Obama Express Pulls Into Home Station

President-elect chats with invited guests on last leg of whistle-stop tour.

January 15, 2009, 6:46 PM

Jan. 17, 2009— -- Three speeches and 137 miles later, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden ended their symbolic, nearly nine-hour whistle-stop train tour at Washington, D.C.'s Union Station this evening, arriving one step closer to the presidency.

On the last leg of the journey, from Baltimore to the nation's capital, the Obamas kicked back and joked with their companions on the train.

When Michelle Obama hyped her husband's inauguration speech, Obama replied: "That's not what you're supposed to say in front of the press! ... You're supposed to say it'll be all right!"

The Obamas and Bidens were at the time talking to some of the 16 special invited guests and their family members, people whose personal stories of struggle touched them during the campaign.

"You're never too old to toot the horn," Obama told the car full of eager invited guests. "You pull it and 'Choo, choo.'"

He also recalled his April 2008 train tour fondly, saying that his campaign "wasn't going that well at that point" but it was "liberating," he said, to stand on the train and watch the landscape pass by.

"It was actually one of my favorite times on the campaign," Obama added.

When someone asked Michelle what she was looking forward to the most during the inaugural festivities, Obama replied, "She wants to hear the swearing-in. She's heard me speak before. She wants to hear some of the concerts."

In Baltimore, where the last public event of the day was held, the president-elect came full circle in the final and most important speech of the tour. He invoked the founding fathers and the U.S. struggle for independence in a speech attended by thousands of people. The president-elect hit on many of the same themes he had expressed at the start of his train tour this morning in Philadelphia.

"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. The trials we face are very different now, but they're severe in their own right. Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast," Obama said to an audience in which many tears could be seen.

Repeating some passages from his earlier speech, Obama called for "perseverance and idealism" and the need for a "new declaration of independence."

"What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives and in our own hearts -- from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry -- an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels," Obama said against the cold backdrop of Baltimore's historic War Memorial Plaza.

Counterbalancing a tone of cautious optimism, the president-elect warned of challenges ahead and that things could get worse before they got better -- a point he has made in many recent addresses.

"We recognize that such enormous challenges will not be solved quickly. There will be false starts and there will be setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. I will make some mistakes. And we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency," he said.

He ended on the same note as he did this morning, by urging people to "seek together a better world in our time."

At one point during the speech, the president-elect replied "I love you back" to a shout from the audience, showing a spontaneous side to go with his mastery of rhetoric, as ABC News senior political reporter Rick Klein observed.

Baltimore was the president-elect's third and final stop in the whistle-stop tour. As they made their way to the final destination -- Washington, D.C.'s Union Station -- the Obamas kicked back and joked about his inauguration speech.

"You're never too old to toot the horn," Obama told the group accompanying him. "You pull it and Choo Choo."

He also recalled his April 2008 train tour fondly, saying that his campaign "wasn't going that well at that point" but it was "liberating," he said, to stand on the train and watch the landscape pass by.

"It was actually one of my favorite times on the campaign," Obama added.

Obama's train today passed through some of the nation's poorest communities, a reminder of the challenges ahead.

In his second speech in Wilmington, Del. -- where the Obamas picked up the Bidens -- Obama told the crowds, "The time has come to pick ourselves up once again ... We'll fight for you every single day we're in Washington."

Obama praised his Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who quoted James Joyce in his speech and echoed the patriotic sentiment of Obama's speech in Philadelphia this morning, promising to "not let you down."

"We can and we will restore the middle class. We can and we will regain the respect we deserve in this world. We can and we will change this nation," Biden bellowed.

Biden was introduced by Gregg Weaver, 55, as "Amtrak's No. 1 customer." An Amtrak conductor, Weaver has known Biden for 25 years and worked on the train that the former senator took from his Wilmington home to Capitol Hill.

Biden -- who dubbed the train station his "second home" -- rode the train from Wilmington to the Capital for 36 years, for what his staff estimates to be 7,000 trips. After he lost his wife and daughter to a car accident in 1972, Biden -- who was elected to Senate at the age of 29 -- vowed to stay in Delaware to look after his kids rather than move to Washington, D.C.

As the Obamas and Bidens took the stage, the crowd of about 9,000 sang happy birthday to Michelle Obama, who turns 45 today.

The president-elect set off from Philadelphia this morning around 10 a.m., "where", he said, "the American journey began."

In a 15-minute speech filled with patriotic sentiment, Obama talked about the problems facing the country -- the economy, two wars, dependence on oil -- and called on Americans to "rebuild this country."

"What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that our founders displayed. 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," Obama said, speaking at the historic 30th Street train station.

The audience was filled with dignitaries and special guests, including Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. The president-elect received a standing ovation by invitees when he mentioned ending the war in Iraq. The 16 families invited to ride with the Obamas sat with the family on the side of the stage as the president-elect spoke.

"Let's seek a better world in our time," Obama concluded.

All Aboard

In a 137-mile journey reminiscent of the one Abraham Lincoln took in 1861, the Obamas are traveling from Philadelphia by train to Washington, D.C. to kick off his inaugural celebrations.

Obama held a roundtable in Philadelphia before hopping on the nearly 60-year-old, chartered Georgia 300 for his "whistle-stop tour." Accompanying him on the 10-section lounge car were about 50 invited guests, politicians and the media. Among those invited, some guests -- like sex discrimination plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter -- already are national figures, while others are anonymous Americans with stories speaking to the national moment, such as Mark Dowell, whose job at a Ford plant in Kentucky is in danger of being axed.

On the way to Washington, D.C., the train slow rolled -- at a speed of about 60 miles per hour -- through the towns of Claymont, Del. and Edgewood, Md., so Obama and Biden could wave at their supporters.

"Typically, a 'slow roll' means the train will slow significantly, but not come to a complete stop," the presidential inauguration committee said in a statement.

The idea of the slow roll is that Obamas and Bidens can wave to the crowd in the towns they journey through. Thousands of people are expected to gather on overpasses, parking lots and commuter train stations to get a glimpse of the president-elect.

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. Lincoln's stop in Philadelphia was marked by a lofty address at Independence Hall that paid tribute to the Declaration of Independence.

Security preparations for Obamas' train journey are comparable to those in place for Lincoln, whose advisers thought an assassination plot against the president was afoot.

The train evokes past presidents' journeys to their inaugural ceremonies. Even modern presidents, including Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have taken train tours to connect with Americans.

The trip also echoes Biden's journey as a senator to Capitol Hill.

"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 United States Capitol," the inauguration committee's statement said.

For Obama, whose conduct as a candidate and now president-elect has frequently made reference to Lincoln, the train tour is a natural choice. Obama frequently quotes the 16th president in speeches, he visited the Lincoln Memorial to seek inspiration for his own inaugural address and he plans to eat a Lincoln-style meal on Inauguration Day.

The depot calls were chosen in keeping with the inauguration's theme of "Bringing the Voices of American People to Washington."

In the committee's words: "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 said that canned food drives will take place in Wilmington and Baltimore as part of Obama's and Biden's national service initiative.

Tomorrow, Obama and Biden will take part in the inaugural committee's "We Are One" celebration and participate in volunteer activities Monday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Obama is to be sworn in as president Tuesday, Jan. 20. The event that is expected to draw more than a million and as many as 3 million people to the national capital.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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