History of New York’s Oculus Transportation Hub At The WTC

NY's Oculus Transportation Hub

Photo: Brian Kachejian © 2021

New York residents and visitors are inevitably drawn to the Oculus Transportation Hub. The hub is located in the heart of the city. It’s a monument to the past and a vital part of New York’s future. More than 300,000 people go through its doors every day.

The facility houses the World Trade Center PATH station, a dozen subway lines and several retail outlets. You can find a nice variety of food vendors and specialty stores while you’re there. The hub is owned and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The entire campus spreads across 16 acres of land. It is the third largest transportation center in the city of New York.

NY's Oculus Transportation Hub

Photo Brian Kachejian 2021

There are multiple public and private entry points. Some of the entrances lead into other buildings, such as Brookfield Place and three of the World Trade Center commercial office towers. Street level access is currently limited

The terminal station is served by the Hoboken-World Trade Center railway line on weekdays and by the Newark-World Trade Center line every day of the week. It belongs to the Port Authority Trans-Hudson (or PATH) rapid transit system. The station is close to the Hudson Terminal which is first opened in 1909 part of the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad.

In 1961, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey bought the bankrupted Hudson and Manhattan Railroad system. It was later renamed as PATH. The Hudson Terminal was altered to become a part of the World Trade Center. The Hudson Terminal would eventually be torn down to make room for the first World Trade Center. The World Trade Center station opened for business on July 6th, 1971.

Plans for the hub started not long after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. A temporary path station was installed in 2003. Ground was broken for a new World Trade Center in 2008. The center would not be completed for another eight years and opened on March 3, 2016. The original cost of $2 billion would eventually double by the time the complex was completed. Material delivery delays, the pace of the workers, a leak in the roof and the unique and somewhat complicated design have been cited as some of the main reasons why it took so long to finish the project. It is still regarded as one of the world’s most expensive train stations.

The Oculus was developed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. His intent was to create a structure that resembled a dove flying into the air after leaving a pair of outstretched human hands. Visitors can see this expression in the exterior steel columns. A pair of wings that extend out 350 feet are formed by these columns. It also matches the angles of the sun from when the first plane struck the first tower at 8:46 a.m. to the second tower fell at 10:28 a.m. on September 11, 2001.

NY's Oculus Transportation Hub

Photo Brian Kachejian 2021

Some of its well known features are the Oculus lights and a large crane known as “Big Red.” The Oculus lights are comprised of more than 10,000 lighting fixtures around the campus. They have been upgraded in recent years so that they can be shown in a wide variety of colors while using less energy at the same time. The custom-created Teupen TL156AX crane, also known as “Big Red,” can be extended horizontally up to 50 feet. It can also touch the highest point of the Oculus, located at 160 feet from ground level.

There are four platforms and five tracks in the World Trade Center station. All of these platforms are four floors below ground level. Trains arriving from New Jersey use a reversing loop that allows them to return to their point of origin. The mezzanine and the World Trade Center Cortland station of the New York City subway are located above the rail platforms.

The hub encompasses more than 800,000 square feet. It was designed to be an open, safe location for travelers and visitors. It’s easy for people to see where they need to go, with plenty of signs and information available about incoming and outgoing trains and daily schedules.

Building the Oculus hub on the former Ground Zero site was intentional. Calatrava and the project designers and planners wanted t to respect and honor the memories of all the people lost that day, and provide a modern, clean facility that would simplify transportation to and from the city.

Reception was mainly positive when the center opened in 2016. The hub is often considered to be a modern masterpiece. There were initial concerns about the white marble floors possibly becoming wet and slippery in rainy or cold weather. Some people expressed concern about the stairways not being wide enough to accommodate the influx of people entering and departing during peak travel times.

Those concerns have since been addressed, and the transportation center has quickly become a very popular destination. People from around the world have taken a train at the hub, shopped in some of their stores and spent time taking pictures of the center or just walked through on their way to other area attractions. The hub is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

NY's Oculus Transportation Hub

Photo Brian Kachejian 2021

Visitors can take tours of the facility. Other local points of interest include the One World Observatory that sits atop the new World Trade Center and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Both of them are within walking distance from the main transportation hub. There are also weekly events at the hubs ranging from art exhibits and live music to special sales at different stores and farmers’ markets.

Fans of architecture and art aficionados have admired the Oculus transportation hub since it opened to the public. The complex is enormous, and it can take the better part of a day or more to explore. It’s also considered to be a work in progress, with repairs, connections and other changes being performed continuously. It’s a good place to catch a train out of town, sit and have a bite to eat or to just admire your surroundings. The hub is a vital part of the city infrastructure, and will undoubtedly remain important and continue to evolve to meet people’s’ needs for many more generations to come.



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