The Loud Debate Over Quiet Cars

Dirty looks, shushing, even brawls; the lengths that "vigilantes" take to policing the rules of railroad quiet-cars can be extreme. William Power and Brian Hershberg look at how different transit systems, and their passengers, enforce quiet rides.
March 1, 2013, 1pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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In this age of smartphones, tablets, and personal audio systems, finding a respite from the cacophony can be a challenge. But, as Power and Hershberg note, "In theory, and often in reality, the quiet car has been a haven for commuters seeking peace. Passengers who desire quiet stay in a designated car, and chatty types in the rest."

Yet, with many systems relying on self enforcement, "passenger-on-passenger policing is just what can happen as the quiet-car concept continues to expand to more railroad lines. Best-known on Amtrak, the shhh-cars are an option on local train lines in places including New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois and California. While some of the quiet cars have clear signs with the rules, others roll up with none."

"One of the biggest myths about quiet cars, say transit officials, is that the rules have legal authority," explain Power and Hershberg. "Most of the time, the quiet ride relies on riders to voluntarily comply—by talking in 'library voice' and disabling sounds on all electronic devices."

"Septa, for example, says riders shouldn't expect to hear a pin drop. 'It's the quiet car, not the silent car,' says Kim Scott Heinle, assistant general manager for customer service and advocacy."

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Published on Thursday, February 28, 2013 in The Wall Street Journal
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