Obama embarks on whistle-stop tour linking him to Lincoln

Washington, Jan 17 (IANS) Barack Obama has set out for Washington for his historic inauguration Tuesday as America’s first black president with a whistle-stop train journey that symbolically links him to the nation’s icon Abraham Lincoln.

Like Lincoln, who travelled by rail from Philadelphia to Washington on the last leg of his journey to be sworn in for his first term in 1861, Obama too is travelling from the birthplace of the nation’s democracy to the capital city.

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Spanning 148 years, the 137-mile train journey symbolically links Democrat Obama with Lincoln, who as the first Republican president steered the Union forces to victory in the Civil War and ended the slavery of blacks in the US.

Obama’s whistle-stop tour began Saturday from Philadelphia’s 30th St. train station with a call to Americans to live up to the courage and sacrifice of the country’s founders as they strive to redeem the promise of freedom.

In a speech to a crowd gathered in a flag-draped waiting room Obama talked of the heavy challenges facing people now, including a staggering economy and global warming.

He said people must recognise that there will be “false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments,” but argued that this is not the time to get discouraged.

Obama said the American Revolution “was – and remains – an ongoing struggle in the hearts and minds of the people to live up to our freedom.”

Preparing to board a train for his ride to the nation’s capital, Obama said that “what’s required is a new declaration of independence – from ideology and small thinking.”

The Obama Express will later stop in Wilmington, Delaware, to pick up Vice President elect Joe Biden from his home town.

After that, the train stops in Baltimore, Maryland, for another public event at the War Memorial Plaza. The final stop: Washington, where Obama will head to Blair House, his temporary home, across the street from the White House.

Security for Obama’s train ride was tight. Law enforcement officers from 40 jurisdictions are providing protection from the ground. The US Coast Guard has been stationed at points on waterways along the route as well.

The Federal Aviation Administration has established “moving” flight restrictions that will prevent private pilots, news helicopters, balloonists and others from getting anywhere near the train.

The trip kicks off several days of inauguration activities – including concerts, balls and the inauguration itself Tuesday.

Nearly two million people are expected to hit the streets of Washington Tuesday. Police will shut bridges across the Potomac River into the city, along with a huge chunk of downtown.