Tunnel terror

I don’t have nightmares about 9/11. But I do have an ongoing fear that occurs to me occasionally on my daily rides on the PATH train that took me to the World Trade Center that day: I worry about an attack that would flood the tunnels. On a very long list of bad ways to die, that is a leader. Not to come off as too neurotic, but I don’t like heights and thus bridges and I’m not a great swimmer and so though I don’t fear water I know that being plunked into the middle of a river via boat or bridge would not have a happy ending. So getting to work on an island everyday becomes problematic.

Especially today, as The Times reveals a report that says the PATH tunnel system is particularly vulnerable to terrorist attack and flooding.

My first reaction is: Oh, thank you, Times, for revealing our soft underwater belly to the terrorists. My next reaction is: They say the report was — pardon me — leaked because the Port Authority isn’t doing enough to safeguard the tunnels.

The Times says it is withholding details about how attacks could flood the tunnels but then goes right ahead and gives the terrorists the punchline, the worst-case analysis, which is the one they really want: “. . . a bomb that could be easily carried aboard a train could punch a 50-square-foot hole in one side of a tube, possibly breaching both sides of the tunnel. Under that situation, 1.2 million gallons of water a minute could pour into the tunnel, flooding parts of the system in a matter of hours.”

Now I can think about that everytime I ride to work (and I’m damned glad I’m working at home today). As a correspondent and fellow PATH commuter said in email last night: “Jesus Christ. I don’t think the Times means to sound alarmist, but as someone who rides in Hudson River tunnels 2x a day, it’s pretty scary. On the other hand, it’s nothing I don’t already think about twice daily anyway….

  • echy

    The Times would love to see one of the tunnels blown up. Then they could point to Bush and his Administration and say “I told you so.”

  • Robert

    Yes, I’m sure that’s what the op-ed page staff hopes for every morning over coffee and danish. Come ON! That is nonsense.

  • As an everyday PATH rider this report should probably put me on edge… but for some reason it doesn’t. I guess after five years of waiting for something to happen the idea just loses it’s reality. Drowning in a tunnel, being nuked by a suitcase bomb, taking shrapnel in a bus explosion… these all have the distinct quality of fantasy attached to them. All of these disaster scenarios are quickly screened and filed into the corner of the mind right next to Hollywood creations and fairy tales. Hopefully they’ll stay there.

  • Jimmy

    So, what’s the Times supposed to do, not write stories like this. I mean, does anyone with half a brain believe the Times wrote this story just so terrorists would get new ideas for attacking us? Come on, as if terrorists don’t already know our weakest points! Maybe the survivors of September 11 should sue writers Larry Bond and Tom Clancy, both of whom wrote novels detailing how terrorists could use plane as weapons! The Times is not the “villain” here. The real villain here is the local, state, and federal governments who five years after September 11, 2001 have done next to nothing to strengthen our weak points.

  • Jimmy, no, but the Times acknowledges there is a line past which you don’t want to go to inform the enemy. The question is, where is that line? I want pressure put on government to take action but I also don’t want to see too much revealed, for it could give not just terrorists but idiots inspiration to try something. I’m speaking here more as a PATH rider than as a journalist, by the way.

  • bittorrent

    Some months ago we had a fire close to where I live in the UK. In reporting it, none of the newspapers or TV channels mentioned the background/history to the place where it happened. However one fairly well-known website did go into that.

    It is no secret, it fact there are websites about it, but not well-known. I wondered if the media were asked not to give too many details or maybe they were told not to? The UK Government has the means to silence the media on a particular subject by issuing a notice. The media can’t even report that a notice has been issued.

    If it was terror-related then should the public have been told? Or is it better that a possibly-vulnerable location gets no publicity?

  • PTCruiser

    The truth is that terrorists are probably not as interested in blowing up a PATH tunnel as much as people whose job it is to think about things that people might want to blow up think they are. Folks who use the PATH trains should find other things to worry about.

  • Evan

    Mr. Jarvis,

    I am preparing a casenote on the possibility of the tunnels being targets of terrorist attacks. I wondered if you could suggest any specific articles, etc. I should look to as research. I am writing this in conjunction with my “Terrorism and the Law” class at Emory Law School. I would appreciate anything you could point me to that is of interest. I may use the tunnels as an example to write about the line between newsworthiness and giving too much information and how that interacts with both 1st Amendment freedom of speech and National Security. Thanks so much!


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