January 9th, 2009
08:00 PM ET
6 years ago

Train trip for president-elect poses security issues

Obama will ride a train to Washington on Inauguration Day.
Obama will ride a train to Washington on Inauguration Day.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President-elect Barack Obama's January 17 train trip from Philadelphia to Washington - intended to make the inauguration the most open and accessible in history - is also presenting the U.S. Secret Service with miles and miles and miles of security problems.

The Presidential Inauguration Committee says that - in addition to well-publicized "whistle stops" in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland - the public will have the opportunity to view the train at other locations along its 137-mile route.

But the committee thus far has not indicated where those sites will be, and the Secret Service has yet to release what security restrictions will be in place.

Security experts say the train ride presents traditional threats to the VIPs on board the train, including countless buildings, homes and warehouses along the route that could conceal snipers. And there are non-traditional vulnerabilities: scores of bridges and tunnels that could be sabotaged.

And, two environmental groups have warned, terrorists could take a page from al Qaeda's playbook, using existing infrastructure, in this case chemical plants along the route, as an attack method.

In a letter to the Secret Service, the groups - Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - wrote they were worried that security efforts focused on the Obama entourage "might not extend to the larger community which may suffer serious consequences in case of even one moderately successful terrorist release of ultrahazardous chemicals."

"We will be urging Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden to re-consider" plans to travel by train, the groups wrote.

In response, Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren told the groups, "Please be assured, the U.S. Secret Service is working closely with federal, state and local agencies to maintain a safe and secure environment for all of
our protectees."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department includes the Secret Service, told CNN he is confident of the agency's abilities to protect the president-elect.

"Remember, the Secret Service has taken the president to Iraq and to Afghanistan - to some very hostile places around the world. I'm comfortable that we have the skills, working of course with state and local authorities, to protect the president-elect in Pennsylvania and Baltimore and Washington, D.C.," Chertoff said.

Chertoff said he is aware of environmental groups' concerns. "I suspect it's being done, frankly, largely as a public relations ploy," he said. "I don't think there's any particular threat from chemical plants along the train route."

A former Secret Service agent said the service has had experience with presidential train trips in the past and said authorities typically install chemical, biological and radiological detectors along the route.

Amtrak and the Secret Service will not say if Obama's train car will be armored, though experts say special cars have been used in the past.

"Security will be provided in the air, on the ground and in the water," said Amtrak Police Department Chief John O'Connor. "It's a daunting challenge, but there are many, many police departments that are working together to make this happen ... and planning is going very well."


Filed under: Inauguration
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. Frank, Dayton, Ohio

    I thought Obama was already in Washington. Why does he even need to "come in" to Washington on a train? I wish he wouldn't.

    January 9, 2009 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  2. mary faye brown

    Bravo to Barack Obama....What a wonderful new beginning for our lovely and great country. What a happy happy day for the entire world.

    As for all you nasty repubes.....you lost, deal with it. It's our world now.

    We love you Obama

    Miss Mary Faye Brown
    of sunny Houston Texas

    January 9, 2009 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  3. Elton

    The secret service needs to relax a little.He is trying to be a little more open to the public than past presidents.

    January 9, 2009 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  4. Farrell, Houston, Tx

    IF OUR U.S. SECRET SERVICES AND OTHER INTELLIGENCE AGENCY HAVE BEEN PATTING THEMSELVES ON THE BACK BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T HAD AN ATTACK SINCE 9/11 DUE TO ALL THE MONEY AND SECURITY MEASURES THAT HAVE BEEN PUT IN PLACE, THEN I CAN'T SEE WHAT THE PROBLEM IS NOW.

    January 9, 2009 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  5. Proud American

    Mr. President if this trip causes security problems please don't go.

    January 9, 2009 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  6. Texas Teacher

    Good lord, this makes my hair stand on end! This is just way to precarious for my taste.... I feel there are just way too many people out there who would love to end this before it even starts.

