PATH opens to tears and joy
By Elizabeth OBrien
For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, the crowds at ground zero were just passing through on their way to somewhere else.
After more than two years as a destination for rescue and construction workers, mourners and tourists, the World Trade Center site once again became an ordinary commuter stop last Monday when the rebuilt PATH station opened to weekday traffic.
The stations completion was hailed as a major step in the rebuilding process. But no one suggested it was business as usual as commuters streamed through on Monday morning.
Everyone was real quiet on the train, said Charley Banks, 56, who rode in from Jersey City.
Banks said her own somber mood took her by surprise: She had expected to feel upbeat as she started saving time and money with her new commute.
The World Trade Center PATH station at Church St. formally opened on Sunday, one month ahead of schedule, after a $323 million reconstruction. New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey joined Mayor Mike Bloomberg and other officials for a symbolic ride on the last PATH train to pull out of the station on the morning of 9/11. Governor George Pataki was scheduled to attend but cancelled when he came down with the flu.
McGreevey called the reopening of the World Trade Center station bittersweet, a word echoed by many throughout the day. The governor thanked the Port Authority workers whose brave actions helped save 5,000 people from PATH areas on the morning of 9/11, and he remembered those who did not make it home that day.
The PATH station opened to the public at 2 p.m. on Sunday, and many of the first people to hop on cars marked with red WTC signs came to experience the moment, not to travel from point A to point B. Those riders returned on Monday, and many found themselves overcome with emotion.
Joann Sokol emerged onto Church St. crying and shaking after her commute from Hoboken on Monday morning. Sokol, 53, was on one of the last PATH trains to stop at the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, and she said that her first trip since then brought back the horror of that day. Still, Sokol acknowledged that she was one of the lucky ones.
Thank God were here to see it open, Sokol said.
Alberto Roig couldnt stop marveling at the shiny new station. He said he was glad to shave 20 minutes each way from a commute that took him from Newark to the Christopher St. PATH stop and then down to Lower Manhattan.
A city worker, Roig, 52, said he monitored the stations progress over the 16 months of construction.
Its very functional, Roig said.
Russell Kriegel would agree. A Port Authority worker, Kriegel was the principal architect for the World Trade Center station reconstruction project. He said pedestrian movement was crucial.
The thing youve got to nail first is the paths of travel, Kriegel told Downtown Express on Monday.
Workers built the new station in the same spot as the old, a time saving measure that let designers take advantage of the original track alignment and also reconstruct many of the same pedestrian walkways.
The new PATH station is a temporary structure; the permanent station is scheduled to begin passenger service in late 2006. The old PATH station served 67,000 people a day before 9/11, and the new one can accommodate 50,000.
The idea of this station is to build it fast and get people backnow, Kriegel said.
Even so, the Port Authority did not neglect the aesthetics of the temporary station, which has a roof but remains open on the sides. The concrete and steel design features pictures of the Lower Manhattan skyline on the interior walls. More graphics will go up in the coming months, Kriegel said.
White mesh polyester screens take the place of outside walls. Famous quotes about New York City from John Lennon to former Mayor Ed Koch decorate the screens, which look opaque in direct sunlight. Their primary purpose is to soften the views of ground zero on the other side, Kriegel said.
Many commuters said they were moved to discover themselves in the pit as the train wended its way into the station.
The only thing that struck me at all is that youre right in ground zero, said Dennis OConnell of Newark. That was sort of emotional.
Kriegel said that Port Authority workers understand the impact the site could have on riders, since most employees on the project survived the trade center disaster themselves.
A 23-year PATH construction veteran who asked to be identified as Sarge said that he took pride in being part of the station rebuilding. A mix of the practical and the emotional drove workers to complete the project ahead of schedule, he said.
It needed to be done, Sarge said. It absolutely needed to be done.