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June 16, 2006

"Quiet Cars Revisted"

One of the (few) joys of train travel is, as Metro-North used to say in its marketing, “train time is your own time”. You can read, nap or work on your laptop… unless the inconsiderate passengers around you are yapping on their cell phones.

Years ago, Amtrak offered passengers an alternative: “The Quiet Car” ®… a car which, as conductors remind passengers, offers a “library like atmosphere” free of loud conversations, especially on cell-phones. For several years the Commuter Council has been asking Metro-North for a similar offering, but has been refused.

Now I have nothing against cell-phones. I have one and use it often, but always in a way that tries not to intrude on other passengers’ kharmic “space”. I’m not proposing that cell-phone users be segregated in their own car, as we used to do with smokers. Instead, I’m suggesting a quiet car, free of such annoyances.

Metro-North says it doesn’t want to get involved by making its conductors have to enforce social regulations. But they have no trouble reminding us to keep our feet off the seats or to put our bags in the overhead racks, so how hard would it be to enforce a little silence and civility?
Let’s face it. We’re all basically selfish. In our cars we can turn up the radio, smoke a cigar, belch and carry-on as we wish. But when we have to share our transportation space with others, these behaviors aren’t appropriate.

You can only push commuters so far. Trains are so crowded there aren’t enough seats for all ticketed passengers. Then you make them all put up with some noisy blowhard who insists on yapping the entire trip in a voice loud enough to be heard several rows away?

One commuter tells me she witnessed the following example of “cell rage”: A passenger asked a cell caller to “keep it down”. He didn’t. He asked the conductor to instruct the passenger to be considerate. The conductor wouldn’t. So, this distraught vigilante grabbed the cellphone and threw it against a wall, smashing it to pieces. A quiet car would avoid such violence.
Amtrak says its “Quiet Cars” ® have been a marketing success, so much so they have trademarked the name. The service has attracted new passengers and brought much-needed revenue.

Metro-North, apparently feeling it owns the market of commuters, doesn’t try to compete by attracting passengers. It has more than it can handle. Instead it has undertaken a PR campaign asking passengers to be considerate and keep their calls brief and in a low volume.
Admittedly, this has helped. I see sometimes passengers get out of their seats and move to the vestibule for longer calls. Others cup their hands around the mouthpiece and speak in subdued tones. Blackberries and similar text messaging equipment have also reduced the drone. This is a good start.

But if Amtrak can enforce a separate car for those seeking a quiet journey, why can’t Metro-North. The Commuter Council has found other commuter lines that have been successful, so why not Metro-North.

We’ll keep pushing the idea. Meantime, in the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just try to get along?”
JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 14 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at or . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Anonymous said...

I don't know about your train ride but on my train ride home to White Plains, the conductor use to make a courtesy announcement about cell phone use. I haven't heard that announcement in months so I guess Metro North and its conductors have given up. The rudeness rules the day.

Jim Cameron said...

You're right. They used to make those courtesy announcements about cell usage, but I haven't heard one in months.

JimmyJ said...

First of all public transportation is just that. If people don't like someone "Talking to loud" on their cell or having fun with friends they should just move to a different car. Not saying that courtesy shouldn't be the rule of the day. Just that Metro North Conductors (most of which are on a power trip to begin with) shouldn't be hassling paying customers for fabricated confrontations. That said, even the lady who said "don't touch me" to Hermon Raju seemed a bit weird as the Raju was obviously not touching her.
Last I hope to talk to state legislators about the two week expiration on Metro North tickets which should be illegal in our constitution state.