    I pray they will keep our new President safe!

    January 9, 2009 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  7. Jan Illinois

    He will be fine. Good luck Mr. President. We have needed aa hero for sometime , Heres to hoping , your the one!!!!

    January 9, 2009 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  8. Brenda C

    Look at me, Look at me I'm just like Abe Lincoln except Abe was a republican. It doesn't matter about the cost or security just look at me. Wonder if he'll let Michelle ride or send her ahead a few hours so everyone can just look at him. Skinny man with huge ego. Not very appealing at all. He's always talking about all the advantages we have now technically, well I don't think ole Abe would have ridden a train for all those hours if he'd had a jet? I know it's hard to look at "me" if "I'm" up in a jet. He could get spider man to help him climb and leap buildings so everyone could see "him".

    January 9, 2009 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  9. ah

    it will cost so much money....all the security around him....

    January 9, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  10. Solid Voter

    Well nice job giving some wackos a bad idea.

    I don't like Obama and I didn't vote for him, but I do hope he stays secure and splashing this story in this context across the internet sure doesn't advance the cause of security in this case.

    January 9, 2009 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  11. S.Boatman

    This doesnt sound like a good idea to me. Too many things can go wrong.

    January 9, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  12. No Incumbents 2010

    What is up with Mr. PE? Does he want to be the next American Idol?
    Give all this stupidity a rest and just do it like every other president. So you're the first black President, so what? If race is irrelevent why all the special stuff. Obama is going to be a secret service nightmare if someone doesn't reign his ego in a bit!

    January 9, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  13. Jeff From Jersey

    I guess this is supposed to hearken back to Truman and before.Nostalgia is one thing but this is getting to be more and more like a coronation instead of an innauguration.THAT does not bode well for "the people".

    OBAMA –

    Have yourself a party if you want but get a grip on this.With the suffering in this country,you are starting to come off more like a TSAR,parading while the people suffer instead of a president for the common citizen.At this time that can become a very,very bad image to project.
    People that don't have jobs,healthcare and are losing their homes do not need to see you parading around and making a spectacle of yourself and your presidency before you've even started,while they all hurt and suffer.BAD MOVE.You are already starting to lose the support of many of us with this "show-boating".

    Luicky for Frank that it's not going through Dayton,Ohio.

    January 9, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  14. arc, Lugano CH

    "terrorists could take a page from al Qaeda's playbook"

    The Secret Service and DHS needs to equally consider the potential threat from McCain/Palin Conservatives/Republicans. These are the 'Country First Patriots' who cried out to the "Kill" President-Elect Obama during the presidential campaign.

    January 9, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  15. Simmy

    To the One who holds the world in the palm of His hand, I ask for wisdom and protection in this endeavor. If it's not in his best interest, I know you will change their plans. No drama for our president, please. Let this be a time of joy and happiness, that shifts our focus from the economy and other things, for a few days. May the security agents do their jobs well. Thank You.

    I am happy to be an American. Yippieeee!

    January 9, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  16. William A. Schaedler from St. Louis

    This guy better look all around him whenever he travels. Not every resident of this country looks upon him with favor.

    January 9, 2009 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  17. Independant Vet

    THIS IS YOUR CHANGE YOU DC WANTED.

    AND FOR THIS BIG PARTY , ,IS BEING BACKED BY THE SAME WALL STREET , WHO RECEIVED THE BAIL OUT , THEY ARE THE ONES THAT DONATED 24.8 MILLION FOR HIS CAMPAIN.

