When a PATH train full of New Jersey passengers pulled into the temporary World Trade Center station at Ground Zero, the crowd waiting on the spare platform burst into applause.
The new open-air station opened to the public at 2 p.m. yesterday, after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - which runs PATH - spent $566 million working virtually around the clock for 16 months to restore access to the World Trade Center site, destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"It's a very good thing to see it back up and running," Jersey City resident Vincent Carlomagno said on the inaugural ride, which began in Newark.
Carlomagno said a good friend of his who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 and that he worked as a rescue worker after the tragedy. "It's the first step for renewal," he said.
"I feel like it's very important," said Jersey City resident John Quezada, who was making his first trip to the World Trade Center since Sept. 11. "I want to see what's happened over there."
As the train made its way under the Hudson River, passengers on the crowded train remarked that the ride was quieter and smoother than usual.
Of the $566 million spent to restore PATH access to Lower Manhattan, $244 million went toward rebuilding the tracks and replacing equipment in the tunnels under the river, which were flooded when the towers fell. The Exchange Place station, damaged by water, was also rebuilt and expanded. The temporary station, which was built at a cost of $323 million, will be replaced by a permanent station in 2006.
When the PATH train pulled into "the pit" at the WTC site, riders snapped pictures of a huge concrete retaining wall dotted with steel bolts, rising about 40 feet high to the right of the train. On the left side, riders had a full view of the pit, filled with heavy machinery and construction materials.
The station, which retained its name after being destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, combines practical and historical elements, giving it the feel of a living museum.
Eight escalators swiftly carry riders between street and train levels, while two spacious concrete concourses with views onto Ground Zero give passengers space to reflect.
Photos with a bird's-eye view of downtown Manhattan flank the walls of the 250,000-square- foot station, which has connections to the N, R and W New York City subway lines, as well as a newsstand. The station opens out to a large metal overhang on Church Street on the east side of Ground Zero.
People swarmed around the station, stopping to read a series of panels hung on the fence surrounding the site that illustrate the history of the building. The names of people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, are also listed, alphabetically.
"This is really a milestone in the history of the PATH system," said Michael DePallo, PATH director and general manager. "Being back in the World Trade Center is really going to help people coping to get back to normal."
DePallo estimated that several thousand people traveled yesterday through the tunnel that connects Exchange Place and Lower Manhattan. The ride was free to those who boarded at the World Trade Center station yesterday.
Officials expect initial ridership to and from WTC station to be about 20,000 to 30,000, less than half the 67,000 who used the station before Sept. 11. The station can accommodate up to 50,000 riders daily.
On the train back to Newark, Loreen Spann was returning from a morning of shopping in Lower Manhattan.
"I think it's refreshing," Spann said. "It lets everyone know there's nothing that's going to stop us."
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