Riding the Quiet Rails

Following 2010’s pilot program, New Jersey Transit has expanded its Quiet Commute initiative to the Midtown Direct as of this morning, and I figured it was just the thing I’ve been looking for. For the last few years I’ve been using ear-covering, noise-canceling headphones in a sort of home-brewed effort to make every train car I ride on a Quiet Commute Car. But this morning I left the cans in my bag and took the official Quiet Car for a spin.

The rules are simple: The first and last cars of peak-time commuter trains are designated for Quiet Commute passengers, which means, according to NJT:
Refrain from cell phone use
Disable sound feature on mobile devices and laptops
Conduct conversations in subdued voices
Maintain low headphone volume to avoid distracting other passengers

Sounds easy enough. So I posted up at the back end of the Maplewood Station platform and waited to board with my fellow Quiet Commuters.

The first thing that is abundantly clear is that plenty of people have absolutely no idea that this is a Quiet Commute car. Yes, there were emails aplenty and announcements in the station this morning, but daily commuters are creatures of habit. People who have been boarding the rear car for the last few weeks, months or years are doing it today, too. The people in the four-seater in front of me were talking on the platform, were talking as they boarded, and are talking now. The woman behind me is calling the office on her cellphone, because she probably does that every day.

Someone needs to tell them about Quiet Commute…and it’s not going to be the conductor, who just checked the talkers’ tickets while they were still going at full volume. It also wasn’t going to be me, because I know all too well that it’s easy to be grumpy in the morning. The last thing anyone wants during the last few moments of relaxation at the beginning of a workday is some jackass who’s typing away on an iPad leaning over to tell you that you need to stop doing what you’re enjoying.

But then the talkers noticed me shooting this Silent Film video (below) and asked what was so interesting about this half-full train car. I explained to them that I was writing about the first day of Quiet Commute, and they were immediately surprised, then a little embarrassed and amused. I promised not to use their names, but in a quick (and whispered) conversation I showed them an email alert from NJT and reviewed the list of rules. “And we’re sitting here breaking the rules on the first day!” one talker said with a laugh. They lowered their volume…but kept talking. After all, this was the place on the train they’ve been meeting every day for a long time; the conversation was part of their morning routine. (They were also good-natured and game enough to pose for the self-deprecating photo above — thanks!)

Most of the car, though, is perfectly quiet. It’s also kind of empty. Maybe people haven’t made it back from snow-stranded vacations yet? And plenty of riders have their earphones plugged in, tuning out the noise that shouldn’t be there and mostly isn’t. The talkers and silent riders alike on the 7:39 a.m. Midtown Direct don’t know that anything has changed, and NJT needs to keep getting the word out. Quiet Commute is still, clearly, a quiet work in progress.

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  1. Unless it’s enforced it will just be yet another “law” on the books. Like the ones prohibiting cell phone use while driving, etc.

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