Jean Li of Jersey City was heading toward the PATH train the morning two years ago when the World Trade Center fell. She was living in Brooklyn at the time and was in Manhattan to take the train across the river to Exchange Place, where she works as a computer programmer.
Last Sunday, Li, companion Frank Gottlieb of Jersey City, and many other local residents who remembered the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were waiting behind a barrier in lower Manhattan for the World Trade Center PATH train to start running again.
"I miss the older people that were working there," Li said of the old World Trade Center station, which had been out of service for two years. "[I miss] taking the train, the vendors to whom I used to say hello."
Sunday afternoon, Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, and other dignitaries opened the new WTC station and had seen the arrival of the first train from New Jersey to terminate there in more than two years.
As the train rolled into the station, many of those in the three cars that were occupied for the inaugural trip were struck by the sight of Ground Zero, which can be viewed from the train because the tunnel leading into the station is incomplete. The cavernous space of exposed rock was greeted with stunned disbelief and pointing fingers.
David McQuillan of Vernon Township, N.J., a conductor on that train, remarked that the ceremonial trip was an honor and that it was a "way to get back to normalcy."
Later, at the press conference held in the lobby area, a concrete open-air space, the wives of three victims of the World Trade Center collapse and two Port Authority police officers were honored on the podium by Gov. McGreevey and Mayor Bloomberg for heroism during and after Sept. 11, 2001. And a memorial plaque dedicated to those who perished was placed at the side of podium.
"But we also come here today, on this brisk autumn day, to feel the sunshine on our face, the air in our lungs, the fellowship of one another," McGreevey said. "And we reflect what was lost. Those individuals who saw that they had to assist other individuals in need. And against their self-interest, helped their fellow human beings."
One of those saluted on the podium was Christy Ferer Levin, whose late husband Neil Levin, the then-executive director of the Port Authority, was at a breakfast meeting on the 106th floor of One World Trade Center when the planes hit the tower. She saw the rebuilt PATH station as the beginning of a rebirth of Lower Manhattan and well as a technical marvel.
The new station, which is temporary, cost an estimated $323 million out of $566 million budgeted for the restoration of PATH service to the World Trade Center site.
The station has been made more spacious to accommodate over 50,000 daily passengers, but at the present time it will be without such amenities as air conditioning and bathrooms. These won’t be available until the permanent station opens in 2006.
For the first time in PATH system history, Metrocards will be utilized for payment of fares from the World Trade Center side, as new machines have been installed with turnstiles to accept only per-per-ride Metrocards.
Also, there was a noticeable absence of any stores or even portable vendors except for the Hudson News newsstand that greets people as they go through the turnstiles.
On Monday morning, the PATH World Trade Center train got a workout. But some of the original commuters did not return right away. Before the station’s closing, it was estimated by Port Authority that 67,000 daily commuters were boarding PATH trains to World Trade Center. That total went down to 20,000 to 30,000 passengers Monday.
However, the traffic will be increasing in the within the next month as NY Waterways, which had expanded ferry service from Exchange Place and Hoboken to accommodate those passengers going to Lower Manhattan after 9/11, will be cutting back service.
At 9:45 a.m. in the Hoboken station, one commuter asked another if this was the World Trade Center train.
"Surreal, isn’t it?" he said.
"Very surreal, to say the very least."