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As we honor the anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history, many of us can remember where we were on that fateful day in September nearly two decades ago. Maybe some of us were in school or at work, going to the grocery store or spending time with a loved one. Some of us may have been on a train, headed to work, or going to visit someone. For those of us who were alive on that day, we all remember what we were doing and where we were when we, as a nation, felt the impact of 9/11.
Our lives forever changed after that day. So did travel and the transportation of goods. Security became heightened in almost every aspect of our daily operations, especially when it came to travel. The airline industry, being the most obviously affected, became a place of higher security and closer vetting of individuals, definitely meaning we would need to plan more for future trips and budget our time more. The railroad industry was not different, except that it benefited more than the airline industry for months even years after 9/11.
With many people nervous about flying, especially short distances, there was a renewed interest in traveling and commuting on trains. In fact, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Amtrak was in a low spot for ridership, and the budget had been slashed many times. However, after 9/11, many people felt more comfortable taking the train than flying, because they felt safer and in better control than about a jetliner.
Ridership on Amtrak increased dramatically, helping the financially strapped entity to increase revenue and become more of a front runner in a time that it needed to be. Many retired or reserve cars needed to be pulled and fitted to handle the monumental passenger load. The Northeast Corridor added over 2000 seats per day in the initial week after 9/11 and had an influx of over 3000 more daily riders than usual. Many of these were air travelers wary of flying who opted to take to the rails. This trend would continue for a while until confidence had returned to passengers that the airlines were indeed safe.
That’s not to say that the railroad wasn’t affected almost immediately. Many trains in New York City were interrupted during and immediately after the attacks. The Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH), is one of the busiest routes in the city, had one of their major station lines cut as it ran immediately beneath the twin towers.
At 8:46 a.m., September 11th, 2001, the North Tower of the World Trade Center was the target of a hijacked American Airlines flight No. 11 passenger jet that flew right into the middle of it. Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines flight No. 175 flew into the South Tower.
At the base of the World Trade Center complex was the PATH World Trade Center Station, a looped endpoint for trains coming in from and going to Newark and Hoboken, N.J. Before the United flight crashed, PATH operations managers halted all service in and out of the World Trade Center. At that time, 35 trains were operating over the Port Authority System. Certain estimates say the shut down saved hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives. At 10:45 a.m., all trains on the PATH system were halted, even the ones that did not go to the World Trade Center.
The New York City Transit Authority subways shut down at 10:20 a.m.; Amtrak halted trains earlier at 9:17 a.m., and New Jersey Transit stopped trains into Penn Station at 10:30 a.m., just a few miles up the rail from Ground Zero were shut down and evacuated. Metro-North and the Long Island Rail Road continued to operate into the afternoon. Trains on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor were diverted or told to stay in place until the situation could better be established regarding what was going on and when it would be safe to operate again. By 5 p.m., most trains in the area were running on schedule, albeit with a little more security that would only grow in the years to come.
After 9/11, rail stations, much like airports, had a surge in security. This had been long needed even before September 11th, but was now visible and in full force. Video cameras were now widely seen as were bomb-sniffing dogs and more uniformed security personnel. Passengers and pretty much anyone entering a train depot were under extreme screening, and it was made sure that no stone remained unturned.
Trains carrying hazardous materials, long thought to be a target of terrorists, were under greater protection and local authorities were better advised when one was coming through their area to be better equipped if something were to go amiss.
As many of us mourn the loss of so many on that fateful day, we as a nation keep rolling on just like the railroads. Ready to meet a new day and keep pushing forward, despite uncertainty, and always remembering never to forget.
Written by Justin Lambrecht, education assistant
This article first appeared on nationalrrmuseum.org
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