Transit Briefs: ACE, MBTA, Metro Transit, MARTA, Amtrak/NJT/WMATA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission has closed escrow on land for a new ACE station in Elk Grove, Calif., as part of its Valley Rail program to expand regional/commuter service to Sacramento. (ACE Photograph)

San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission has closed escrow on land for a new ACE station in Elk Grove, Calif., as part of its Valley Rail program to expand regional/commuter service to Sacramento. (ACE Photograph)

Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) regional/commuter rail service advances extension project to Elk Grove, Calif. Also, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey discusses Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) investments in her budget proposal; Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget includes full funding for the MTA Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line; ridership climbs at Metro Transit in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.; Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) earns a 2024 AdWheel award from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA); and Amtrak, New Jersey Transit (NJT), and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) are awarded Forbes Best Large Employer status.


San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission has closed escrow on land for a new ACE station in Elk Grove, Calif., near Laguna Boulevard and Dwight Road, as part of its Valley Rail program to expand regional/commuter service to Sacramento, according to a KCRA Channel 3 report. ACE currently runs from San Jose to Stockton, and the new station will extend service north to Elk Grove (see map below).

According to San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission Deputy Director David Lipari, the extension will run on Union Pacific-owned tracks, the media outlet reported Feb. 13.

The Elk Grove station’s final design is expected to be completed by the end of this year, with construction starting in 2025, Lipari said; the station is slated to be finished at the end of 2026, KCRA Channel 3 reported.

“A new train station in Elk Grove is not just a transportation hub, but a gateway for connecting with our untapped potential,” Elk Grove Mayor Bobbie Singh-Allen said in a press release. “The station will close the gap between Elk Grove and the Bay Area, remove barriers like a lengthy commute for top talent, and provide further incentive for businesses to start in, or relocate to, Elk Grove.”


(CRRC Image)

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey this week discussed transportation investments as part of her $56.1 billion budget proposal, Spectrum News 1 reported Feb. 13. Some $314 million will go toward MBTA’s day-to-day operations, “which she called an unprecedented increase in funding,” according to the media outlet. “It would invest in capital projects and maintenance, and invest in equity with $45 million devoted to a system-wide reduced fair option for low-income riders.” Spectrum News 1 also reported a new transportation task force would be created under Healey’s recently signed executive order.  

In a related development, the Governor recently announced the appointment of Andy Koziol as Director of West-East Rail, which would extend passenger rail service from Boston to Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield. He will be part of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Rail & Transit Division.

MTA Metro-North Railroad

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s revised budget for the next fiscal year includes $284 million for Metro-North’s New Haven Line, according to a Feb. 13 CT Insider report. This follows a cut to New Haven Line funding in last year’s budget.

“The $284 million line-item for rail operations within the governor’s budget, revealed last week, represents a roughly 22 percent increase over funding levels in the current fiscal year,” the newspaper reported. The previous cut, it said, was “the result of a temporary funding shortfall following the end of pandemic-era federal assistance that the Connecticut Department of Transportation had used to help restore transit services. Instead of filling that gap with state funds, Lamont and lawmakers voted last year to cut funding.”

According to Jeffrey Beckham, the Governor’s budget chief, “the administration was not proposing any changes to rail services in the latest budget adjustment for this legislative session, meaning a return to full funding for the New Haven Line,” the newspaper reported.

Last year, the Connecticut Department of Transportation decreased Friday service to implement the funding cut, according to the newspaper, but it is unknown if service will be restored. Ridership in December 2023 was 23% below pre-pandemic levels on the main branch of the New Haven Line, and lower on the New Canaan and Danbury branch lines, CT Insider reported.

Metro Transit

(Metro Transit Photograph)

While 2023 Metro Transit bus and light rail ridership was up 16% over 2022, with more riders taking trips mid-day and on weekends, it is still below the 2019 level of 78 million rides, according to a Star Tribune report.

“The key message is that ridership is increasing, and we’re solidifying fast, frequent transit service throughout the system,” said John Harper, Metropolitan Council’s Manager of Contracted Transit Services, at a Transportation Committee meeting Feb. 12, according to the newspaper.

