South Ferry station almost ready to open


By Julie Shapiro

The glittering South Ferry subway station will open next month, replacing an older station whose quirks will soon be only a memory.

The old station, built in 1905, has one track that fits only the first five cars of each No. 1 train, so passengers have to race up to the front or else miss their stop. Pieces of the short, curved platform move as the train approaches, creating a potential danger. And when the train leaves the station to start heading back up Lower Manhattan, it has to navigate a sharp turn that necessitates an inching speed.

The $527 million new station has a long, straight platform separating two tracks, each of which fits an entire 10-car train. The two tracks enable trains to pull out of the station the same way they pulled in, without turning around, which will cut travel time to Penn Station from 21 to 16 minutes. (When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority accepted the federal money five years ago, it estimated it would take only 12 minutes to get to Penn Station.)

“It’ll be a real start for the New Year, starting with a new station,” said Michael Horodniceanu, president of capital construction for the M.T.A. “It should have been built long ago.”

The Federal Transit Administration provided $420 million for the station, which was originally expected to cover the project’s entire costs. It will be the first completed transportation project funded by the federal government as part of post-9/11 recovery.

Horodniceanu gave reporters a tour of the new station last week, pointing out everything from new elevators (the old station had none) to the three entrances (the old station had only one). During peak periods, the new station will accommodate 24 trains an hour, rather than the 16 or 17 that previously fit.

“It feels great, absolutely great,” Horodniceanu said as he ascended an escalator from the platform to the mezzanine. “It’s one of those things that’s exciting to see.”

He is particularly eager to see the station filled with people, but for the time being there were only construction workers adding finishing touches, like grout between tiles. The station entrance directly in front of the Staten Island Ferry terminal looked like a pit of mud, but Horodniceanu assured that it would be paved and ready sometime next month.

With the new station, riders will gain one underground connection and lose another: They will have a direct connection to the Whitehall station on the R/W line but will have to go outside to get to the Staten Island Ferry. The M.T.A. is also building a bus turnaround near the ferry terminal that will open next year.

While the station is nearly complete, construction nearby at the World Trade Center is far from over, and that construction will sometimes prevent trains from running to South Ferry over the next several years. The 1 train will not run south of Chambers St. for six weeks in the summer of 2010 and possibly for part of 2009.

The new station includes an art installation by Doug and Mike Starn called “See It Split, See It Change,” featuring images of tree branches in black and white fused glass. The Starn brothers also designed two marble mosaics: a veined leaf and a map of Manhattan showing how the shoreline has expanded over several hundred years. And rather than a solid wall separating the paid area from the unpaid area in the mezzanine, the Starn brothers designed a filigreed laser-cut stainless steel wall, with a leaf motif that echoes Battery Park, which sits directly above and lost some trees during the subway construction.

“The idea is to bring the park into the station,” said Sandra Bloodworth, director of M.T.A. Arts for Transit.

The new station required a new tunnel beneath Lower Manhattan, and as construction workers were digging, they unearthed more than 50,000 archeological artifacts. The most significant was a stone wall from the mid-18th century that was part of the battery and also served as a seawall. Excavators recorded the position of each stone removed and reassembled a piece of the wall in the new station’s mezzanine.

Some particularly nostalgic Lower Manhattanites have suggested preserving the old station as a museum, but it will be used instead to store trains.

One of the most striking features of the new station is the thousands of shining white tiles, a cleaner and brighter white than straphangers are accustomed to seeing.

As a train carrying reporters and M.T.A. staff pulled into the station last week, the tiles were the first thing that caught everyone’s attention.

“Beautiful,” one M.T.A. staffer said.

A reporter added, “Get me my sunglasses.”