MARTA approves plans for Clayton County commuter train

The MARTA Board of Directors Thursday approved plans for a Clayton County passenger rail line that supporters hope will transform commuting on the south side of metro Atlanta.

The line would stretch 22-miles from MARTA’s East Point Station to Lovejoy, via Jonesboro. If all goes well, construction could get under way in 2023, with service beginning in 2027.

The board also approved plans for a new bus rapid transit route from Southlake Mall to College Park Station. And it agreed to continue studying other transit options for Clayton County.

The moves are the latest fruit of Clayton voters' 2014 decision to join MARTA and pay a 1-cent sales tax for transit expansion. And they're another sign that – after decades of stagnation – transit expansion is gaining steam across metro Atlanta.

“Since first expanding to Clayton County three years ago, MARTA service has changed the lives of thousands of residents,” said board member Roberta Abdul-Salaam, who represents the county. “This continued expansion shows a strong commitment to community and economic development for one of metro Atlanta’s fastest-growing areas.”

The board picked commuter rail as the “locally preferred alternative” for its planned high-capacity transit line in Clayton County. It’s a key step in the process of obtaining crucial federal funding for the project.

The MARTA Board of Directors Thursday approved plans for a commuter rail line from East Point Station to Jonesboro and Lovejoy in Clayton County. Diesel-powered “commuter rail” trains - like this one in Seattle - are faster and can carry more passengers than MARTA’s existing electric-powered trains. (PHOTO COURTESY OF SOUND TRANSIT)

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The Clayton rail line would be comparable to commuter railroads found in cities like New York, Boston, Chicago and Seattle.

Commuter rail features diesel-powered trains that could be bigger and faster than MARTA’s existing electric rail vehicles. The trains can seat up to 1,000 passengers, compared to 500 for MARTA’s existing trains. And commuter trains average 35 mph to 45 mph, vs. 30 mph to 35 mph for the existing ones.

The line would parallel existing Norfolk Southern railroad tracks, using the same right of way – reducing construction costs, which have not been determined. MARTA must still negotiate an agreement with the railroad, which has declined to comment.

The MARTA Board also agreed to upgrade bus Route 196 to bus rapid transit. The line carries some 3,800 passengers on an average weekday between Southlake Mall and College Park Station. When it’s upgraded, buses may operate in an exclusive lane or get priority at stoplights to speed up service.

Finally, the board agreed to continue analyzing transit options for other busy corridors, including Tara Boulevard.

MARTA has operated local bus service in Clayton County since 2015. Ridership has grown substantially since then.

CEO Jeffrey Parker said MARTA is “incredibly excited to take this important step in fulfilling our promise to Clayton County of first-class transit, economic opportunity and community development.”

Clayton County transit line

  • Previously: Clayton County voters agreed to join MARTA in 2014.
  • The latest: The MARTA Board of Directors approved plans for a commuter rail line from East Point Station to Jonesboro and Lovejoy.
  • What's next: MARTA must negotiate an agreement with Norfolk Southern railroad to use its right of way. The line also must undergo an environmental review and receive federal funding. If all goes well, construction would begin in 2023, with the first passengers boarding in 2027.