The "Obama Express" carrying the 47-year-old former Illinois senator pulled into Union Station at nightfall, ending a day-long 137-mile trip from Philadelphia along the same route that Abraham Lincoln traveled before his own inauguration 147 years ago.
The train, carrying Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, left Saturday morning from Philadelphia's historic 30th Street Station, and made a stop in Wilmington, Del., to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.
It also stopped in Baltimore, where Obama spoke to a crowd that Deputy Fire Chief Raymond O'Brocki estimated at 40,000 people.
Obama, who trumpeted a call for "change" throughout his campaign, called on Americans to have patience and perseverance in the face of economic challenges.
"Let's make sure this election is not the end of what we do to change America, but the beginning," he told a crowd bundled up against the bitter cold.
Many African-Americans among the crowd wept as Obama, who will become the nation's first black president, addressed the audience.
As in Philadelphia, the Democrat referred to the founding fathers who overcame great difficulties in giving birth to a new nation.
"The trials we face are very different now, but severe in their own right," he said, noting the challenge of an economic crisis and two wars. "Only a handful of times in our history has a generation been confronted with challenges so vast. "
"And yet while our problems may be new, what is required to overcome them is not," Obama said. "What is required is the same perseverance and idealism that those first patriots displayed."
He call for a "new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry — an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels."
However, the president-elect warned that the enormous challenges will not be solved quickly and that there will be "false starts, and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. In a journey reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln's train trip along the same route before his inauguration 147 years ago, the train set off from historic 30th Street Station in Philadelphia.
As it slowed in Claymont, Del., crowds bundled up against the bitter cold, cheered as Obama — smiling broadly — waved from an open-air, back platform decorated in red, white and blue bunting.
Likewise, crowds jammed into the small station in Edgewood, Md., shouted "yes, we can" as train moved slowly past, with Obama and Biden waving from the last car.
Obama's stop in Baltimore was the longest of the daylong trip.
The president-elect and his family rode in style aboard a chartered 1930 Pullman train decked out with brass lamps, a bedroom and dining room. The plush, privately owned car has been used in many presidential campaigns, including by George H.W. Bush in 1992.
On board were special guests, including former Army officer Matt Kuntz of Helena, Mont., who began promoting better mental health services and screening for soldiers returning from Iraq after his stepbrother committed suicide; Case Western Reserve University history professor Lisa Hazirjian, who worked for the campaign recruiting gay and lesbian volunteers in Ohio and Pennsylvania; and Lilly Ledbetter of Jacksonville, Ala., who sued Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., for sex discrimination.
While the train replicated part of Lincoln's pre-White House railroad journey to Washington from Illinois in 1861, and security was high, the Obama trip was absent the emotions that raged in the country in the lead up to the Civil War.
The fears of a possible assassination plot against the incoming 14th president were so high that Lincoln eventually agreed to change his plans and travel the last leg through Baltimore incognito and on a different train to the capital. The only major problems thus far for the Obama inaugural events is a forecast of freezing temperatures for Tuesday's ceremony and the expected crush of visitors to the nation's capital.
Somewhere between 1 million and 2 million people are expected to make their way to Washington for the swearing-in ceremony and inaugural parade. Some 240,000 tickets have been issued for the festivities at the Capitol, with 28,000 seats.
On Sunday, Obama will attend a star-studded concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and on Tuesday, he will be sworn into office with his hand on Lincoln's Bible.
In his weekly Saturday radio and Internet address, Obama said his inauguration Tuesday is a rite of passage that the country marks every four years as a testament to its democratic ideals. He cautioned that its tradition should not be taken for granted.
"We must remember that our nation was founded at a time of kings and queens, and even today billions of people around the world cannot imagine their leaders giving up power without strife or bloodshed," Obama said.
He noted that peaceful transfers between U.S. presidents have come regardless of circumstance.
"Inaugurations have taken place during times of war and peace, in depression and prosperity," Obama said. "Our democracy has undergone many changes, and our people have taken many steps in pursuit of a more perfect union. What has always endured is this peaceful and orderly transition of power. While the inauguration ceremonies are taking center stage, the Obama team is also moving along on the governing track. On Friday, the Senate agreed to give him access to the second half of last fall's $700 billion financial industry bailout and House Democrats unveiled an $825 billion stimulus package.
One of the largest bills ever to make its way through Congress, it calls for federal spending of roughly $550 billion and tax cuts of $275 billion over the next two years to revive the sickly economy. It also focuses heavily on energy, education, health care and jobs-producing highway construction.
Seeking to counter critics' claims of excessive spending and too few tax cuts, Obama cast the package as necessary to create long-lasting, well-paying jobs in industries such as alternative energy, and help hard-hit industrial states such as Ohio now and in the future.
Also Friday, two U.S. officials said Obama was preparing to prohibit the use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques by ordering the CIA to follow military rules for questioning prisoners.
The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said. The plans would also have the effect of shutting down secret "black site" prisons around the world, they said.
The new rules would abandon a part of outgoing President George W. Bush's counterterrorism policy that has been condemned internationally.