All aboard, as Obama takes slow train to power

Barack Obama heralds his new era of change on Saturday by rolling back the years to launch four days of inaugural festivities on a slow train to Washington.

He will ride the rails from Philadelphia, the cradle of United States independence more than 200 years ago, to marbled Union Station about a kilometre from the spot where he will be sworn in as the first African-American president on Tuesday.

The rumbling “whistle stop” journey is part homage to Obama’s hero, former president Abraham Lincoln, like Obama a former Illinois legislator who capped a cross-country train ride along the same route on the way to his inauguration in 1861.

But whereas Lincoln and subsequent presidents once spent days wending their way across the frigid prairies, Obama, a Blackberry-toting product of the jet age, will trundle along on the railroad for just one day.

He will clamber aboard his train, carrying selected supporters, his Secret Service protectors and a big media pack at Philadelphia’s 30th Street station to start his 225km trek south-west.

The train will first slow to a crawl in the town of Claymont, Delaware to allow Obama greet well-wishers.

First stop: Wilmington, Delaware, where Obama will pick up vice-president-to-be Joseph Biden in the small state, which he served in the US Senate until his resignation on Thursday.

Biden might know every sleeper and inch of track—each day for his 36 years in Congress he commuted to Washington from his home city, which now offers an unwitting reminder of the economic malaise as a hub of the credit-card industry.

With his number two in tow, Obama, in a plush Pullman style carriage with cherry wood fittings which dates from 1930, will then head to the gritty Maryland city of Baltimore.

His outdoor event, a throwback to his thronged election campaign rallies, is expected to draw a vast crowd to a War Memorial square, in a city with a large African-American population.

Obama will arrive in Washington amid historic echoes in the early evening.

In the days leading up to Obama’s inauguration, history has been a constant companion, but it has been not Lincoln coming to mind, but another revered president, Franklin Roosevelt, and his Great Depression-era speeches.

Set to take office in the worst economic crisis since the 1930s quagmire that Roosevelt inherited, the next US president warned on Friday that things could get worse before they get better and cranked up pressure on Congress for action on his stimulus plan.

“If nothing is done, and we continue on our current path, this recession could linger for years,” Obama told a small audience on a grimy factory floor in Bedford Heights, just outside Cleveland.

“It’s not too late to change course—but only if we take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Obama said.

Later, in an interview with CNN, the president-elect anticipated a “tough year” for the economy.

“I don’t think that any economist disputes we’re in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said.

“The good news is we’re getting a consensus about what needs to be done.”

Obama left Washington a day after the US Senate set the stage for an early victory for the new president by freeing up the second $350-billion slice of a financial bailout, leaving the House of Representatives to act next week.

Democratic House leaders also laid out their $825-billion version of Obama’s stimulus plan, which he hopes to drive through Congress in a first jolt to the crisis-mired economy.—AFP

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