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This is a special edition of 'Railway Readings', one year on from the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The regular September edition can be found here.
Next regular update: 7 October 2002.
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World Trade Center: 11 September 2001
The World Trade Center, served by major stations on the Subway and PATH systems, was a key element in New York's urban transport network. Such networks are an intrinsic part of the modern city. When large-scale disruption strikes - fire, flood, civil disorder, war, or terrorism - transport systems and transport workers are often in the front line, if not always on the front pages. This special edition of 'Railway Readings' gathers responses to the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001 from three journals specifically concerned with the rail transport dimension of the event.
This special edition of 'Railway Readings' goes beyond
the usual focus on the British railway press to include content from the
leading US railway journal, Trains.
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Just what long-term effects the appalling terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11 will have on the rail business is hard to foresee. Washington metro stations at the Pentagon and National Airport closed immediately, but reopened the next day with restricted access at the Pentagon.
In New York all passengers and staff were safely evacuated from the PATH terminal five floors below the World Trade Center by trains returning to New Jersey or by stairs and escalators before the twin towers collapsed. Quick-thinking dispatchers halted trains in New Jersey heading for lower Manhattan within minutes of the first aircraft hitting the WTC. The Trans-Hudson tunnel is partially flooded from burst mains and water used by firefighters, and was to be sealed by concrete plugs at Exchange Place station to prevent water flowing in to PATH's New Jersey tunnels. It will be years before the WTC station reopens, probably as part of the project to rebuild the WTC, albeit in different form.
NYCT's E line station at WTC is closed, and MTA says that service on Lines 1 and 9 below Chambers Street has been lost 'indefinitely'. It appears that one portion of the tunnel has collapsed, and many months will elapse before it is rebuilt. The N/R line between Canal Street and Whitehall Street is likely to be out of service for weeks as rescue and clean-up operations continue. Seven stations in Lower Manhattan, including Wall Street, remain closed.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, operators suspended subway, commuter and Northeast Corridor inter-city passenger services, with Norfolk Southern and CSX stopping freight in the area. Many services resumed quite quickly, and as soon as the ban on air traffic became known, Amtrak trains filled rapidly, with most airline tickets honoured under a standard policy. During September 12-17 traffic on Amtrak's long-distance trains was up 35%, with Northeast Corridor services recording a 9% increase. Amtrak said it added 1600 seats each day on long-distance services, 300 on West Coast trains, and 2000 to Northeast Corridor services. By September 18 Amtrak had carried 237 extra carloads of mail, and two days later the airlines were still not permitted to carry mail.
Amtrak announced increased security measures with patrols on trains and stations, bridge and tunnel inspections, and monitoring of some routes from the air. It also warned of plans for further measures, 'many of which will be visible to the travelling public'. But with extended check-in times for domestic flights, Amtrak clearly expects to continue providing higher capacity for the moment. Freight operators such as UP also stepped up security measures, with checks on bridges and tunnels as well as policing of control centres, yards and other locations.
With a drastic fall in air traffic predicted, rail-air links can expect business to slow, and some airlines are prohibiting in-town check-in where it was available. The downturn will also affect the viability of airport rail link projects in the pipeline. Increased spending on defence, bailing out of airlines and other efforts to stimulate the economy could have a negative effect on US federal spending on rail - the 2002 transport budget has not yet cleared Congress.
More generally, the increased likelihood of a recession looks certain to slow or reverse the growth of freight and passenger traffic in many countries, and managers will be reviewing plans for major projects and reassessing funding risks. Insurance and other indirect costs are certain to rise, and railways would do well to prepare for tough times ahead.
If this were an aircraft magazine, we should consider it essential to devote many pages this month to the appalling events in North America and their aftermath. It is all too easy to forget, in the cosy railway environment we inhabit, that there is a wider world out there with immense and, often, insurmountable problems. Worse, death and destruction on such a vast scale puts our domestic tragedies like Hatfield, Heck and Ladbroke Grove, tragic as they were, into awful perspective. It also gives pause for thought to those who insist that transport can be made totally safe.
