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Rail News: Passenger Rail

Quest for quiet cars continues


Eighteen months ago, National Railroad Passenger Corp. (Amtrak) experimented by designating one car on its early morning Philadelphia-to-Washington route as a "Quiet Car" — one in which cell phone use was prohibited so that passengers could sleep, read or work during the two-hour commute. The experiment was deemed a success — both by Amtrak personnel and the regular commuters who requested it. By spring 2001, 25 Amtrak trains had Quiet Cars. Now the idea is spreading even further.

Starting the week of June 4, nearly every weekday train between New York, Washington and Boston — including Acela Express — includes a Quiet Car.

"In this society of increasing noise, it’s nice to be able to give our guests a small oasis," said Amtrak Northeast Corridor (NEC) President Stan Bagley in a prepared statement. "We can do that with the Quiet Cars where people have a chance to unplug for a short time from the wired society we live and work in."

The "unplug zone" on most trains would be the first coach car behind the locomotive. Amtrak personnel plan to post signs, make announcements and hand out leaflets to educate passengers about the program. Should a cell-phone user inadvertently end up on the Quiet Car, a conductor would help that person relocate to a different car where cell-phone use would be allowed — even encouraged.

Providing passengers the freedom to use cell phones while in transit gives Amtrak an advantage over airlines in the competition for northeast commuters, said Bagley. But, he acknowledges there’s also a healthy market for peace and quiet.

Despite Quiet Cars’ popularity, Amtrak doesn’t plan to include them on every NEC train. Ridership demands preclude Amtrak from restricting cell-phone use on an entire car. Trains not participating in the Quiet Car program include: Acela Express #2170, which leaves Washington at 7:20 a.m., Metroliner #121 and #123, which depart New York at 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., and weekend trains.