20 Years Later…

Remembering the Events of 9/11

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since September 11, 2001. But the memories of that day are still very much alive, particularly for those who lived and experienced it. The timeline of events is as striking today as it was two decades ago.

8.46 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York.

9.03 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower of the WTC.

9.37 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon in Virginia.

10:03 a.m.: Passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 fought the terrorists, bringing it down in Shanksville, PA (the suspected target was somewhere in Washington DC).

10.30 a.m.: both WTC towers collapsed.

It was a traumatic day that will remain with us forever, particularly for those who lost loved ones and friends.

As difficult as that day was, many of our past and present NJ TRANSIT employees played vital roles on 9/11, and during the days, weeks, months and even years after. You can read about them in this article and watch this video to learn more. 

Among the stories, we will start with the personal reflections of our President & CEO Kevin Corbett. Kevin was serving as Chief Operating Officer for New York State’s Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) at the time, which included oversight responsibility for the New York Governor’s Office of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PA), as well.

“That morning, I was on my way into the office on 40th Street & 3rd Avenue in Manhattan when my brother called to say a plane had hit the World Trade Center. He’d heard the very first report of the attack, before anyone knew it was a commercial jet. I immediately called my team at ESDC to confirm the report. As ESDC had been responsible for the recovery and restoration of businesses impacted by the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, we knew we would need to spring into immediate action to assist, even before both towers had come down.

“At the same time, I called the office of Neil Levin, who was the PA’s Executive Director at the time and a good friend. I asked his assistant, who was not aware of the magnitude of the strike yet, to have him call me back as soon as possible. It turns out Neil was having breakfast with executives of Silverstein Properties at Windows of the World on the 107th floor and never made it out that day. 

“As Midtown was eerily unaffected, later in the day I joined the Vice Chair of the PA to survey the damage. We got to the site and it was like a war zone. You couldn’t see anything. I still remember the intense smell of gas and burning steel. There were rumors that 1 Liberty Plaza was at risk of falling. We made our way back to the office to update staff and it was only then I realized I was covered in soot and ash from the remnants of the towers. All I could do was brush myself off, call my team together, and get to work. In those first few hours, I just remember a whirlwind of calls and meetings with business and civic leaders to offer the ESDC’s help in any way we could. 

“The next day Governor Pataki announced that ESDC would lead the economic recovery efforts, putting me in charge of Lower Manhattan’s economic recovery and revitalization. One of the first things we did was leverage the “I Love New York” tourism call center in Albany to take advantage of its staff and call center facilities, as well as set up an intake office at the 3rd Avenue office. We were taking calls and visits from as many businesses in the area as we could to document their situation, find out if they had lost employees, and to see how we could help them with business recovery. 

“A critical component of the immediate recovery effort was reopening the New York Stock Exchange and the other exchanges and trading floors in Lower Manhattan. ESDC was the liaison for all affected businesses, so we had to coordinate with the City, State and Federal agencies, as well as utilities, etc., challenged by a significantly damaged and overwhelmed communication network, to ensure the proper resources were prioritized and accessed. 

“With City Hall and the City’s economic development offices inaccessible and dislocated, ESDC invited key City staff to co-locate in our office. It was an incredible challenge to bring together finance, government, utilities, real estate interests – all the mechanisms of industry and commerce – to get the center of global commerce back on its feet as soon as possible, but the dedication and passion of all involved is something that I cherish to this day.

“At that time, there was a real fear that many businesses would flee Lower Manhattan and potentially even the region itself, so one of our primary goals was to quickly develop programs to induce companies both large and small to stay. We created grant programs to incentivize large businesses to remain in Lower Manhattan. Many companies said, ‘We want to be here, but we can’t have our employees come back if it looks like a war zone,’ so we created a grant program for small businesses, to ensure the dry-cleaning shops, printers, grocery stores, and restaurants, etc. would survive in parallel. Chinatown in particular was hit very hard. At that time, it came in very handy to speak Chinese. I still remember the look on my colleagues’ faces when they saw me up at a podium speaking Chinese to local business leaders. 

“Another very memorable occurrence was that I was delegated to join the State’s Budget Director and our counterparts from the Mayor’s Office to fly to Washington to brief the White House on the damage and our initial guestimates on the financial assistance needed. As the area’s airports were closed, we had to take the State’s plane to Andrews Air Force Base. We walked into the Roosevelt Room and the President’s people simply asked, ‘What do you need?’ and provided assurance that the whole nation was behind us. I was also at Ground Zero when the President gave his famous speech with the bullhorn in his hand, standing atop the rubble where the towers once stood. I’ll never forget those moments.

“As horrible as 9/11 was, it led to a time of extraordinary collaboration and cooperation. Government, businesses, civic groups, and regular citizens at all levels came together as never before, and you really saw the best of everyone. Every time we went through the barricades to get to Ground Zero, people would hand us snacks and bottles of water. American flags were everywhere. 