What we witnessed on 11 September will affect us all, and not even a humble railway magazine should let such events pass without providing its own perspective. Neil Howard reports on an aspect of the disaster which has been largely overlooked by the mainstream media:
The terrorist attack in New York that caused the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre and left an estimated 7,000 people missing or dead had a devastating effect on Subway services in Manhattan. New York City Transit (NYCT), the subway operator, took the full force of the tragedy; the Carlton Street Station on Lines 1 & 9, 80 feet below the collapsed towers, was completely destroyed. It had been evacuated and all trains stopped after the first plane hit the towers. No Subway staff are missing, but NYCT managers fear that some Tower workers may have found their way into the station while trying to escape after the initial evacuation.
As soon as the towers collapsed NYCT President Larry Reuter (a personal friend of London Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley) ordered all the NYCT civil engineers resources to the disposal of the City Authorities. A convoy of Subway road support vehicles five blocks long was on its way from outlying depots in hours, including pump trucks, heavy lifting gear and emergency lighting. Subway structural engineers are advising and assisting in the clearance of rubble and collapsed building parts. Subway staff have also supplied an army of volunteer rescuers with emergency safety clothing including gloves, hard hats, and high visibility clothing.
The train service in Manhattan has been severely disrupted. The service between Chambers Street and South Ferry on lines 1 & 9 has been lost 'indefinitely'. Stations are closed at Wall Street, City Hall and, of course, World Trade centre itself. Lines 2, 3, A, C and R are all re-routed over alternative routes, giving all suburban stations at least one route into Manhattan. It will be 'some months' before a full structural assessment of the tunnels around the World Trade Centre site can be properly surveyed for damage and repairs put in hand.
The new service pattern was implemented in full from Monday 17 September and a redesigned subway map is being produced. Up to date travel information is available at the subway website; www.mta.nyc.ny.us and the new map will appear there also.
An exhibition being held in the New York Subway Museum celebrating 100 years of London Transport, was not affected by the attack.
NYCT Vice-President for Public Affairs AI O'Leary told Railway World: 'Rapid Transit people everywhere, not, just in this City, can be proud of NYCT's response to this terrible day. Our engineers faced up to an unprecedented situation with enormous professionalism, while our train planners and timetablers wrote and implemented months-worth of service revisions virtually overnight. TV pictures do not do this thing justice. Our offices are in Brooklyn and the smell of the carnage has reached here. I was on site yesterday - the TV shots do not show that the rubble itself towers 10 stories over you.'
Intercity transportation was also affected as panic seized the airlines. Amtrak business leapt 50% in the week after the attack and the often criticised national passenger transport operator strengthened trains, both on the Northeast Corridor and nationwide. With limited resources after decades of congressional budget-cutting, the state-owned carrier is crippingly short of rolling stock but has taken vehicles out of cleaning and works diagrams to help meet the crisis demand. Airline tickets were accepted on the trains and Amtrak offered free transport to relatives travelling to New York to find missing family members. Amtrak reverted to normal schedules on 17 September. The company was not without its own problems - on 13 September, at the height of the rescue efforts in New York, the California Zephyr collided with a Union Pacific freight train at Windover, 120 miles west of Salt Lake City. 16 passengers were taken to hospital out of a manifest of 263 passengers and 14 train crew. Union Pacific own the track and there will be a Federal Railroad Authority enquiry. Seven much needed passenger cars were derailed. They remained upright, but were not available for service the rest of the week.
Amtrak Chief Executive Officer George Warrington issued a message to Amtrak passengers and personnel on 14 September. He wrote:
'No one has escaped the sorrow and grief of the past week. Like all Americans, the Amtrak family of employees is enormously saddened by the horror of the tragedies in New York City and Washington DC. But, also like all Americans, we are ready to help.
'Every day, Amtrak travels through the heart of our great nation - from our largest cities to our smallest towns. With the continued disruption of the nation's aviation system, we have been a critical link throughout the whole country. In response we have added cars and trains in the Northeast, on the West Coast and on long distance trains so that people can get to their destinations in days ahead.
