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Monday, September 19, 2011

Talking Transportation: Quiet Cars Arrive on Metro-North

By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

It’s been more than five years since I first wrote about the idea of “quiet cars” on Metro-North. It looks like my persistence has paid off as the railroad is about to start an experiment with such cars this fall. Image

The quiet car idea originated at riders’ suggestions on Amtrak way back in 2001 on the early morning express from Philly to New York City. Passengers wanted a place to enjoy a peaceful ride (and maybe a nap) without obnoxious cell phone chatter or loud conversations. 

The idea was so successful that it was quickly rolled out on other routes.

Conductors remind boarding passengers that the quiet car maintains a “library-like” atmosphere. Cell phones, computers, radios and CD players should be muted. If you need to take or make a call, step out to another car.

For the most part, the rules are self-enforced by passengers. Those whose phones start ringing are quickly reminded they are in the wrong car and they usually move. There have been exceptions, including a celebrated case this spring when a woman was arrested for yacking for 16 hours on her cell phone and refusing to move from the quiet car.

Most commuter rail lines in the east and west have picked up on Amtrak’s success, offering the quiet car concept, usually to passenger acclaim. But not Metro-North. When the Connecticyt Rail Commuter Council suggested the concept, Metro-North refused, offering a number of excuses. 

First, they said it would be hard for conductors to enforce. That’s strange, as the conductors have no trouble enforcing other rules like no smoking, no bags or feet on the seats. Then the railroad said it might violate free speech, never mind other passengers’ rights to a peaceful, enjoyable ride.

But the real reason for Metro-North’s opposition was crowding. Without enough seats for all paying passengers, how could those seeking solace be sure they could find a seat? It seems that the railroad assumed that a handful of peace-freaks who couldn’t fill a quiet car would force standees in other cars.

In fact, it will be just the opposite. I’d predict that the quiet cars on Metro-North trains will be jammed. And there’s certainly precedence.

Remember the old days of smoking cars? It used to be that every other car on a train allowed smoking. Those who wanted to avoid the blue haze sat in the non-smoking cars. 

Those clean-air cars soon became so popular that fewer cars were designated for smokers. Eventually, the smoking cars were eliminated. Now, in New York State, you can’t even smoke on the train station platform!

Nobody is suggesting that cell phones be banned from the trains.  Rather, those of us looking for a quiet commute just want our fellow riders to be more considerate. 

The railroad’s attempt to educate cell phone users to step into the vestibule to make their calls has had some success, but the issue goes beyond cell phones.

Have you ever been on a train where a gaggle of teens has carried on in a loud voice, oblivious to the impact of their chatter on others?  Or how about the recent case where a “well educated” young lady was kicked off a train for loud profanity? 

When the members of the “me generation” take public transportation they forget that they are sharing the ride with others. The behavior they can get away with at home or in the car just doesn’t cut it on the train. To them I say, “Grow up.  It’s about ‘we,’ not ‘me.’”

So kudos to Metro-North for finally getting the message. Let’s all do what we can to make this experiment a success.

James Cameron (Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 20 years. He is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, and the Darien Representative Town Meeting.The opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or For the full collection of Talking Transportation columns, visit


Posted 09/19/11 at 09:30 AM


Comment Policy

I have a funny story about a woman talking loudly on the train about 10 years ago.  She went on and on to a coworker on the other end of her cell phone, and she specifically described a person in the office in demeaning terms, using his name and many details about what she didn’t like about him.  Well, it wasn’t a common name and it was such a break of confidentiality to let everyone on that car know his perceived defects. 

As I was getting off in Westport and standing near the door to get off, I smiled at another woman exiting and whispered, “Play along with me.”  So then in a loud voice, I said to my cohort (whom I didn’t know), “Wow, you know X [the man being discussed] too, don’t you?  I never knew all those things about him!  I wonder if he knows what they are saying about him?!” 

The gossiping woman blanched and said to the person on the phone, “I’ll call you back” and retreated to the other end of the car.  I smiled to realize that for the next few weeks she would be wondering when the other shoe would drop and the guy discussed would confront her about all the specific details she had shared for the world to know!  Of course it never happened (since I didn’t know X), but I hope it taught her a lesson.

And yes, quiet cars is a concept whose time has finally come.  They will work!

Posted by Linda Smith on September 19, 2011 at 01:07 PM | #

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