A NEW DAY, A NEW LIFE: Thelma Stuart, who lost her husband, Officer Walwyn Stuart, on 9/11, waits with daughter Amanda to board in Jersey City.
A PATH train carrying passengers from New Jersey pulled into the World Trade Center station yesterday for the first time since the fall of the Twin Towers - marking a milestone in the recovery of terror-struck lower Manhattan.
The first train, with Mayor Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey riding in the front car entered the station at 11:20 a.m., more than two years and two months after 9/11.
The train was made up from the same set of eight cars that had been the last to leave the trade center on 9/11, carrying scores of passengers to safety after the complex was hit with two hijacked jetliners.
Riding with Bloomberg and McGreevey was Thelma Stuart, the widow of Port Authority police Officer Walwyn Stuart Jr., who helped people evacuate on the last PATH train on 9/11 and then returned to the WTC only to die.
"It's a great honor," said Stuart, who rode with her 3-year-old daughter, Amanda.
At a press conference inside the station, Bloomberg said re-establishing transportation between New Jersey and lower Manhattan "is really going to make an enormous difference to many people's lives and be part of the real revival of downtown Manhattan."
Gov. Pataki was supposed to attend the station opening but was not able to because he was ill, a spokesman said.
It took the Port Authority just 16 months to rebuild the station after debris from the Twin Towers was removed and recovery work came to an end.
The bare-bones station uses the same platforms and even keeps the long elevator banks in the same place.
Regular train service resumed at 2 p.m. yesterday, and the first several trains through from New Jersey were packed with people - many of whom stood up to look as the trains exited the dark tunnel into the bright light of the open trade center pit.
"For the past two years, we've only seen the view from the top, and this gives us a different perspective. It's quite amazing to see," said David Sivin, 17, who stood at the train window.
Jean Mitchell of Hoboken, who lost a friend in the attacks, was crying as she got off the train. "It's the same stairs, the [same] newsstand," she said. "It's a victory, an absolute victory."
Hundreds of people milled around the new station, taking pictures and videos.
"This is a part of history," said Jay Wishner, 64, who lives in lower Manhattan. "They knocked us down, but they can't knock us out."
Before 9/11, some 67,000 people a day used the trade center PATH station. And while today will be the first day of regular commuter service since the terror attacks, officials say it will take at least a year for daily ridership to rise as high as 20,000 to 30,000.
That is largely because 10 million square feet of office space was destroyed in the attack and thousands of jobs that were once located in lower Manhattan have disappeared or gone elsewhere.
The PA spent $566 million to restore PATH service, including $323 million to build the temporary station. The rest was spent to rebuild the tracks and tunnels and to rehabilitate the Exchange Place station in Jersey City.
The PA, which runs PATH and owns Ground Zero, now will move ahead with plans to build a permanent PATH station integrated into a rebuilt trade center complex. World-renowned architect Santiago Calatrava has been tapped to design the new terminal, which will be done in 2006.
One small sign of new life appeared yesterday with the opening of a newsstand at the top of the stairs leading down to the train platforms.
"We're happy to be here," said Terry Lent, vice president of operations for Hudson News. "Maybe we'll get back to normal someday soon."
New turnstiles installed at the trade center station make it the first in the PATH system where commuters can use MTA MetroCards to ride the train - but only pay-per-ride MetroCards will work.