Metro-North gives quiet cars a tryout
Updated 5:38 pm, Tuesday, July 12, 2011
STAMFORD -- During summer months, Karen Rikardsen said long-time rail commuters headed to and from Manhattan regularly endure college-aged interns talking on cell phones on trains.
Rikardsen, a Stamford resident and financial executive, said she needs an environment without extraneous noise on train to begin work, and would welcome the introduction of quiet cars on Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line.
"They don't know what the etiquette is and carry on a conversation and don't even notice they have 200 unwilling participants," Rikardsen said. "I don't want to hear somebody else's story, I just don't care."
Starting June 1, Metro-North, in partnership with New Jersey Transit, launched First In, Last Out, a pilot program introducing quiet rail cars on morning and evening peak trains departing and arriving at Hoboken Terminal, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
During the pilot, the first car of each morning train, and the last car of each evening train was designated as quiet.
If deemed successful, Metro-North would begin a trial program this fall on the New Haven, Harlem, and Hudson lines and designate cars where customers are expected to avoid using cell phones, disable sound features of electronic devices, keep head phone volume levels low, and conduct conversations in subdued voices.
Ryan Pierce, 33, a Manhattan resident who works at UBS, said he supported introduction of cars with a more subdued environment, but thought they should be clearly marked.
"For the most part, commuters are pretty considerate, unless there are people going to a Yankees game or they are drinking," Pierce said. "Still, there are times where I have to do a conference call and I would want to have to walk three cars away to do it."
The introduction of new M-8 rail cars in greater numbers is expected to relieve crowding on New Haven Line trains, but an overall shortage of seats could make it more difficult to designate the cars and dictate behavior and social patterns in the near term, Anders said.
"It could be a good idea, but we still don't have enough seats for everyone," Anders said.
So far, the Port Jervis trial has met with some resistance from commuters, but they expect most riders to adjust their behavior once they become accustomed to the idea, Carroll said.
"There is a minor breaking-in period as people get adjusted to the change," Carroll said. "Overall across New Jersey Transit, the program has been very successful and one of the reasons we're doing it is that for a long while it has been one of the top customer suggestions for amenities."
Complaints about loud telephone conversations and the desire of commuters for a peaceful environment has made quiet cars a regular issue for discussion by the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said Jim Cameron, a Darien commuter and chairman of the group.
Cameron said he believed a significant number of riders would show a preference for a noise-free car if available, but said the railroad needs to consider the effect of where they place the car.
Designating the first car on a morning train a quiet car could breed conflicts between quiet-loving commuters and the highly motivated business people who typically board the car there in order to get off the train first, he said.
"There are a lot of people who need to be productive in their time on the train, either texting, or answering phone calls, which would be made difficult by a quiet car," Cameron said.
A better option may be to choose a car in the middle of the train, and use signs to alert those boarding the train of the car's quiet status, he said.
"If they do proper signage and have a consistency of where they put those cars it will work," Cameron said. "The people on the car should be self-selected to be there."
Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or 203-964-2264.