Shh! Quiet cars arrive on Metro-North in Connecticut

More than 10 years ago the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council first proposed the idea of “quiet cars” on Metro-North. They seemed to work just fine on Amtrak, first introduced in 2001 at the request of passengers. And other commuter lines across the U.S. also adopted the idea, usually to great acclaim.

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 last spring on Amtrak when a woman was arrested for yacking for 16 hours on her cell phone and refusing to move from the quiet car.

But over the years Metro-North refused even a small trial. The idea was summarily rejected by management as unworkable. Conductors didn’t have time to police the “library-like” requirements, they said (though they seemed to have no trouble enforcing no smoking, no feet on seats and other rules). And passengers wouldn’t abide by the rules anyway.

 

Oh what a difference a half-decade can make.

Last fall the railroad finally decided to roll out a pilot program on a handful of trains on all three lines, the Hudson, Harlem and New Haven. But the proposed test in Connecticut, involving only Danbury branch trains, was clearly flawed and was, to their credit, rejected by the state DOT.

Much to the railroad’s surprise, the Hudson and Harlem train trials (involving 32 peak trains) were a big success. A November survey of 4,388 riders in both “quiet” and regular cars showed 90% customer satisfaction. And 82% of respondents thought the program should be expanded to all morning and evening peak trains.

Best of all, the railroad admits there were “no significant operational issues.” Wow. Treat passengers like adults and they’ll act that way — even on the Long Island Rail Road where another trial is underway.

The railroad promoted the program heavily (the survey showed 90% awareness) and rather than being confrontational with those violating the quiet rules, conductors just handed the offenders discreet cards explaining the program’s rules.

Those that wanted to use cell phones could still do so, either quietly at their seats or by moving to the vestibules for longer calls. Groups traveling to the city who wanted to talk could also do so without the withering stares of those affected by their chatter.

Best of all, those seeking a little peace (and maybe a nap) could find the quiet car and be assured of, well, quiet.

Now the quiet car program is finally coming to Connecticut. Starting Monday, Jan. 9, 18 morning and evening peak New Haven line trains (designated with a big Q on the timetable) will be testing the concept. And Metro-North says if the tests go as well here as in New York, the quiet car plan could roll out system wide in peak hours on all trains come April.

The railroad was wrong. The people were right. This is certainly cause for (quiet) celebration.

 

Mr. Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 20 years. He is chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA. You may reach him at [email protected] or www.trainweb.org/ct

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