WNPR

Subway Car Pulled From 9/11 Wreckage, Now in Connecticut Museum

Aug 11, 2016

When the train left the platform "it left in peacetime and ended up in a war zone."

One of two subway cars that survived the collapse of the World Trade Center in the 2001 attacks will soon be open to the public. Car 745 will welcome visitors aboard for the first time in 15 years at its permanent home in East Haven, Connecticut. The Shoreline Trolley Museum acquired the car a year ago and built a special display that will be dedicated on the September 11th anniversary.

On a normal weekday in New York City people by the thousands arrive at the Port Authority Trans-Hudson -- or PATH World Trade Center station. For PATH car 745 September 11, 2001 started like any Tuesday morning -- loaded with passengers, from New Jersey. At around 8:52 am it pulled into the World Trade Center Station for the last time. Within three hours it would be buried beneath hundreds and thousands of tons of debris.

Alan Zelazo knew car 745’s route well.

“North to the World Trade Center," Zelazo said. "That was my regular route up til that day.”

He was a PATH train engineer scheduled to go into work later that day, so was not on duty that morning, but knew the stops by heart.

"It left at 8:42 outta Hoboken in the morning. The first station was Pavonia-Newport," he said. It was still being called Pavonia-Newport back then. When it left Pavonia-Newport is when the buildings got hit. So, midway in this train’s trip, it left in peacetime and ended up in a war zone."

After the planes hit, before the buildings came down, and before anyone understood what was happening, the Port Authority suspended all train service into New York. In fact another PATH train from New Jersey was en route, but the crew was instructed to turn around when they reached the World Trade Center Station and take all passengers back.

"So rather than have an additional 2,000 people dropped off in a potential deadly area they got ‘em back out of there," said Bill Wall who works for the New York City Transit Authority.

He remembered that day as he sat surrounded by vintage trolley cars at the Shoreline Trolley Museum in Connecticut. He said the Port Authority saved thousands of lives with that judgment call.

"And then they had another train in New Jersey, they got all the passengers off of that and they sent the train, with the crew, into the Trade Center, which at that point everybody was getting out of, to do what we call sweep the platform. Anybody who was there, they had one last chance to get out," said Wall. "And shortly after that the buildings came down."

As a result there was no loss of life on the PATH trains or in the World Trade Center Station that day. But an empty seven-car train that included subway car 745 was left behind.

"It was a train that was in the terminal that they just finished using and normally would leave it there during the day to wait for the afternoon rush hour to start," said Wall. "And it was already in place and that’s the reason that train was there."

Car 745 at the World Trade Center Station on September 30, 2001. Flooding occurred from water main breaks and efforts to put out fire. The orange paint marks on the side of the car indicate that the area had been searched.
Credit Peter Rinaldi / Shoreline Trolley Museum

The train was discovered during a search of the site. Five of the cars were obliterated, a sixth car suffered minor damage, and a seventh was undamaged. That was the lead car -- car 745.

The surviving two PATH cars were taken to Kennedy International Airport, where they were stored in a Hangar with other artifacts held for a future 9/11 memorial museum. That, said Wall, is where they stayed for nearly 14 years, but did not make it into the museum.

"The decision was made to not include the two PATH cars," he said. "They were just too big. It was just too big for the space that they had allocated for. They just thought it would just overwhelm what they had designed. You know, PATH cars are pretty big. They’re 50 feet long and weigh 40 tons."

New homes were found for both cars. One went to the Trolley Museum of New York in Kingston and car 745 came to the Shoreline Trolley Museum in Connecticut, where Zelazo and Wall donate much of their time. Wall is president emeritus of the museum and Zelazo has been volunteering here since he was 16. He works on the cars and helps with other projects. He says he hasn’t done much work on 745, but he has been all through the car and found some surprises.

Alan Zelazo was a PATH train engineer. He was scheduled to go into work later in the day on September 11, 2001. Zelazo stands with car 745 at the Shoreline Trolley Museum in East Haven, Connecticut.
Credit Alan Zelazo

"Behind the ad where the conductor would stand in the rear of the car, there was a crossword puzzle, part of the newspaper stuffed back there from the day before. You see stuff like that, it just makes you go 'wow!'"

While car 745 managed to get through basically unscathed structurally, Wall said there was some damage to the car.

"I mean the only problems that it had didn’t happen from the event, but right afterwards," he said. "The car was flooded to just about up to floor level with water from trying to put the fires out, you know, and water mains that had broken, and everything else."

The aluminum 1972 class PA-3 car now shines like new. Zelazo said, that’s mostly because of one guy.

"He's done a lot of work, Conrad Misek, the last thing he did on that car was buff the floor. He has a mat in front of it. He wants you to wipe your feet before you go on the car. He spent five hours. That floor -- you could look at yourself in it."

The interior of restored PATH car 745.
Credit Lori Mack / WNPR

Conrad Misek is a native of Queens New York. He’s also a volunteer at the museum and modest about the several hundred hours of work he’s put into car 745.

“There’d been some damage done craning it out of the World Trade Center site. I fixed some body damage, reglazed it, did some wiring. Things of that nature.”

Misek has invested some of his own money into the project, which includes low voltage lighting that lights up the car and the side signs and replaced the advertisements that were originally in the car on 9/11.

Aboard car 745 Misek walked over to an ad featuring the World Trade Center.

Ad for a hotel website on PATH car 745.
Credit Lori Mack

“This is my favorite over here," he said. "I don’t think you’re gonna get that picture anymore. That is a scene taken from Jersey City of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the World Financial Center. Discount hotel rates. Hotel discount dot com. I think that’s a little bit before Airbnb.”

Car 745 represents a time when people were much more trusting said Bob Roberts, a former New York City reporter who now works at CBS in Chicago. He also volunteers at the museum as a motorman and docent during his summer vacation.

“We are proud to have 745 as part of our collection. It's something nobody else can claim. I'm going to be very proud to be able to say, ‘You can step in here. You can take a look at the world the way it was the morning that everything changed.’”

Bill Wall was instrumental in acquiring the car. He said in a day of terrible tragedies car 745 is a survivor.

"Prior to that event it was just an everyday, run of the mill subway car. Now it's an icon. And that's exactly what it is."

A dedication and ceremony are scheduled to take place at the Shoreline Trolley Museum at noon on Sunday, September 11, 2016.