Since the pandemic, the newspaper reported, ridership is higher in the mid-days and afternoons rather than the traditional morning and evening peak periods, and “traditionally sluggish weekend traffic is growing faster than weekdays.”

According to the Star Tribune, the nearly 49 million trips taken in 2023 on Metro Transit trains and buses, Northstar commuter rail, Metro Mobility, and other transportation was about 60% of pre-pandemic levels.

“The biggest percentage increases in ridership came from relatively small pieces of the transit pie,” Star Tribune reported. “Shared-ride Transit Link service and a microtransit pilot program in north Minneapolis surged 47% to 186,493 rides. Northstar Commuter Rail, which connects downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake, increased 26% to 97,265 rides. Service aboard the Green and Blue light rail lines increased 19% to 14.8 million rides … Bus service wasn’t far behind with a 15% annual increase.”


APTA on Feb. 13 recognized MARTA with a 2024 AdWheel Best Marketing and Communications Award for its “50 Years of Hip Hop” campaign. The award was presented at APTA’s Marketing, Communications & Customer Service Workshop in New Orleans, La.

MARTA said its campaign paid tribute to Hip Hop’s “rich history” and influence while also fostering community pride and uniting Atlanta’s diverse population. “In many urban centers where hip hop thrives, public transit agencies like MARTA provide a convenient and affordable means for aspiring artists to pursue their dreams,” the agency reported. “Particularly for homegrown and transplanted hip hop artists, MARTA holds a significant place in their creative journeys, which they often acknowledge in their music.”

As part of the campaign, MARTA released limited-edition Breeze fare cards featuring OutKast, Jermaine Dupri, Killer Mike, Ludacris, and TLC, and curated a playlist of hip hop songs that mention MARTA. It also hosted a customer appreciation event at Five Points Station that featured a DJ playing classic hip hop music, dancing, a photo booth, and the MARTA prize wheel. The campaign culminated in the unveiling of a MARTA bus designed in honor of Atlanta native Jermaine Dupri, founder of the hit-making music label So So Def, as the label marked its 30-year anniversary.

MARTA said its campaign made a positive impact on customer engagement, brand influence, employee morale and social media engagement.

“Both MARTA and hip hop have played important roles in Atlanta’s culture and history,” said Collie Greenwood, General Manager and CEO of MARTA. “MARTA has inspired many iconic Atlanta rappers and has been featured on prominent tracks over the years. We were proud to celebrate hip hop’s profound impact on the city and honor a genre that has shaped the artistic landscape, not just in Atlanta but throughout the world.” 

Amtrak / NJT / WMATA

(Amtrak Photograph)

Amtrak, NJT and WMATA have earned spots on the 2024 Forbes America’s Best Employers List. This is the ninth consecutive time Amtrak has been included on the list; it’s the fourth time for NJT.

The list was compiled through independent surveys from a sample of more than 170,000 U.S. employees working for companies employing at least 1,000 people within the United States. The final score was based on direct evaluations among employees, as well as friends and family members of employees, or members of the public who work in the same industry. This resulted in two sub-lists: one for “Mid” sized organizations (those with 1,000 to 5,000 employees) and one for “Large” sized organizations (those with more than 5,000 employees).

Forbes partnered with Statista to conduct the surveys.

Out of the 600 large nationwide employers on the list, WMATA ranked 116 ; Amtrak, 120; and NJT, 178. The three agencies were also in the top eight of the 26 employers in the “Transportation and Logistics” category.

“It is heartening to receive this award as we build a new generation of expertise that powers our growth,” said Robert Grasty, Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Amtrak, which hired 4,800 new employees in 2023, increasing the company’s workforce to more than 23,000. “Amtrak always strives to give employees a positive work experience. We continue to create new programs and design key initiatives aimed at retaining the talented men and women in this company.”

Forbes’ prestigious and independent evaluation has once again recognized NJ Transit’s considerable efforts over the past six years to build a culture of excellence, inclusiveness and employee satisfaction—this time naming us one of the best employers in America,” NJT President and CEO Kevin S. Corbett said. “This recognition reaffirms our position as an employer of choice in our region, and is a testament to the hard work, dedication and commitment of so many in our organization.”

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