PATH train lurched around a bend and emerged from the darkness of a cast-iron
tube into the morning sun. Reaching for her husband's arm, Carol Webster, 60,
turned to face the exposed guts of ground zero for the first time.
Together, Mrs. Webster and her husband, Morris, took in the slurry wall and
the tangle of equipment on the floor of the pit as it inched past. All around
them, other rush-hour commuters craned their necks to gape. Mr. Webster, who had
tagged along with his wife to lend moral support, whispered a reassurance to
her, "When you fall off a horse, you have to get right back on." She
nodded but kept her hand on his arm.
Yesterday, on a morning that proved at once painful and uplifting, downtown
workers streamed into the heart of the former World Trade Center site for its
first rush hour since the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. For more than two
years, Mrs. Webster, assistant director of admissions at Alliance Theological
Seminary, has avoided ground zero, even though her office is just blocks away in
Lower Manhattan. The last time she was there was when she stepped off the PATH
station escalators to the concourse just as the first plane slammed into the
north tower. With a stampede of others, she ran for the exits, dodging cascading
debris and panicked people. The memories of what she saw outside — people
burning, pieces of airplane falling from the sky — haunt her. Yesterday
morning, it flooded back as she returned to the rebuilt World Trade Center
station, which officially opened on Sunday.
"I didn't expect the openness of it," Mrs. Webster said. "I
thought I could walk upstairs and choose to look at it or not."
The station is only temporary. The concourse level that used to bustle with
stores is cavernous. It is enclosed by latticework and semiopaque sheeting,
adorned with inspirational quotations, that only partly obscure the surrounding
trade center bathtub. Although many commuters said yesterday's rush hour was a
step toward normal life in Lower Manhattan, many also said normal was close to
As workers charged up the escalators and out of the station yesterday, a
woman in the concourse gripped a latticework wall and wept. Outside, a woman
waited patiently for her husband to arrive on the next train, because they never
ride the same train to work anymore.
Numbers on how many rode yesterday will not be available until today, but
commuters and Port Authority officials said the figures were much lower than
before Sept. 11. Officials pointed out that yesterday was the start of a holiday
week and that many of those who used to come through worked at the World Trade
Center. They are expecting 20,000 to 30,000 commuters a day by the end of next
year, compared with the 67,000 who used to come through.
At 6:30 a.m., before the main rush began pouring through, the station was
mostly deserted. A gaggle of police officers stood watch on the mezzanine level,
and Maria Gutierrez, manager of the Hudson News, bustled about readying
newspapers and tidying up her store. For two years, she has been working
elsewhere, but this morning she was back home, around the same spot she where
had worked for four years.
In stages, Port Authority workers switched on the array of escalators in the
bank known as "PATH Hill." By 7:30 a.m., all eight were moving,
groaning and creaking as they delivered growing numbers of commuters to the
concourse, where they were greeted by the beeping of construction vehicles at
As the Websters wandered through the concourse a half-hour later, Sean
Coughlin, 40, got ready to board his train in Hoboken with a mixture of dread
Mr. Coughlin, a lawyer for Citigroup Global Markets, managed to flee to New
Jersey on Sept. 11 aboard the last PATH train to leave the city that morning.
After the attack, Mr. Coughlin, who lives in Montclair, N.J., joined the
thousands who lined up for ferry service in Hoboken. He later switched to a New
Jersey Transit Midtown Direct train, which meant a subway ride downtown. Both
options were significantly slower than his old PATH route.
After disembarking yesterday morning, he walked slowly up the stairs,
"It's all the same layout," he said. "Wow. The same, same
Coming up to PATH Hill, he swiveled his head to look around, clearly stunned.
At the top, like many others, Mr. Coughlin was taken aback by how exposed
everything appeared. "I worked right over there," he said, pointing
off to his left, where 7 World Trade Center once stood.
Also arriving from Hoboken were Anthony Gardner, Bruce DeCell and Patricia
Reilly, all wearing yellow ribbons in memory of relatives killed on Sept. 11.
Although only Mr. Gardner is from New Jersey, the three, members of the
Coalition of 9/11 Families, rode in together yesterday to experience it.
Afterward, they wandered to the side of the concourse and gazed down in silence.
By 9:15 a.m., the surge of commuters had begun to taper off, and Lori Manning
and her husband, Harlan Greenberg, rode up the escalators, with Ms. Manning
dabbing away tears. On Sept. 11, the couple was among several hundred commuters
on the PATH train into the World Trade Center that was diverted to Christopher
Street by some quick-thinking Port Authority workers. In the last two years,
their hourlong commute stretched to two hours.
Even though they had been watching the construction at ground zero unfold
from their offices and were eager for the station to reopen, they were not
prepared for the close-up encounter with the site. As their train had rolled
around the bend, Ms. Manning, along with a woman across from her, broke down.
"It's different being in it," Ms. Manning said.