NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - When the twin towers fell on Sept 11, 2001, they came crashing down on the Cortlandt Street subway stop on the No. 1 line. The station was buried under debris, its sturdy beams bent like paper clips.
For nearly 17 years, the station has sat unused – achingly missing from the New York City subway map – even as a new sprawling World Trade Center complex has sprouted aboveground.
At long last, the station reopened at noon Saturday (Sept 8) with transit officials, politicians and eager riders gathering to welcome it back. Sleek, bright and airy, it bears little resemblance to its old, dank self. Row after row of words of freedom and inspiration run down the walls.
“Even though we fell, we were able to get back up,” said Andre Collazo, 64, a graphics technician from the Bronx. “It’s important in the sense that we’re strong, we’re resilient.”
The unveiling is a pivotal moment for New York – the last major piece in the city’s quest to rebuild what was lost, just before the anniversary of the attack. But the fact that it took so long is a glaring reminder of the dysfunction among the region’s transit agencies.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, only began to build the new station in 2015 after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey handed over control of the site after finishing other parts of the area.
“It’s long overdue,” said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Centre for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University. “It was a major challenge to rebuild the subway at the same time you’re rebuilding the site above it.”https://twitter.com/CTxNH/status/1038459279580246017
The station, which will be called “WTC Cortlandt” to reflect its connection to the site, cost $181.8 million (S$250 million) and features a mosaic by artist Ann Hamilton using words from the Declaration of Independence.
Piece by piece, a new World Trade Center has risen around it, including One World Trade Center, which looms over an area that was once in ruins. There are other new high-rises, a memorial and museum, and the soaring Oculus, its wings perched atop the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, which has been criticised for its opulence.
Joseph J. Lhota, chairman of the transportation authority, pointed out that rebuilding the station had been a complex project, requiring working with other state and city agencies and developers to determine where the new buildings were going to be located before they could even begin to plan subway entrances.
“Remember, there was a lot of construction,” he said. “These entranceways would have been in the middle of construction sites where there were cranes and all of that. Safety is one of the most important things that we deal with every single day here.”
Lower Manhattan has rebounded and thrived in the years since the attack, pulsating with businesses, residences, restaurants and stores, the kind of urban energy that seemed unimaginable in the weeks and months following the death and destruction that unfolded over several terrible hours on that September day. The return of the subway station underscores the rebirth.
The No. 1 train has bypassed the station for years. On Sept 11, part of the route collapsed under the avalanche of falling debris.
Shortly after the attack, John Ferrelli, chief of infrastructure for the subways, assessed the damage: “We basically had dozens of floors of a huge building falling from 600 feet right on top of our roof. It was like a pile driver.”
The new station is a rare piece of good news at a time when the subway is in crisis, with seemingly constant delays more than a year after Governor Andrew Cuomo declared the system to be in a state of emergency.
Cuomo did not attend a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday, but was instead campaigning before the Democratic primary on Thursday. His office declined to give an explanation for why the governor did not attend the subway opening.
“I wouldn’t have missed this day for the world,” said Andy Byford, the leader of the MTA agency that runs the subways, who toured the new station. “This is such a meaningful day, I think, for the city and the country – the fact that finally this station is open and it’s deliberately called World Trade Center.”
The station had been expected to reopen later in the year, but Byford said that he and transit officials, especially Janno Lieber, the chief development officer, had pushed to reopen it sooner. Byford, who was working as a transit official in London when the twin towers fell, said he viewed the new station – with the words on its walls – as “just quietly, poignantly defiant and I love that about it.”
Benjamin Kabak, a transit advocate who runs a popular website about the subway, said it was good the project was finished, even if it took way too long.
“It’s not exactly one of their crowning achievements,” Kabak said, referring to the MTA. “They had a lot of back and forth with the Port Authority.”
The new station is wheelchair-accessible, with three elevators, and has fewer columns to make it easier to traverse. It will have electronic signs with real-time train information, like other new stations.
The station will help connect the World Trade Center to neighbourhoods along the No. 1 line on Manhattan’s West Side, Moss said. “This station,” he said, “is going to help all of Lower Manhattan flourish.”
But for many commuters and visitors, the importance of the new WTC Cortlandt station is less about convenience and more about what it says about just how far the city has come in 17 years.
Idelsy Rodriguez, a Miami schoolteacher who was sitting outside the new station, said that watching the 9/11 attacks on television had been so emotionally draining that for years afterward, she would stay away from the World Trade Center site when she came to the city.
No longer. Though the life of the city had been changed by the attacks, she said that “the opening of this subway is the piece that brings it back to the normalcy of before.”
Emory Lyons, 15, a high school student who lives in the Chelsea neighborhood in Manhattan, was so eager for a glimpse of the new station that he arrived an hour and 45 minutes before it opened and had to wait outside the turnstiles.
Though he was not even born when the old station was obliterated, he has looked up photos of it. He said he felt a personal connection because his father, Steven, a lawyer, had been working in a building across from the twin towers on 9/11.
“I like the feeling of it,” he said of the new station, but added that it had taken too long. “Why not earlier?”