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PATH workers key in averting greater disaster

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Thousands of New Jersey commuters might have been among those missing in the World Trade Center disaster if PATH officials had not diverted some trains and evacuated others that were bound for the financial center.

Among workers on PATH are those represented by UTU Local 1413 in Jersey City, N.J. About 15 minutes after the first plane pierced one of the towers, passengers on two trains -- one from Hoboken, one from Newark -- were evacuated out of the trade center station and through the concourse, said Mike DePallo, PATH's director and general manager. Another train from Hoboken that already had left New Jersey at the time of the crash, entered the trade center station, but passengers were kept inside the train, which looped around and returned to Jersey City, PATH spokesman Steve Coleman said. That third train was not mentioned in a Port Authority statement released Saturday recounting Tuesday's events.

PATH prevented other trains in New Jersey from heading toward the doomed towers, DePallo said. "Our folks did a great job," DePallo said. "I hate to think of what might have happened if everybody wasn't on top of it." No trains with people onboard were left under the trade center or in the tunnels, according to Port Authority officials. Prior to the crashes, PATH trains generally ran every 3 to 6 minutes to the trade center from Newark, Jersey City, and Hoboken during the morning rush hours until about 9:30 a.m. On Tuesday, events moved quickly after the first plane crash at about 8:45 a.m., according to DePallo and Port Authority officials:

The PATH control center in Journal Square in Jersey City received three reports of the first explosion at the trade center. Officials radioed trains on the New Jersey side that had not reached the Hudson River tunnels and stopped them or sent them back to their previous stops. They also contacted conductors on two trains -- a seven-car train from Hoboken and an eight-car train from Newark -- pulling into the trade center platform. They told them to evacuate the passengers -- both on the trains and on the platforms. Crews and terminal supervisors led them out of the station, up escalators and stairs to the concourse of the trade center. Port Authority police officers and PATH employees escorted them out of the building. As many as 3,000 passengers were on the two trains and on the platforms.

A third train from Hoboken approached the station sometime before 9:20 a.m. But the train's crew did not open the doors. Instead they circled around to take the train back to the Exchange Place stop in Jersey City. Above ground, passengers approaching the station were blocked by police from entering. The remaining PATH workers boarded one of the trains in the World Trade Center station and went to New Jersey. The second empty train was marked "out of service"  and left behind. An empty train, also not mentioned in Port Authority's official account, came in from New Jersey to pick up remaining PATH employees at the trade center and returned them to Exchange Place.

"We have frequent service during that time," DePallo said. "Fortunately, we prevented trains from coming in." Tony Bauer of Summit, a controller for Thomson Financial, was driving on the turnpike to the Grove Street stop in Jersey City when he saw smoke from the first tower, but said he didn't think it was anything "super serious." At the station, he was told they were diverting trains to 33rd Street in Manhattan because of a fire. "They must have reacted immediately, so I'm very happy," Bauer said. Kevin, a Wall Street trader from Dover, agrees. Kevin, who asked that his last name not be used, was on a train heading to New York when it was stopped at the Grove Street station. Passengers were told there had been an "accident" at the trade center and that to get to Manhattan they would have to take the PATH train headed for 33rd Street. "Looking back, thank God they stopped that," Kevin said. "I could have been getting in when the second one hit."

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[2] September 17

While airline service was completely halted nationwide for two days and vehicular traffic was discouraged from moving into the New York metropolitan area, UTU members operated passenger service on Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, Staten Island Rapid Transit Operating Authority, Maryland Rail Commuter Service (MARC), New Jersey Transit, Suburban Transit, Port Authority Trans-Hudson Railroad and Virginia Railway Express. For hundreds of thousands of Americans, trains and buses were how they returned home after a day of unprecedented devastation in New York and Washington, D.C. 

Many PATH employees were working directly below the World Trade Center towers as terrorists deliberately crashed two airliners into the twin towers. All PATH employees escaped harm, said Raymond E. Arenas, UTU general chairperson and conductor for PATH. In fact, a PATH commuter train on which Arenas was working, and with some 800 passengers aboard, had arrived at the cavernous World Trade Center platform just minutes after the first hijacked airliner sliced into the first of the two towers attacked. PATH carries about 280,000 passengers daily and the World Trade Center stop was among its busiest. 

Smoke began to seep into the tunnel when a police officer told Arenas, "Get us out of here." Arenas relayed an identical message to PATH dispatchers. He was instructed to keep the doors of the train closed, passengers inside and to depart the station immediately. A second train had just pulled out with passengers ahead of Arenas' train and nobody was left on the platform, said Arenas. 

Although no PATH members were killed or physically injured, four have removed themselves from service after suffering post traumatic stress. One PATH conductor, racing out from under the burning towers, reached the street just as a body fell to the ground directly in front of her. UTU Vice General Chairman Thomas Esposito escaped from under the building just as the first tower collapsed. "I am extremely proud of all UTU and BLE members," said Arenas. "They acted courageously and out of concern for our riders' safety." UTU represents some 150 PATH employees, including conductors, dispatchers and tower operators. 

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