'We have reached out to the airlines to assist family and friends, and of course are accepting all airline tickets. We are proudly assisting the American Red Cross by transporting emergency medical supplies to aid the victims in New York City. In short, all of us at Amtrak are resolved to do whatever we can to help heal the nation.
'To the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this horrible tragedy we send our prayers and deepest sympathies. To the rest of the nation we send our efforts of assistance as symbols of strength, hope and solidarity.'
On the morning of the attack, Amtrak Train 172 was arriving in New York from Philadelphia. One stricken tower had already collapsed. The other was on fire but standing. Passengers on board knew from mobile phone calls that something terrible had happened, but were unable to take it all in. As the distinctive Manhattan skyline came into view, an inconsolable female passenger sobbed: 'I thought there were two towers, I thought there were two...'
September 11, 2001, might be the most extraordinary day in transportation history. On that day terrorist attacks incontrovertibly revealed air transport to be fragile and vulnerable. Whether this permanently clouds the future of air transportation, or gives advantage to surface or rail transportation, is, right now, anyone's guess.
Recall the previous biggest transportation news story in history, on April 15, 1912, when the Titanic sank with great loss of life after striking an iceberg. That caused a temporary loss of confidence in steamships (soon forgotten). Some safety improvements were made (more were needed and paid for later in the blood of more innocents). Financial losses greatly disadvantaged the Titanic's owner - J. P. Morgan-controlled International Mercantile Marine - but the disaster did little to change the fortunes of U.S. merchant shipping (it declined anyway).
Some thoughts on transportation after September 11:
Minutes after the attack, the wail of sirens could be heard everywhere. Cable TV aside, only WCBS Channel 2 remained on the air - the other networks had used the antenna atop 1 World Trade Center to broadcast their signals. Authorities immediately shut down all Manhattan transportation systems. Only emergency vehicles and personnel were allowed in until the full nature of the threat and extent of the damage could be determined.
Standing on my rooftop in Brooklyn just after 11 a.m., I saw two F16 fighters prowling the skies, and an AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft circling high above them. I was wracked by anxieties about friends at the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, whose offices were on the 34th floor of 1 WTC. I subsequently learned two of them were in New Jersey that day, and a third was delayed because his son was late for school. But my immediate sense of relief was tempered by the understanding that, as one friend put it, all New Yorkers will eventually learn they knew someone who perished. (Still later on Tuesday, I would hear that the Port Authority's executive director, Neil Levin, was among the missing.)
For the legions attempting to exit Manhattan, foot-power was the primary mode. A steady stream of people walked across the bridges to the outer boroughs, where subway or bus service was slow, but running.
Access to Brooklyn was profoundly affected, since 13 of its subway lines transit the cordoned-off Manhattan emergency zone south of 14th Street. Many of Brooklyn's downtown bus routes were altered to avoid conflict with the continuous flow of Manhattanbound emergency vehicles and outbound pedestrians on the East River bridges. New York Waterway ferries and Circle Line boats offered free trips to New Jersey from Hudson River piers 11 and 33. Ferries were also used to move some of the injured to triage centers at New Jersey Transit's Hoboken Terminal. With no electric power, one N-line and two IRT subway trains were stuck at stations serving the Twin Towers, but passengers were quickly evacuated. 'One fortunate thing is that the buildings didn't collapse instantaneously. It gave transit workers a one-hour window,' said N-line conductor Benjamin W Schaeffer. After the buildings fell, the three trains were entombed in the rubble.
By mid-afternoon, limited subway service was running in parts of Manhattan, but only for those leaving the city. There was still no mass transit below 14th Street, and Brooklyn-bound trains skipped all stations in that area. Changes in service were continual, and public information was spotty and contradictory. A policeman told me there was no A train service at all between Manhattan and Brooklyn, but minutes later a token booth clerk said there was, although the trains were being diverted to the F line to avoid going too near the disaster site.
