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PATH expects new stations to open on schedule

Date: June 9, 2003

NEW YORK CITY -- Less than two months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks destroyed much of the PATH system, the Port Authority announced an ambitious $544 million plan to rebuild it in 24 months, according to this report by Judy Rife that appeared in the Times Herald-Record.

Now, the agency is prepared to reopen the Exchange Place station on June 29 -- on schedule -- and the World Trade Center station in November -- ahead of schedule. "It turns out we make good guesstimates in 2001 but we're making even better progress than we expected," said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. "As a result, we're going to be able to push the opening [of the World Trade Center station] up by about a month, to November, probably late November, from December."

For commuters from Orange and Rockland counties, the news that the WTC station will reopen ahead of schedule has a special resonance. NJ Transit, which operates Metro-North Railroad's west-of-Hudson trains, has now tied the much-delayed opening of the Secaucus transfer to this restoration of PATH service.

The $450 million transfer station, under construction since 1995, will give upstate commuters a choice of destinations for the first time -- a choice that has become more critical since 9/11 because so many companies have relocated to Midtown from lower Manhattan.

At Secaucus, commuters will have the option of transferring to trains to Penn Station in Midtown or they may remain on their trains and continue to Hoboken and take PATH or NY Waterway ferries across the Hudson River to the city. "I find it hard to believe that NJ Transit will be prepared but then again, we've been paying more money (Metro-North's 25 percent fare increase on May 1) without anything to show for it -- not our new rail cars, not our revised schedules -- so nothing seems to surprise me anymore," said Susan Sodano of Chester, who worked in the World Trade Center and now works in Midtown.

The destruction of the WTC station forced 65,000 of PATH's 210,000 customers to find another way to get from New Jersey to lower Manhattan. Many of them migrated to a combination of PATH's other line, to 33rd Street, and then the subway, or switched to one of the new ferry routes.

But the Port Authority still worried that inaccessibility would become a reason for companies not to return to lower Manhattan and so moved quickly to rebuild the PATH system -- albeit temporarily, pending future decisions about a new transit hub connecting ferries, subways and PATH. In January 2002, it awarded construction contracts that contained an accelerated work schedule for the Exchange Place and WTC stations and incentives for besting that schedule. Work began in the two tunnels, which had been flooded for six weeks, in March and in the "bathtub," the 70-foot deep foundation of the Twin Towers, as soon as they were cleared of debris, in June.

The reopening of Exchange Place, Coleman said, is the necessary first step in the reopening of the WTC line. The New Jersey station, located at the entrance to the Hudson River tunnels to Manhattan, had to be closed after 9/11 because trains could not longer turn around at the WTC and get in and out of Exchange Place on the proper tracks. A link between the inbound and outbound tracks has been added at Exchange Place now for turnarounds. The new signal system at Exchange Place alone has consumed three senior Port Authority employees 12 hours a day, seven days a week, since February. Coleman said the men volunteered for the project as their contribution to the Port Authority's and the region's recovery from the terrorist attacks.

For city-bound commuters who arrive at Penn Station in Newark on Amtrak or NJ Transit, the reopening of Exchange Place will ease overcrowding on their PATH trains. Since 9/11, they have had to rely on the 33rd line to reach Manhattan -- just like commuters who arrive at Hoboken Terminal to the north. Now, they'll be able to get off at Exchange Place and take a ferry to the World Financial Center -- shaving about 15 minutes off their commutes.

(The preceding report by Judy Rife appeared in the Times Herald-Record Monday, June 9, 2003.) June 9, 2003

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