yesterday, the people returned to ground zero.
Not those who were impelled to work there or compelled to grieve there, but
the many more who have been waiting. People without passes and badges, hard hats
and breathing masks; people with no more credentials than curiosity or longing.
Or the simple desire to spend a beautiful afternoon in the city on the Sunday
World Trade Center PATH Station opened at 2 p.m. after a $323 million, 16-month
reconstruction, to applause and tears along the platforms and aboard the trains.
On the sides of the cars, ruby-red "WTC" destination signs glowed once
For the first time since the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, ground zero throbbed
with ordinary life and resonated with hundreds of vibrant voices.
"I'm making part of history right now," Robert Conard of Silver
Spring, Md., said into his cellphone just before 2 p.m., as he was swept with
the crowd under the winged entrance canopy on Church Street and into a
succession of open-air spaces leading to train platforms 70 feet below ground.
Those pouring in from upstairs met and mingled with passengers getting off
the first trains to link Lower Manhattan with New Jersey in more than two years.
Before the attack, PATH, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson commuter rail system,
carried 67,000 passengers a day home from the World Trade Center.
Since then, commuters have struggled with alternate, round-about routes that
have included taking PATH trains that come into Manhattan farther uptown or
switching to ferry service. So this morning's rush hour will surely eclipse
But that was lively enough. As destinations were announced by a worker with a
megaphone — "Journal Square and Newark, track No. 4!" "Track 3
for Hoboken!" — a sea of dark winter coats surged through bright gray and
shimmering silver rooms. The spaces are surprisingly luminous and generous in
their proportions. But because so much of the station is intended to be
temporary, it is deliberately spartan in details, with concrete and exposed
steel where there once was travertine.
Wind-breaking screens wrap the main rooms, so the view of ground zero changes
under different light conditions from misty to gauzy. It is the first time the
public has been able to look around the trade center foundations from within the
giant bathtub formed by the rugged slurry walls.
Elsewhere, on interior walls, are giant photographs of Lower Manhattan,
accompanied by graphics showing the pattern of streets and skyline. The single
amenity is a Hudson News stand on the mezzanine.
A permanent $2 billion PATH station is being designed by Santiago Calatrava,
a Spanish architect whose bridges and terminals have been likened to poetry. It
is to begin serving passengers in 2006. Like the current station, it will be
linked with numerous subway lines.
On "PATH Hill," the broad bank of eight escalators from the
mezzanine to the concourse, a defining feature of both the old and new stations,
a woman could be overheard explaining to disbelieving companions as they
ascended: "There was absolutely nothing here. Nothing. Everything is
Not quite everything. About 50 feet of travertine flooring and six shallow
travertine steps from the old World Trade Center concourse can still be found in
the vestibule between the station and the E train platform.
Keeping them was "the right thing to do," said Robert I. Davidson,
chief architect of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who designed
the station, working with the engineer Jerrold Dinkels and the Pentagram studio.
There were those in the crowd yesterday, many of them relatives of victims of
the Sept. 11 attack, who worried that the Port Authority was not keeping enough,
because of its plans to expand the station over more of the twin towers'
footprints. Some were also angered that the Port Authority was keeping too much:
the World Trade Center name, unmodified, as if the towers themselves were still
But Patrick Rodriguez, who was on his way to Newark, said he approved of the
name. "I think it should be the World Trade Center because I grew up in New
York City all my life," he said, "and that was part of our history
they took away from us." Mr. Rodriguez also recalled trips he used to take
on PATH to see his father in Jersey City. The screech of the trains as they made
the sharp turn into the station brought back memories for many riders, including
Agnieszka Warenica, who boarded the train at Journal Square in Jersey City.
"I felt like I was coming back after a long time," she said. "I
felt like I was home."
Amanda Valdes of Bayonne, N.J., got off the train from Exchange Place in
Jersey City wiping tears from her eyes. When she arrived at the base of PATH
Hill, she gasped at the familiarity of it all. "Oh, my God," she
whispered to her friend, Kelly Gallagher. "They should have done something
"I wasn't prepared," she said. "I thought I would be."
Senator Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey, who spent 15 years commuting on PATH
when he was a Wall Street executive, may have come closest to explaining why the
reopening of the World Trade Center station was such a potent event. "The
connection of the ordinary days of our lives with the extraordinary events of
that day will never be separated," he said.
Though a case of the flu kept Gov. George E. Pataki from attending the
opening, he spoke in an interview on Friday about what goes through his mind
when he visits the station, looking up into the void where the twin towers
"You just think of the people who were up there on Sept. 11," he
said. "Friends. Heroes. So many who did not have the chance to get on that
The train he referred to was the last one out of the World Trade Center on
Sept. 11. It was used yesterday for the ceremonial first trip back.
In the second car, No. 801, were Gov. James E. McGreevey, Mayor Michael R.
Bloomberg, Mr. Corzine and Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey.
They boarded at Exchange Place and heard a two-tone signal at 11:05,
accompanied by a voice over the loudspeaker: "Next stop on this train will
be the World Trade Center. Next stop, World Trade Center."
Halfway through the mile-long journey came an ever-so-slight pause, prompting
Mr. McGreevey to remark, "We wanted a very realistic experience," as
he recalled being stuck on a malfunctioning PATH train during the Christmas
holidays one year.
"But it's not going to happen today," he added quickly.
"Well, no technology works all the time," Mayor Bloomberg said.
In a moment, the train emerged from the cast-iron tube into daylight. Through
windows behind the governor and mayor, the spectacle of ground zero unfolded, as
if the train were emerging from a cliff side. As it rounded its way to the
platform, the slurry wall of the trade center foundation came clearly into view,
as did the long ramp leading into the site from Liberty Street.
(As it happened, Mr. Bloomberg was prescient. Later in the day, a
Hoboken-bound car dislodged a communications cable, forcing the temporary
suspension of Hoboken service from the trade center station until about 4:15.
"We're working out the bugs in the system," said Michael P. DePallo,
the director and general manager of PATH.)
One of the first passengers to alight on Track 3 yesterday was Christy Ferer,
the mayor's liaison to families of Sept. 11 victims. Her husband, Neil D. Levin,
the executive director of the Port Authority, was killed in the attack. His
successor at the authority, Joseph J. Seymour, has presided over the
"I'm in awe of the Port Authority because in 16 months they did what
they do best: build and engineer," Ms. Ferer said as she looked around the
new concourse. Then, recalling her husband, she added, "He'd be very proud
to see this organization kick into gear.
"No, let me take that back. I think he'd have expected no less.".