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Onlookers cheer as Obama rides rails to Washington

Associated Press | 1/21/2009, 4:33 a.m.
Thousands of people gathered around the National Mall and reflecting pool as President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address. Don West

“We’ve heard your stories on the campaign trail,” he said. “We have been touched by your dreams, and we will fight for you every single day that we’re in Washington because Joe and I are committed to leading a government that is accountable not just to the wealthy or to the well-connected, but to you.”

The president-elect’s triumphant day — heralded along the 137-mile rail route — started in Philadelphia with a sober discussion of the country’s future with 41 people he met during his long quest for the White House.

He told the crowd in Philadelphia that the same perseverance and idealism displayed by the nation’s founders are needed to tackle the difficulties of today.

“We recognize that such enormous challenges will not be solved quickly,” Obama said. “There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. And we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency.”

He cited the faltering economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — “one that needs to be ended responsibly, one that needs to be waged wisely” — the threat of global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

In Washington, a top adviser to Barack Obama said the president-elect would convene a meeting of high-ranking military officers to discuss the Iraq war and other issues on his first full day in office.

The adviser said the meeting will involve the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military commanders and aides. The adviser would speak only on condition of anonymity because the meeting has not been formally announced.

Obama’s vintage rail car, known as Georgia 300, was tacked onto the back of a 10-car train made up of Amtrak passenger train cars filled with hundreds of guests, reporters and staff along for the ride.

Supporters, shivering in the cold, gathered all along the rails.

Waiting for Obama in Baltimore, Bud Beehler, an elementary school principal, said, “It’s a historic moment in time. This is the only place to be.”

At the stop in Baltimore, Obama told the crowd of about 40,000 that Americans needed to show the fighting spirit of Revolutionary War era patriots and resist getting discouraged by the country’s problems.

Obama remembered the troops at Maryland’s Fort McHenry who defeated the British many generations before.

He said it was “time to take up the cause for which they gave so much.” He added, “The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right.”

The train was due at Washington’s Union Station after nightfall.

Associated Press writers Jennifer Loven, Darlene Superville, Nafeesa Syeed and Eileen Sullivan in Washington contributed to this report.

(Associated Press)