I enjoy your site and thought you'd be interested in
reading an account of the first "public" PATH
train ride my friend took. His name is Tony Borelli. He
lives in Jersey City was a regular rider into Manhattan
until being laid off from his job. He is a freelance
writer and his first hand account of the first trip back
to WTC worth reading. Thanks and keep up the
good work...Larry Higgs
Hey, Tony Borelli here.
I just got back from the World Trade Center.
Today was the first day of service to the new temporary
WTC station on our little PATH subway.
New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, other bigwigs and the
press pool rode the first train, which was not open to
the public. The train was essentially the same train
that had been the last one to leave the WTC on 9/11.
I rode the next train in, supposedly the first one open
to the public, as I had known I'd do for the last two
I arrived for my ride around 2 p.m. at Grove Street
station in Jersey City near my apartment, my usual PATH
boarding point. A crowd of people waited with me for the
train to pull in. Over our heads, the new track
indicator sign had its "World Trade Center"
listing uncovered and lit up for the first time. The
Pathvision television screens announced "WORLD
TRADE CENTER TRAIN LEFT JOURNAL SQUARE," then
"WORLD TRADE CENTER TRAIN NEXT."
Looking down the tunnel, we saw the train approaching,
making out first its headlights, then its two red route
lights (indicating the Newark-World Trade Center line).
Moments later, we could just make out the backlighted
destination sign on the front of the train, reading
"WTC." The crowd burst into cheers and
applause as the train pulled in, taking pictures like
I bustled into the front door of the front car to get
near the coveted
"railfan window" with a forward view. I was
squashed in place, along with more press, my fellow
train nerds, and others.
Our first stop was the Exchange Place station, the last
stop in New Jersey, on the west bank of the Hudson
River. The station had been closed after 9/11, then
renovated to allow trains to switch directions. Until
today, it had been the temporary last stop on the line
from Newark. As we pulled in, we could see more camera
flashes and about a hundred more people applauding on
the platform. Most of them got on board.
Then it was into a tunnel under the Hudson. These
low-lying tunnels had been catastrophically flooded on
and after 9/11 by water washing back from the disaster
site. Since then, on many mornings, I had stood on the
platform at Grove Street and watched hard-hatted workmen
trundle towards the flooded tunnels on work trains,
emerging later with hopper cars full of wet stone, mud
and other debris. Today, the Manhattan-bound tunnel
looked clean and
modernized, with better lighting and (I think) some
A few minutes later -- how quickly we forgot how short a
trip it always was! -- we looked at each other, waiting
for the once-familiar signs that we were nearing the
World Trade Center: a long, fairly sharp curve in the
track, and the wheel-squeal that always accompanied it.
But by the time they came, we were outdoors.
First we saw light, then suddenly we were in the Pit, on
the floor of the Bathtub, the first uninvited guests in
the footprints of the Twin Towers (well, except maybe
for a few earlier looters).
The train crawled along the south edge of the Bathtub,
then ran along the eastern side near Church Street and
into the temporary station. I think all of this trackage
is in about the same place as it was before 9/11. As we
squealed around the Pit, we could see the Woolworth
Building towering overhead in the afternoon sun. We also
saw the usual huge variety of construction equipment,
barricades, ramps, trucks, dirt, etc., that normally
litters the WTC site. But this time we could see it at
eye level, and up close.
We pulled into the temporary station, to more cheers
from the crowds on the platform -- people who had come
in to ride to Jersey.
The temporary station itself is mostly exposed metal,
beams and concrete. Some walls are open to the Pit, with
only hurricane fence covered with mesh or fabric panels
partially blocking the view and the wind. The panels are
covered with giant quotations about New York City.
Just as in the old station, we got off the train, then
went up one level to a larger concourse, the one that
used to be called the PATH Concourse. Here there is a
Hudson News newsstand, just as there was before 9/11
(and seeing this newssstand was, strangely, one of the
eeriest moments of the trip for me).
