There's a touch of pride in Mark Pagliettini's voice as he walks into the cavernous PATH tunnels more than 75 feet below Exchange Place Plaza in Jersey City.
Refurbished and expanded, the tunnels glimmer from lighting that shines off new rail tracks, electrical cables and concrete duct banks.
Standing in a vaulting section of the tunnel just west of the extended Exchange Place platform, the construction engineer looks about him and says with a slight sense of awe, "This all used to be rock."
During a tour of the new Exchange Place PATH station, Pagliettini, the program manager for downtown PATH restoration, explained how three drilling vehicles called road headers were used to bore through the underground rock: They were disassembled, brought into the tunnels by diesel locomotive, reassembled underground and used to remove 11,500 cubic yards of rock.
It took 4,200 locomotive trips to bring in materials and remove debris from the station, which will reopen to commuters at 12:01 a.m. Sunday.
To celebrate its return, all riders who get on at the Exchange Place station Sunday will ride for free.
Louis J. Menno, program director of the PATH restoration project at Exchange Place and the World Trade Center site, is no less proud of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's accomplishments following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Menno, also a professional engineer, explained how a common goal - reopening the Exchange Place PATH station June 29 - resulted in a sense of camaraderie among everyone involved in the massive project.
Earlier this month, Menno marked his 34th year with the Port Authority, the bi-state agency that runs PATH. He considers his work in helping to rebuild PATH "a way of giving something back to the Port Authority."
The attacks that brought down the Twin Towers also buried the PATH station 65 feet below them. A deluge from broken mains, rainfall and firefighters' hoses began filling the PATH tubes between Lower Manhattan and Exchange Place.
By Sept. 12, water reached 6 inches above the rails at Exchange Place, forcing authorities to plug the tubes with concrete "corks" just east of the Jersey City station.
At the tunnels' lowest point - about midway under the Hudson River - they were completely filled with water, Menno said.
"Everything was damaged beyond repair by the water that came from the World Trade Center," said Menno, who until the deadly attacks was general manager of the World Trade Center.
"Those tunnels were filled with water for 40 days and 40 nights, so everything inside them was destroyed and had to be replaced," Pagliettini said.
As a result, the PATH tubes between Manhattan and Exchange Place were completely gutted and stripped of their cabling, tracks, lighting and concrete duct banks - everything, Menno said, save the cast-iron tubes that are formed by countless curved metal plates bolted together.
And, in an effort to restore service to Exchange Place before the Lower Manhattan station reopens in November, the Port Authority had to convert what had been a "through" station into a terminal, like the one at Hoboken. Previously, the World Trade Center had been the terminal for the line.
The station will become a switching hub and allow trains coming in to switch over to the correct outgoing track. New crossover tunnels had to be dug out of the bedrock to connect existing rail lines. The platforms at Exchange Place have been extended to accommodate 10 cars instead of seven, and the PATH escalators, elevators and turnstiles have all been refurbished.
The extent of the work - the initial blasting and then boring of new tunnels, the gutting of existing tunnels and replacement of all rail tracks and electrical and communications systems - remains largely unknown to most people.
The $160 million job to upgrade Exchange Place is part of a $544 million project, announced in December 2001, to restore PATH service between New Jersey and Manhattan.
Another $160 million was to be spent on tunnel rehabilitation and $224 million on the reconstruction of the stop at the former World Trade Center site. That station is scheduled to open in November.
Port Authority officials say bringing back Exchange Place - once used by 15,000 weekday passengers - is the first important step toward restoring critical transportation service to Lower Manhattan.
When trains start running to Exchange Place this weekend, service routes will be similar to what they were before Sept. 11, 2001. Passengers will be able to ride from Newark to Exchange Place; Journal Square to 33rd Street; Hoboken to 33rd Street; and Exchange Place to Hoboken.
PATH commuters traveling from Newark to 33rd Street will change trains in Journal Square, with inbound Newark trains arriving 2 minutes before the 33rd Street trains depart.
Commuters between Hoboken and Journal Square will now have to change trains at Pavonia-Newport, with the Hoboken-Exchange Place route replacing the one between Hoboken and Journal Square. It is estimated that 8,000 passenger trips will be made from Exchange Place when it opens.
In April 2002, The Jersey Journal and a television crew from "60 Minutes II" were the first media since the terror attacks to travel the entire length of the PATH tunnels that connected Exchange Place to Lower Manhattan.
That mole-like trip that started in Exchange Place and ended in the colossal sunlit "bathtub" at Ground Zero occurred before much of the restoration work had even begun. The tunneling at Exchange Place took place between last July and December, and most of the rebuilding and refurbishing was done between January and May.
But last week, 70 feet below 10 Exchange Place, the station was buzzing with activity as a pared-down shift of construction workers put finishing touches on the station. The refurbished escalator, with its familiar neon art installation fully lit, was covered with a massive plastic tarp.
At the southern platform, workers unloaded materials from a diesel locomotive freight bed, to be used for the installation of a new ceiling. Two powerful ventilation fans sucked out the locomotive's diesel fumes with a constant and deafening roar.
"A lot of people worked seven days a week, in particular the PATH guys working on signaling," Pagliettini said.
The new signal system - essentially the station's traffic light system - required connecting 150,000 wires from 150 signal cables to terminal boards in a signal relay room at Exchange Place.
And another 300 cables were connected in the refurbished and new tunnels to link signals going in and out of the station to PATH's train control center at Journal Square.
"It's about recovery here in the area," Menno said. "It wasn't just New York that was affected, but all over New Jersey people were affected.
"Transportation is essential to the region. Hopefully this will help commuters get to work. Businesses want to know, 'How do I get my people to work?' It's the catalyst for rebuilding downtown."
Above the Exchange Place tunnels, commuters eagerly await the station's opening.
"We're delighted," said Larry DeRogatis, an attorney for an insurance company inside 10 Exchange Place, the office tower directly above the PATH station.
DeRogatis, who lives in North Arlington, says it takes him 50 minutes to an hour to drive to work, a ride that often leaves him "sitting in traffic." Before Sept. 11, his commute from home to office was 30 minutes by PATH from Harrison to Exchange Place.
Paul Carnovale, a Flemington resident, worked in New York City before the Sept. 11 attacks. A senior property claims analyst, Carnovale got a job at the insurance company where DeRogatis works so he could "be closer to home."
Carnovale now takes an NJ Transit train to Newark, where he transfers to a PATH train that takes him to the Grove Street station.
"The biggest part about Grove Street is getting out of there," said Carnovale, who is among thousands of people who were added to the peak-hour throng coming out at Grove Street.
One year after the World Trade Center attacks, overall ridership on PATH had decreased from a peak of 260,000 to about 180,000, according to Port Authority officials. Now, because of the sagging economy, ridership is down to 160,000, said Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman.
But the Grove Street station saw an increase from 12,220 daily riders before the attacks to 17,669 one year later. Again, because of the poor economy, that number has since dropped to 13,680, Coleman said.
The newsstand directly across Newark Avenue from the Grove Street PATH station has seen a slight increase in business coming from the extra traffic, according to newsstand worker Arif Patel, who had only positive things to say about Exchange Place coming back to life.
"It'll affect business, but I'm happy," he said. "There are a lot of businesses at Exchange Place that will benefit."
Martin Espinoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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