MARTA commuter rail possible for Clayton County

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Passengers boarding a MARTA train in Atlanta ─ something Clayton County residents hope is in their future.

Passengers boarding a MARTA train in Atlanta ─ something Clayton County residents hope is in their future. Credit Scott Ehardt / Wikipedia

MARTA buses have been rolling in Clayton County since March, but what the county really wants is commuter rail.

The good news is that MARTA is working on it.

When Clayton County residents voted last November to join MARTA with a full penny sales tax, their ultimate goal was to be connected to Atlanta with commuter rail. MARTA has been holding constructive discussions with railway giant Norfolk Southern Corporation, which is a welcome change. When MARTA first started talking about commuter rail going to Clayton, Norfolk Southern openly questioned those plan ─ a move that could have killed the MARTA referendum.

Now the railroad and MARTA have reached an understanding, at least in principle. Norfolk Southern will not be sharing its existing tracks with any passenger service. But it is working with MARTA to study the possibility of adding a second set of parallel tracks within Norfolk Southern’s right-of-way.

Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner said he was encouraged by that development. That means Norfolk Southern will be able to increase its freight traffic on its own tracks, and MARTA would have the exclusive use of a second set of tracks for passenger service. MARTA would build passing tracks along the way to allow for two-way travel throughout the day.

There is still much work to be done.

MARTA and its consultants will need to conduct engineering studies and an analysis on what transportation mode would be best for the corridor; heavy rail, light rail or bus rapid transit.

Before making a final decision, MARTA plans to work with an advisory group of Clayton leaders to get their input. Chairman Turner said all options are on the table, but the expectation in Clayton is that they will end up with rail service rather than bus.

In order to build and operate a commuter rail line, MARTA officials have said they would need to receive about 50 percent federal funding. It is premature to know how much a commuter rail line within Norfolk Southern’s right-of-way will cost.  It could take as many as seven to 10 years before commuter rail service begins.

But we’re off to a good start.

Norfolk Southern and MARTA seem to be working together, rather than at cross purposes. And most importantly, Clayton provides a template of what could happen in other counties ─ say Gwinnett or Cobb ─ if they decided to join MARTA.

That’s why it is so important to the Atlanta region for the MARTA-Clayton partnership to succeed.

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Clayton County’s vote on MARTA comes as county’s growth rate slows

As Clayton County prepares to vote this autumn on joining MARTA, a recent report from the Atlanta Regional Commission shines new light on the number of potential riders who reside in Clayton County.

The ARC’s unofficial population estimates show the county added 1,000 residents from 2013 to 2014. That was the smallest increase among the 10 counties tracked by the ARC report.

Clayton’s population shifts will be among the factoids that will bear watching as the campaign for the 1 percent sales tax gears up after Labor Day. Clayton voters rejected a proposed regional 1 percent transportation sales tax that was on the ballot in July 2012.

Clayton County’s proposed transit partner reports record profits

The railroad that owns the corridor where the proposed commuter rail line would be built in Clayton County has just posted record profits for the second quarter of 2014.

Norfolk Southern’s financial situation warrants attention as Clayton County voters prepare to vote in November on a proposed 1 percent transit sales tax. Likewise with some of its corporate decisions, such as one last week to sue the state of Maryland to block the public release of information about shipments of crude oil.

The future of commuter rail in Clayton County depends largely on whether Norfolk Southern agrees to share its existing freight corridor, presuming voters approve the proposed 1 percent sales tax.

Lawmakers support Clayton/MARTA deal, raise questions of equity

State lawmakers who oversee MARTA expressed a few reservations Tuesday as they generally applauded the potential of MARTA extending its service into Clayton County.

“This is a major step forward for transit in the region,” said state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs MARTOC, the Legislature’s MARTA oversight committee. “Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come in terms of transit in metro Atlanta.”

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern in sound position if talks begin over rail transit in its freight corridor in Clayton County

Norfolk Southern appears to be in a solid negotiating position as advocates of Clayton County’s potential transit system prepare to ask the company to allow MARTA to operate passenger trains on Norfolk Southern’s freight tracks.

A MARTA study shows that $185 million could be saved if Norfolk Southern allows use of its freight line for passenger rail service. Norfolk Southern has sent a letter to MARTA that raised a red flag over the notion that passenger service could begin in seven years at the price contemplated in the MARTA study.

The issue will come to a head if Clayton County voters approve in November a 1 percent transit tax. Clayton’s Board of Commissioners voted Saturday to place the referendum on the ballot.

MARTA’s financial plan for serving Clayton County activated by Saturday vote to set proposed tax at 1 percent

The finances of the planned expansion of MARTA service in Clayton County gained clarity after Clayton’s Board of Commissioners voted Saturday to put a proposed 1 percent transit tax on the November ballot.

That’s because the 1 percent tax rate activates a feasibility study by MARTA, which envisioned only the 1 percent tax rate and not the 0.5 percent rate the board approved this week. The cost of rail expansion remains a significant variable in MARTA’s plan.

Vigil precedes transit tax meeting in Clayton County, as vote to extend another sales tax looms in 2015

An interfaith prayer vigil on Monday is slated to begin an hour before Clayton County’s board of commissioners is to convene to consider putting a sales tax referendum for transportation on the November ballot.

The November time frame for the transit vote is of the essence for its advocates. If not called this year, the proposed transit tax will run into the planned 2015 referendum to extend Clayton’s existing special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST).

Clayton commissioners have until July 1 to call the transit referendum. The date is contained in a bill approved this year by the General Assembly. The SPLOST vote has not been scheduled, according to Clayton’s website.

Clayton County’s transit tax vote could be set at special-call meeting Monday, on ballot in November

Clayton County commissioners could vote as early as Monday to call a referendum on a sales tax for public transportation, possibly putting it on the county’s ballot in November.

The commission on Thursday called a special meeting for June 23 at 6 p.m. The purpose is to, “discuss matters pertaining to public transportation in the county.”

MARTA GM Keith Parker and county officials reportedly met Thursday to continue discussions. The only question facing commissioners seems to be how much of a sales tax to impose – 1 percent or a half-percent. A study presented to the commission Tuesday identified the projected levels of service each tax rate would provide.