“Twenty years later, I still have relationships with many people that were forged at that time. While few of us are famous or even have our names pop up in a Google search about 9/11, all of us take great pride and comfort in having done our bit to bring Lower Manhattan and the region back from a potentially devastating blow.”


Current NJ TRANSIT Police Chief Christopher Trucillo was the Commanding Officer of the Port Authority Police Department’s (PAPD) Internal Affairs Unit at the time, attending a two-day work summit in Atlantic City. Just before 9 a.m., their pagers started to go off and they all recognized that something was very wrong. When they learned that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, Chief Trucillo said they knew instantly it was not an accident and immediately left Atlantic City for PAPD Headquarters and later to the World Trade Center site.

“I don’t think anything could have prepared us for that day,” said Chief Trucillo. 

He and his team, along with every member of the PAPD, spent the next 18 months working 12-hour days. “We did not have to force anyone to work - everyone was willing. Everyone had their minds and their hearts at the 9/11 site,” he said.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Chief Trucillo made it his mission to mobilize a group from his unit to provide assistance to the family members of Port Authority police officers and commanders killed on that tragic day. There are many accounts of how the Chief and his team touched the lives of the family members of his fallen fellow officers. The Port Authority Police Department lost two percent of its members that day. Chief Trucillo was later sworn in as Chief of Police for the Port Authority Police Department on Feb. 6, 2004.

On July 26, 2010, he was sworn in as Chief of the NJ TRANSIT Police Department and, to this day, he continues to stay in touch with family members of the Port Authority police officers lost on September 11, 2001.

 

NJ TRANSIT itself played an integral role on 9/11 as the day unfolded. Below the streets of New York at Penn Station, rail service came to a screeching halt with closures of the Hudson River tunnels until outbound-only NJ TRANSIT rail service could resume for evacuation purposes. Above ground, a similar NJ TRANSIT bus operation was taking place at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, in between periodic shutdowns of the Lincoln Tunnel.

Across the Hudson River at Hoboken Terminal, ferry boats with people fleeing the city began arriving, including injured victims covered in ash. A triage center and decontamination facilities were established at Hoboken to tend to the victims. Similar decontamination units appeared at Newark Penn Station to remove ash and soot from those arriving from New York.

Through it all, NJ TRANSIT employees rose to the challenge, including police officers, rail, light rail and bus employees, customer service representatives, medical personnel and many others who helped with evacuations, care and comfort of victims.

“I am enormously thankful that we had great people and the resources in place to power ourselves through that,” said then Executive Director Jeff Warsh. “We lost thousands of police officers, firefighters, rescue personnel, friends, neighbors and colleagues that day. But we were able to get through that to the other side.” 

Oradell Garage Foreman I Bobbie Joe Painchaud, a firefighter from Paramus, was one of many first responders who rushed to the WTC site on 9/11.

“I was there for four days going through the rubble looking for survivors,” said Bobbie Joe. “Then, we were redeployed to Staten Island to search through rubble with the FBI and the Army. It was a very traumatic experience and overwhelming to see the devastation. My dad was a firefighter who had retired just before 9/11. They lost 11 guys from his firehouse. We went down there later to try and console the guys. It was a very difficult time in my life.”

George Burke was working in the Power Supervisor Office in Hoboken Terminal when the news broke.

“We were monitoring the radio when the first alert came in on the radio station and immediately we all went to the window to see smoke from the tower,” said George “We were already dazed and shocked when the news of another crash occurred at the Pentagon. Everything else for the remainder of that day was helping our commuters with water and information for departure of trains from Hoboken Terminal - everything was a LOAD & GO.”

Among those who also ended up in Hoboken on 9/11 was Patrice Verner, our current Director of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Patrice was an EAP Counselor, dispatched with a co-worker to Hoboken Terminal shortly after learning of the attack on the Twin Towers.

“When we arrived, people were walking around dazed, confused and frightened,” said Patrice. “As EAP counselors, our job was to assist anyone affected by the disaster, ensuring they were safe, offering comfort and providing transportation guidance.”

NJ  TRANSIT’s General Manager of Light Rail Transit Operations, Joe Tassiello, was employed by the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) on 9/11. He joined a large group of volunteers from that agency who were deployed to the site.

“I worked beside nurses, construction workers, Chicago firemen, Vermont State Troopers, and EMS crews from every corner of New York and New Jersey,” said Joe. “I remember the unbroken line of ambulances stretching as far as the eye could see up Broadway, and the burnt paper and ash carpeting the ground. I also have a list of the volunteers I worked with and see names of those no longer with us who died of 9/11-related illnesses.”

NJ TRANSIT General Superintendent of Equipment Jerry D’Andrea, who now runs our rail maintenance facility in Kearny, was in New York for business purposes with five other co-workers when the towers were hit.