This is also the level that used to include a somewhat
skeevy bar, the Commuters Cafe, where I often swigged a
screwdriver or two while watching a couple innings of a
Yankee game on my way home from work. A bank of
elevators has now taken its place, if my spatial
reckoning was correct.
You've probably seen photos and video of the Commuters
Cafe, though you may not realize it. It's the place
where 9/11 recovery workers found people's drinks and
snack pretzels still sitting on the bar, lightly coated
with the brownish-gray dust from the towers' collapse.
The place was otherwise unharmed in the disaster. It was
a favorite place for journalists and workers to visit
during the "unbuilding" of the disaster site
-- and also a favorite metaphor.
The place narrowly escaped the 1993 bombing as well: the
crater apparently stopped just short of its doors. And
it had an interesting early history, too. Supposedly, it
was once located in Radio Row, the old commercial
neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the
World Trade Center. Many of the merchants in the
neighborhood unsuccessfully banded together to oppose
the demolition, and they used to hold some of their
biggest strategy meetings and rallies in the Commuters
On the PATH concourse, there were maybe 50 protesters,
families and friends of victims who are upset that the
new station and tracks encroach on the towers'
footprints, where most of the dead were found -- or not
found. Several held signs reading "Preserve Sacred
From the PATH concourse, I ascended a very long and very
wide bank of escalators. Yes, these are basically the
same escalators that were there before 9/11, though they
have been fixed up considerably and look shiny and new,
like everything else in the station. This was also a
strange moment for me. I rode those escalators hundreds
of times before 9/11.
The escalators brought me to the main concourse -- the
level where nearly all the shopping was in the old WTC.
Now it's pretty much empty, just a great big open space
with exposed metal columns, and exits for the subways
and the street. It seems to extend a little further
east, that is, a little further under Church Street,
than the old concourse, but I think that's because the
stores are gone now. (Remember the Warner Brothers
store, with the big Bugs Bunny and Daffy and Elmer
statues in the display windows? That was right under
As I wandered the concourse, a familiar voice said,
"How're ya doing?"
I turned to recognize the one person it was most
appropriate for me to run into: one Willie Melia --
former bartender at the Commuters Cafe, who had served
me many a drink in his day.
"I haven't worked at all since then," said
Willie. I've run into Willie a
few times over the last two years, since he also lives
in Jersey City. Last he told me, he was going to
Willie and I ducked into the tunnel to the N, R, W &
Q subway lines, looking for the big, wonderful ceramic
relief murals that used to adorn the side walls. Sadly,
we couldn't find them, so I guess they must have been
destroyed in the collapse or demolished later.
Then we checked out the entrance to the A, C, E, 2 &
3 lines to the
northeast. For about 20 or 30 feet, between the new
floor of the new PATH station and that of the subway
system, there's a stretch of the old floor from the old
WTC, looking stained, cracked and worn. A marker points
it out as a piece of history.
Climbing another flight of stairs brought us to street
level opposite the Millennium hotel and St. Paul's
Church, pretty much where I used to exit the WTC every
weekday on my way to work. Another eerie moment.
The entrance/exit is sheltered by the large metal
roof/canopy thing that you've probably seen in the news.
Across its front edge there are big metal letters
reading "World Trade Center PATH Station." It
actually looks pretty grand, kind of like a concert
stage. Behind it, you can still see the Pit, looking
pretty much like it has for the last year or so, like a
giant construction site, with the World Financial Center
and its famous Winter Garden, newly repaired and
reopened, standing in the background. The PATH station
below really doesn't look like anything from the top,
just concrete and metal walls. If you wait for the
wheel-squeals, and look down into the Pit from the right
vantage points, you can make out the trains snaking
along the bottom as they enter and leave the station.
And of course, everything's quite open and well lit by
the sun these days. It's way too sunny, and not nearly
Anyway, Willie went off to say hello to his buddy, the
doorman at the hotel, and I headed back home. But first
I took a moment to stand there on Church Street and
watch a few airplanes and a few wispy clouds drift by,
across a beautiful blue New York autumn sky.