoln rode by train from Springfield, Ill., to the capital in 1861, making frequent stops in both small and big towns across the country.

"What Obama is trying to do is touch base with these historic characters and touch base with the traditional form of transportation," said Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Troy said that the tour is designed to take Obama and Biden through "little-stop America," which often feels disconnected from lawmakers in Washington.

It also symbolizes Biden's journey as a senator to Capitol Hill. The senator has said he rode Amtrak from his Wilmington, Del., home to Washington every day for the past 35 years before he was elected vice president.

"The trip marks the final leg of a journey that began on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Illinois and will culminate on the steps of the U.S. States Capitol," the Presidential Inauguration Committee said in a statement.

Connecting With Presidents Past

Inaugural train trips, starting with William Henry Harrison in 1841, were the norm before modern jets gained popularity.

And even modern presidents have staged such a tour to take their message to small towns across the United States.

Harry Truman went on a 30,000-mile train tour of the rural United States in 1948 during his second run for the presidency.

Gerald Ford went on a whistle-stop tour of Michigan with his wife in 1976. Ronald Reagan also mimicked Truman's tour in 1984, and Bill Clinton took such a tour in 1996. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney went on a train tour of battleground states during their first campaign in 2000.

For Obama, who emulates a special connection to history, the train tour comes as no surprise. He has quoted Lincoln in many of his speeches, visited the Lincoln Memorial to get inspiration for his own inaugural address and will eat a Lincoln-style meal on Inauguration Day.

The train tour is an "excellent prop for someone who is so young and who is the first African-American president," Troy said. "I think we will see him again and again using tradition symbols, and the simple fact that it's him standing in front of these tradition symbols will give a twist to it."

The destinations were chosen in keeping with the inauguration's theme of "renewing America's promise."

"Philadelphia, where that promise was realized; Baltimore, where that promise was defended, then immortalized in our national anthem; and Washington, where Americans of all backgrounds will gather over four days, united in common purpose and resolved to renew that promise once more," the committee explained.

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