“I commuted on PATH from Jersey City to the World Trade center that morning. We became separated when the building we were in was evacuated. Three of us were able to get onto one of the last ferries back to Hoboken. Two of us worked our way up to the Intrepid, took a ferry to Weehawken and then walked back to Hoboken Terminal. The last of us stayed in New York at a family members apartment. I really feel like an angel was on our shoulders that day.”

NJ TRANSIT employees at the Headquarters building Newark could see what was happening in New York. Dave Abeles, now NJ TRANSIT’s General Superintendent of Stations, was a Project Engineer in the Structures Department
at the time.

“It was very clear that this wasn’t an accident.” said Dave. “I ended up across the street at Newark Penn Station, helping to direct customers, some covered in ash. It was like a war scene.”

Director of Social Media and Events Carolyn Mack was also working in Newark in the Public Information Office.

“I can remember everything about that morning; the weather, what I was wearing and eating,” said Carolyn. “I remember watching as the second plane hit and feeling the pit of my stomach drop. I worked in Newark Penn Station until late in the evening, and on the train ride home, a gentleman sat by me when the entire train car was empty. We didn’t talk a lot, but we were there for each other.”

The scene was also in full view from our Hudson-Bergen Light Rail storage and maintenance facility in Jersey City. Director of Rail Operations QA/QC Victor Viscomi was working there at the time and captured this image below.

Meanwhile, Nagal (Shashi) Shashidhara, Director of Light Rail System Safety and Quality Assurance, was working at Exchange Place in Jersey City on the morning of 9/11 before heading to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Control Center and then to Hoboken Terminal.  

“Hudson-Bergen Light Rail’s Control Center coordinated numerous “calls-for-aid” and became a vital communication link in the rescue effort,” said Shashi. “We removed seats in some light rail vehicles (pictured below) to aid in the transportation of the injured, disabled and equipment. We nicknamed the cars “rambulances” and worked with local emergency responders to help set up a triage/command center at Exchange Place to aid the victims. Some staff members also assisted with rescue operations at Ground Zero.”

Meanwhile, Gerry DeMan, Jr., currently a Lead Systems Analyst/Programmer for NJ TRANSIT, used his experience growing up in Jersey City and Hoboken to help customers showing up at Hoboken Terminal.

“We were taken to Hoboken by bus with a police escort,” said Gerry. “People were coming into Hoboken by ferry who needed medical assistance or were trying to get home. This was being done as the smoke from the towers was clearly visible over my right shoulder. I really don’t remember how I got home that night.”

Director of Organization Services Jeff McNulla was literally just starting his career at NJ TRANSIT on 9/11.

“September 11th was my first day at NJ TRANSIT,” said Jeff. “When the first plane hit, I saw smoke trailing from one of the towers and thought it was from a small plane. Shortly thereafter, the second plane hit and then everyone knew something was wrong. The 9th floor windows became the front row to the worst terrorist attack on the mainland in U.S. history. Later that day, customers came off buses at Newark Penn Station covered in white dust and were immediately hosed off in a decontamination area. I never felt so helpless in all my life.

“For a month, the pile smoldered and you would hear the heroics that went on each day from the NYPD, firefighters and office people. You also heard stories of how NJ TRANSIT employees assisted on the frontlines or on the phone, consoling a loved one. I quickly learned that this company has an amazing workforce dedicated to its customers, stepping in to assist any way possible.”

After 9/11, the site of the Twin Towers quickly became known as “Ground Zero.” Heroic efforts continued to locate and rescue survivors. NJ TRANSIT bus operators assisted with the transportation of rescue workers between New Jersey and New York.

It also became clear that many NJ TRANSIT customers would not be coming home. Abandoned cars remained in station parking lots for weeks, a sad reminder of the tragedy that took place.

In Hoboken, a wall of the missing appeared (pictured below) as families and friends frantically worked to locate their loved ones, similar to the many photos that appeared on the streets of New York.


 
Rescue efforts gradually became recovery efforts to find and recover the remains of those who perished. The tragedy continued to multiply when many of those who worked on “the pile” began succumbing to illnesses from the toxic air at the site (and still do). 

On September 11, 2011, the 10th anniversary of 9/11, NJ TRANSIT dedicated a plaque at Hoboken Terminal (pictured below), recognizing the men and women of NJ TRANSIT who came forward to serve, and to all of those who gave their lives that day. It’s located in the pedestrian plaza at Hoboken Terminal between the rail concourse and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Station, directly across the Hudson River from the Freedom Tower. We encourage you to stop by, see it and reflect on the events of that day.

For many of the survivors, families, rescue workers and others, the physical and emotional scars of that day remain. But it also brought out the best in many of us, best described by Patrice Verner.

“That day showed us that, even in the worst of tragedies, we must remember that we are resilient,” said Patrice. “Together, with a helping hand, acts of kindness and compassion, we will survive and thrive.”