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 Interview on Temporary WTC Station


PATH stops at WTC – again

“The 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,” wrote The New York Times reporter Michael Luo on November 25.

Together, Mrs. Webster and her husband, Morris, took in the slurry wall and the tangle of equipment on the floor of the pit as the Port Authority train inched past the World Trade Center platform. All around them, other rush-hour commuters craned their necks to gape. 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.

On November 24, a morning that proved at once painful and uplifting, downtown workers streamed into the heart of the former WTC site for its first rush hour since the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.

For more than two years, Mrs. Webster, assistant director of admissions at Alliance Theological Seminary, 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.

When the PATH trains began running to the WTC again on the 24th, it flooded back as she returned to the rebuilt station, which officially opened on Sunday.

“I didn’t expect the openness of it,” she 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 semi-opaque sheeting, adorned with inspirational quotations, that only partly obscure the surrounding trade center “bathtub.” Although many commuters said that first day’s rush hour was a step toward normal life in Lower Manhattan, many also said normal was close to impossible there.

As workers charged up the escalators and out of the station, 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.

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 the site.

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 and anticipation.

A lawyer for Citigroup Global Markets, Coughlin managed to flee to New Jersey on September 11 aboard the last PATH train to leave the city that morning. After the attack, he 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. He lives in Montclair, N.J.

After disembarking, he walked slowly up the stairs, absorbing everything.

“It’s all the same layout,” he said. “Wow. The same, same thing.”

Coming up to PATH Hill, he swiveled his head to look around, clearly stunned. At the top, like many others, 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.

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