Obama heads along a historic trail to the White House

Crowds line 135-mile rail route to Washington
Click to follow

Barack Obama rode the rails and enthusiasm of America yesterday as he embarked on a journey that will take him to Washington and, in two days' time, the presidency of the Union.

Hundreds of excited people screamed and cheered as Obama waved from the back of his inaugural train when it rolled slowly through the station in little Claymont, Delaware, on the way to larger crowds at stops in Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore. He was following the route that Abraham Lincoln took nearly a century and a half earlier.

"Starting now, let's take up in our own lives the work of perfecting our Union," Obama told several hundred people gathered for the send-off inside a hall at Philadelphia's historic 30th Street station. "Let's build a government that is responsible to the people and accept our own responsibilities as citizens to hold our government accountable... Let's make sure this election is not the end of what we do to change America, but the beginning and the hope for the future. Let's seek a better world in our time."

This is a momentous time for the Obamas. And for Michelle Obama, it was also her 45th birthday. The crowd in Wilmington sang "Happy Birthday" to her, forcing the President-elect to briefly delay the start of his second speech of the day in which he pledged a revival of the middle class.

"When we Americans get knocked down, we always, always get back up on our feet," he said. "We've heard your stories on the campaign trail. We have been touched by your dreams, and we will fight for you every single day we're in Washington."

The President-elect's triumphant day – heralded along the 137-mile rail route – started in Philadelphia with a sober discussion of the country'sfuture 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: "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 US dependence on foreign oil. "We are here today not simply to pay tribute to our first patriots, but to take up the work that they began," he said. "The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right. Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast."

Preparing to board the train, Obama said that what is required is a new Declaration of Independence – from ideology and small thinking.

Obama's vintage railcar, known as Georgia 300, was tacked on to the back of a 10-car train made up of Amtrak passenger railcars filled with hundreds of guests, reporters and staff along for the ride. After nightfall, the train was due to arrive in Washington, where the vanguard of perhaps the greatest crowd in the city's history was beginning to arrive.