The transportation agency most severely impacted was PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson). Its tubes under the river from New Jersey were the first built, and its station on the World Trade Center's lower level was the busiest on the 13-mile system.
Among many poignant stories that surfaced, the Newark Star-Ledger reported that one PATH train approaching the Twin Towers minutes after the first aircraft impact and just before the second, was instructed to continue on the loop track and make the return trip without stopping. The 1000 or so fortunate riders on that train must be hugging their families still.
Once the buildings fell, it was impossible for rescue workers to get near enough to the WTC station to assess damage, although it was assumed (later verified) to be considerable. The PATH Iine heading south from 33rd Street, which joins Manhattan's West Side with Hoboken Jersey City, and Newark's Penn Station, was intact. By mid-evening it was operating on a 5-minute headway.
The metropolitan area's three commuter rail giants - Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North, and New Jersey Transit - all pass through Manhattan at points several miles north of the crisis zone. Metro-North spokeswoman Margery Anders said that Grand Central Terminal was closed for two-and-a-half hours, followed by a period of outbound-only service. The first inbound entered GCT around 3 p.m. By evening, trains were operating in both directions on a reduced weekend schedule.
Penn Station was evacuated at 10 a.m. and reopened at 1:30 p.m., according to Michael J. Gallagher, assistant general manager of Amtrak's Metropolitan Division. Outbound LIRR service, although severely curtailed, was started again by 2:15, said Gallagher, who was on board the first inspection train through the East River tunnels. Limited Amtrak and NJ Transit service was also reinstated; both were way off schedule largely because motive power had to be turned and trains reassembled at Sunnyside Yard in Queens. Near that yard at 2:30 p.m., I witnessed a procession of trains being phased into Penn Station.
By 5 p.m., TV broadcasters announced that Amtrak's Northeast Corridor was operating close to schedule, although NJ Transit would be running only Jersey-bound trains until the next morning. Mike Charles of the LIRR press office said that his railroad was back to its normal schedule by 8 p.m.
NJ Transit Executive Director Jeffrey A. Warsh said when his office first received word of the attack, an emergency command post was established. NJT buses were dispatched to move victims, firefighters, and rescue workers. Seats were removed from two of the new Hudson-Bergen light rail vehicles so emergency supplies could be hauled along that waterfront corridor. Train service into Hoboken had been halted, and rail operations employees assisted and consoled Trade Center victims who were disembarking from the ferries arriving from downtown Manhattan. Warsh says that many of his people worked 12 hours or more, then came back to help again early the next morning.
Wednesday dawned bright and clear, yet the pillar of acrid smoke still rising from the Financial District was a grim reminder that this was not some nightmare from which we could hope to awaken. Many thousands were still unaccounted for, and emergency workers were staring down death in their unstinting search for survivors. The mayor requested that non-essential workers stay home, and most took heed. 'If anything, there may have been too much subway service,' commented TA motorman Edward E Small. His N train was running a truncated route between 34th Street/Manhattan and Astoria, Queens. Subway ridership was light, and the multitude of route alterations often had one line's trains blocking another's. Still, it was a blessing that this system had enough inherent redundancy and route interconnection to function. Throughout the turmoil, said Small, morale among his fellow transit workers was high. 'The troops are doing their thing,' he asserted.
In the wake of the disaster, the importance of the city's rail transit system was emphatically underscored. For most of us, rail was the only available option. Police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel - who could already count hundreds of their comrades among the fallen - did a monumental job. There was virtually no public panic. Faced by unspeakable tragedy and numbed by unfolding events, New Yorkers endured. On Wednesday afternoon, I asked a Brooklyn bus driver for her impressions of the past 30 hours. 'I haven't been able to think about it,' she confided. 'I'm still in shock.'
The IRS would like to express its gratitude to the copyright holders of the material reproduced above, who kindly gave permission for its inclusion in this feature: Railway Gazette International; Railway World; Trains.
Compiled by Dr Ralph Harrington, Institute of Railway Studies, York.
Updated 11 September 2002