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Know Your Operator Light Rail METRO Green Line

Know Your Operator: DJ Gonte

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 15, 2019 8:24:00 AM

Train Operator DJ Gonte at the Green Line's Operations & Maintenance Facility in St. Paul.

Growing up in Ethiopia’s capitol city, DJ Gonte didn’t live far from a train station.

Watching the trains pull in and out gave him an early and deep love for railroading. Years later, it would also lead him to what he now describes as his dream job.

Seeking new opportunity, Gonte moved to Minnesota in 1996. He went to school, earned an associates degree in computer networking and took jobs at a computer company and as a school bus driver.

After a few years, he found a role at Medtronic. The company’s Brooklyn Center offices are just east of Metro Transit's Martin J. Ruter Garage.

“I would pass by the front of the garage and say, ‘One day, I’m going to work there,’” Gontesaid.

In late 2009, he realized that vision and began as a part-time bus operator. While he liked the work, Gonte knew from the beginning that what he really wanted was to drive a train.

He got that opportunity in 2014, when the METRO Green Line opened. Gonte was among those who made the inaugural trips on opening day, and he’s been carrying passengers up and down University Avenue ever since.

The job is just as enjoyable and rewarding as he imagined, too.

“I just love it. Every time I go out it’s like a whole new experience,” he said. “When I’m away from work for a few days I’m always excited to come back.”

The job does have its challenges, though. While he’s learned to anticipate the actions of drivers and pedestrians, moving through the corridor still requires constant and undivided attention, Gonte said.

Nearly five years after realizing his dream, Gonte said he’s proud of what he does and has no plans to stop any time soon.

Besides liking his job, he appreciates the benefits and a schedule that allows him and his wife to share parenting responsibilities and enjoy weekends together as a family (Gonte has two children, ages 3 and 9).

"When you like what you do it just gets better and better," he said. 

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