Metro-North Railroad waits on quiet car idea
STAMFORD -- An ongoing shortage of seats on the New Haven line makes it unlikely Metro-North Railroad will move to designate so-called quiet rail cars, a long-discussed option where mobile phone use, loud conversation, and electronic devices that produce noise are prohibited board, officials said.
A committee formed this year considered the possibility of a quiet car program similar to one adopted by New Jersey Transit this fall, which reserves the first and last cars on designated trains for a subdued atmosphere, Metro-North spokeswoman Marjorie Anders said.
The arrival of the state's M-8 rail cars are expected to reduce some crowding on New Haven line trains, but the railroad doesn't want to introduce the program when it is also introducing the new equipment.
"We're not saying we'll never consider it again, but for the time being we don't have enough seats for everybody riding the train," Anders said.
After launching a pilot Quiet Commute program in September, the designated cars have been so well-received by New Jersey commuters on the busy Northeast corridor trains between Trenton, Hamilton, and Princeton Junction, that New Jersey Transit is planning to expand the program in January to the 148 morning and evening peak trains arriving and leaving from Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station, N.J. Transit spokesman Dan Stessel said.
"For years, a quiet car option has been at or near the top of the list in terms of requested customer amenities," Stessel said.
Stessel said New Jersey Transit decided to test the new policy this fall after a ridership decline of about 2 percent in the last year and the introduction of a new fleet of 234 multi-level rail cars lessened concerns about a seating crunch.
Conductors on the Quiet Commute trains use specially made business cards that explain the program in English and Spanish, without disturbing others on the car.
The agency hopes to extend the program to its other four lines before the end of 2011, Stessel said.
"The consideration that precluded us from doing it sooner was extremely high ridership and the capacity of the system," Stessel said. "With the increased capacity of the new multi-level fleet we now have the flexibility to offer quiet commute without having to be disruptive to customers."
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said he understood establishing the noise-free cars would remain a lower priority than making sure the new fleet of 342 to 380 M-8 rail cars can accommodate the future demand for seating.
Cameron said introduction of the new cars could also be an opportunity to test out policies such as quiet cars, and that a significant group of riders would have a strong preference for trains with a noise-free car.
"Yes, there is a crowded condition and not enough seats for every passenger, but when that situation changes over the next couple of years, to add this extra layer of customer service might be good," Cameron said. "While I agree that we should be concerned about crowding, with a new rail fleet arriving could it also be time to consider new policies and rules too?"
Public Transportation Bureau Chief James Redeker, who oversees Connecticut's rail and bus lines, said he believed that the a public awareness campaign encouraging courteous behavior might yield better results than compulsory quiet cars.
"I'm just not sure how effectively you can enforce it," Redeker said. "If you tell somebody to be quiet they might not listen."