January 18, 2009
President-elect Barack Obama, his family, and close associates rode a special Amtrak train from Philadelphia to Washington yesterday, a symbolic journey meant to evoke Abraham Lincoln's epochal railroad trip to the Nation's Capital in 1861. Vice-President elect Joe Biden boarded the train in Wilmington, Delware, as he has hundreds of times in the past. Obama made a speech there, and also in Baltimore, as thousands of excited citizens braved the Arctic air. The trip took a total of 6 1/2 hours, more than three times the normal scheduled time for the Amtrak trains that travel that route. See the Washington Post.
As I recall from my train trip to New York in October, much of the track in that region has been upgraded, but there are sections that are still pretty bumpy and slow. Perhaps Obama will use this train trip as the basis for calling on Congress to pass a major passenger railroad modernization program, with high-speed service along the eastern seaboard. If so, that's fine with me. It's a given that Obama will push through major spending hikes, and at least enhanced passenger train service is a worthy public cause. The current "Acela" trains move at least 25% faster than regular Amtrak trains, but they are much slower than the high-speed trains in Europe.
Polls show that the American people have a positive view of Obama, and even Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly had some nice things to say about the incoming Commander in Chief. The good vibes are a refreshing change of pace, but it may not last long. The domestic economic crisis in the United States is having a global contagious effect, and other countries may get so desperate that their leaders become tempted to threaten their neighbors for the sake of rallying popular support. North Korea is among the "most-eligible" troublemakers that would bear out Joe Biden's warning that the Obama administration would be challenged by some rogue nation during its first months in office. If so, the "rally-around-the-flag" effect could catapult Obama into an unchallenged position of dominance in the American political scene, much like the boost in popularity that George W. Bush enjoyed after September 11, 2001.