Alex Abay wanted to be a part of history.
So as the METRO Green Line approached its 2014 opening, he was among the first train operators to get involved in the light-rail line’s initial test runs. And when opening day arrived in 2014, he made sure to be sitting in the operator’s chair.
While the excitement of that day has subsided, Abay still gets a thrill when he’s on the job.
“It’s just amazing to me, to pull into a platform, see 100 people standing there, and in less than ten seconds they’re all on board and off you go,” Abay said recently from the Green Line’s Operations & Maintenance Facility, where he and other Green Line operators are based.
Abay didn’t always envision himself working in transit, however.
After growing up in Ethiopia, Abay followed a distant cousin to the Twin Cities to pursue a career in industrial chemistry or finance.
To improve his English, he regularly listened to public radio. He got a job at the Minnesota Science Museum and enrolled at Century College, traveling to and from his St. Paul home on Route 62.
After graduating and landing a job in banking, he looked to transit again, picking up part-time weekend work to help repay his student loans.
“I saw other people driving and just said, ‘Let me try this,’” Abay said. “I was so young and skinny people thought I was a kid. One woman got on, couldn’t believe it, turned around and left.”
Abay stuck with it, though, and after a few years he decided to leave banking behind to go full-time at Metro Transit. He spent the next 14 years as a bus operator.
In 2012, with the region’s light rail system poised for growth, he decided to become a train operator. Abay said he missed interacting with customers but quickly grew to enjoy the different challenges he found at light rail.
“To be given the trust to operate a train, that’s a big responsibility,” Abay said. “The first time, I was sweating. Your brain is always working and you always have to be ready to react.”
Abay’s focus has served him well, though. Since starting at Metro Transit, he’s received 17 Safe Operator awards.
As Abay’s career has grown, so too has his family. Today, Abay lives in Farmington with his wife and two children. Outside of work, he spends as much time with them as he can, playing soccer, going to movies and attending church activities.
Looking back at the path that’s brought him here, Abay said he knows he was right to leave banking behind. “This was 100 percent the right decision,” he said. “I have absolutely no regrets.”
Operator at a Glance
- Name: Alex Abay
- Hired: April 10, 1999
- Employee Number: #9975
- Route: Green Line
- Hobbies: Abay enjoys spending time with his family, going to movies and attending church activities. He also enjoys exercising – outside of work, he plays soccer and during his downtime at work, he can frequently be found playing ping pong (Abay advocated for the ping pong table so he and his fellow operators could stay active in their time between trips.)
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