    NOW THEY HAVE PUT UP 90% TO FUND THIS INAUGURATIION . ( SOMETHING SMELLS )

    ALSO ON THE AGENDA OBAMA IS GOING TO FILL THOUSANDS OF JOBS WITH ILLEGALS. ( B. O. )

    THIS IS YOUR CHANGE. GIVE UP EVERYTHING SO THEY CAN PARTY. BILL THE REST OF THE POOR FOR HIS PARTY AN A NEW BLACKBERRY. SO HE CAN TRY AND FIND HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE. WRIGHT. NO HIS NEW DOG HOUSE

    January 9, 2009 10:35 pm at 10:35 pm |
  18. Mike

    Haha Brenda, you're so right. Obama is so into himself....wow.
    He lives across from the White House in a hotel, yet he needs to leave town to only come back on a train? I also like how the media is always saying especially about this stunt and how it is "intended to make the inauguration the most open and accessible in history".

    Memo to the Inaugural Committee and Obama, we don't care about how accessible the inauguration is, we want our economy to improve, we want jobs, we want Washington and the Democrats to stop gloating, I don't think that having the opportunity to see Obama on a train is going to make any of that happen.

    January 9, 2009 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  19. P. Y.

    WOW Brenda ! Did you forget to take your pills today. Your racism is really showing.
    What makes you think that you have any idea of what Abe would have thought and done if he was here today ?
    Sicko !

    January 9, 2009 10:44 pm at 10:44 pm |
  20. Brownie24

    Who cares if it's going to cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars so Obama can grandstand on his trip to bring "change" to the USA. All this "change" is worth it, isn't it? Oh yeah, the"change" that includes his picks for Treasury and economic policies, proteges of Robert Rubin (Bill Clinton's buddy) who resigned as a director of CitiCorp today as that company goes does the tubes, or William Lynn as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, a big time lobbyist for Raytheon (remember that campaign promise .... among all those many others that have already been broken even before he takes office) that he would never have any of those "bad guys" as part of his administration. The kool-aid is already getting hard to drink but the blind mice that voted for him based on words rather than deeds put us in this position. I pray that Obama is a great president for the sake of our country and our children and that he can rise above being a do-nothing junior Senator from my home state of Illinois ... but the odds aren't very good.

    January 9, 2009 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  21. Simmy

    Brenda C:

    D'ou viens-tu? Mars or that lower place?
    I started not to comment, but I couldn't let your stupidity go unanswered. Why can't you be honest and admit that you're a Republican? If that's your party of choice so be it. But please stop perpetrating a fraud and be who you are.

    PE Obama is thin, with the stance of a 21st century James Bond, except he's not fictional; he's the real deal. He is handsome, intelligent and confident. He is not arrogant. I won't say anymore, because I read your last few lines, and they sounded like your girl Palin tutored you.

    President-Elect Obama, VP Biden, and others; may THE AWESOME FORCE be with you all!

    January 9, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  22. Mike, Syracuse NY

    Are we in for this kind of showboating for the next 4 years? First he won't give up his Blackberry, now he wants an exposed train ride. Someone needs to smack him up side the head to start taking security seriously, or we'll have President Biden soon.

    January 9, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  23. S Callahan

    When I was a child and Bobby Kennedy was runing for office his 'limo' came through my area...very slowly...windows opened ..and waving to everyone....I knew then he was important...and remember the big smile..... but times are different now.... I was surprised to see PE Obama would ride a train.....I guess one has to have faith God will protect him....but why risk it?

    January 9, 2009 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  24. Secret Service Nightmare

    Everyone knows that the next 4 years will be the hardest ever for the Secret Service. Obama wants to be "normal"......but the world is too crazy for the first black president to be out there with the public without the tightest security ever.

    To say that it could be a Republican supporter of McCain/Palin is ignorant and stupid!!!!!!

    The way you idiot Democrats preach your HATE for Bush, I'm surprised he made it through 8 years without some nut job Democrat trying to take him out!!!!!!!!!!!

    Stupid Democrats and their dumb comments

    January 9, 2009 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  25. P. Y.

    WOW Brenda ! Did you forget to take your pills today. Your racism is really showing.
    What makes you think that you have any idea of what Abe would have thought and done if he was here today ?
    Sicko !

    January 9, 2009 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
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