January 9th, 2009
08:00 PM ET
11 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. Gerry

    I hope the Amtrack train that President-elect Obama rides to DC will look better than the one in the picture in this story.

    January 9, 2009 11:11 pm at 11:11 pm |
  2. lc

    I do think Obama means well but he is risking a lot by doing this.

    January 9, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  3. D-MI

    Symbolism is lost on conservatives. They require coloring books, explosions and shiny objects to make them recognize that there are other things in the world besides themselves and the Jesus-book...

    You want to talk about a security nightmare and my tax dollars: protecting G.W. for the rest of his life from a completely deserved lynching. That's a waste of tax dollars.

    January 9, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  4. Lilarose in Bandon, Oregon

    Yes, and thank you CNN for bringing this to our attention.........

    All of us.....

    Which of course includes idiots who mean to harm the president and now have even more information with which to do it..........

    January 9, 2009 11:25 pm at 11:25 pm |
  5. No Hillary = No Obama

    Oh please. Just swear him in and be done with this hype.

    January 9, 2009 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  6. MAD

    I pray all will go smoothly. While this is indeed a historic event, there are a lot of crazy folks out there as evidenced on this blog. Just be careful Mr. PE and Mr. VPE...

    January 9, 2009 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  7. erika morgan

    accessibility to the public
    still his own man
    a noble leader for democracy, knows he is a servant of the people rather then a stooge for the established government tobys

    January 9, 2009 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  8. Bimmer

    If Obama is such a champoin of the "havenots", as he so eloquently articulated in the campaign bringing many to tears, why have such an extravagant inauguration?

    Why not have a smaller "wedding" and give the savings to a few poor "uncles and "aunts"?

    And also why don't we see "change we can believe" ?

    And why is that every time I hear his name I am reminded of a sleek smooth talking snake oil salesman?

    January 9, 2009 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  9. Apples for sale

    He should have the same protection as the pope,but then you would have these cry babies on here yelling who does he think he is the pope.I laugh at the morons on here.

    January 10, 2009 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  10. sue calgary

    Obama I am one of your most ardent supporters but is all this "show" really necessary? You may be putting not only yourself but others at risk by choosing this mode of transportation. You are the President-elect of the US!!!!, lest you forget....

    January 10, 2009 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  11. AC

    Proverbs 16:18 – "Pride is before a crash".

    January 10, 2009 12:19 am at 12:19 am |
  12. Proud American

    Brenda C. – Wow you sound a bit jealous and bitter, let me guess a republican. Hatefull people

    January 10, 2009 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  13. Karwolo

    I didn't vote for Obama but I celebrated his victory and am hoping he delivers on his promises and be a great president. However, his attitude is beginning to worry me. I am black so this is not about any 'uppity' stuff but it makes no sense to waste taxpayers money and leave Washington only to return in a manner that costs a lot and is an enourmours security risk. Obama, you are not Abe Lincoln. First you create a team of rivals, now you want to ride a train to Washington. Whats next, a civil war? Get over yourself already and be the leader the people elected.

    January 10, 2009 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
  14. alex badme, albuquerque

    more democrat grandstanding and wasting taxpayer money. we have better things to spend on then miles and miles of security protection. Taking about over a million $$$ to do this. Is this jump-starting our economy or O'Bama's inflated EGO. NO leadership just showboating.

    January 10, 2009 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  15. Proud American

    Take it easy Brenda dont pop a vein. Obama wants everyone to celebrate the victory. He realizes that those of us who worked hard to get hom elected should be part of the big day.

    January 10, 2009 02:15 am at 2:15 am |
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