Obama Back “On Track for Change”

Inaugural 'Whistle Stop Tour' to follow path of Lincoln

Hundreds of thousands of supporters are expected to line the tracks of the "Whistle Stop Tour," as President-elect Barack Obama travels by train from Philadelphia to Washington this weekend, making his way to his swearing-in as the 44th 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 United States Capitol," according to a release from the Presidential Inauguration Committee.

A group of "everyday Americans" has been invited to join them on the train for a portion of the ride and crowds are expected to gather at numerous spots -- overpasses, parking lots and commuter train stations -- along the way.

Obama's trip retraces that of Abraham Lincoln, who also rode to his inauguration on a train from Philadelphia. Lincoln was smuggled under cover of darkness from one train station to another to avoid a feared assassination attempt.

So, too, has Obama's trip prompted heightened security along the rails.

The 137-mile route will be manned by thousands of police officers from 40 jurisdictions in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Washington, D.C., that Obama's train will pass through, officials with Amtrak said as it outlined security plans for the inauguration.  Police are working closely with the Secret Service and local law enforcement.

Authorities said they are using the funeral procession of Robert F. Kennedy as a guide for estimating how many people will turn out.  By some estimates, as many as a  million people lined the tracks from New York to Washington in 1968 to pay their respects to the slain senator, though that journey took place in June, not midwinter.

Security experts say the train ride presents traditional threats to the VIPs on board, as well as countless buildings, homes and warehouses along the route. And there are non-traditional vulnerabilities: scores of bridges and tunnels that could be sabotaged, CNN reported.

Amtrak and the Secret Service will not say whether Obama's train car will be armored, though experts say special cars have been used in the past.

"There will be opportunities for people to watch the train go past, and we expect that they will do so," said William Crosbie, the railroad's chief operating officer.

Obama and the first family will start their trip Saturday with an event at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station before boarding a private charter train and picking up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family in Wilmington, Del.  Biden knows the route to D.C. well, as he was for decades a regular train rider from his Delaware home to his Senate office.

The train will "slow roll" through Claymont, Del., and Edgewood, Md.  A slow roll means the train will slow significantly, but not come to a complete stop, according to the PIC release.

Next stop? Baltimore.

"At the Wilmington and Baltimore events, canned food drives will take place as part of President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden’s national service initiative.  All event attendees are being asked to bring a can of food, which will be delivered to a local food bank," the PIC release stated.

The Inauguration Committee released sparse details of the events around the "Whistle Stop Tour" on Wednesday, with previous media reports emphasising the magnitude of the security challenge presented by the trip.    

Baltimore officials say they are planning for an afternoon speech in front of the War Memorial building in downtown Baltimore.   The city of Baltimore has estimated that the stop will cost the city $11 million, The Baltimore Sun reported this week.

There's been some concern and pushback from governors of the states through which the "Whistle Stop Tour" will travel. They have had no indication that the federal government intends to reimburse the cash-strapped states for their expenses.

"I think all of us were somewhat surprised that Congress had not made appropriations to cover the cost of the inauguration," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said. "Having said that, the public safety responsibility has to be fulfilled, as does the transportation responsibility, so we're going to do it. And we have faith in our new Congress [to reimburse Maryland] for this big expense."

The "Whistle Stop Tour" is expected to arrive in the District Saturday evening -- hopefully before Sasha and Malia's bedtime.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us