Silence Is Golden


Are quiet carriages the next way to boost patronage?
Designated quiet carriages are catching on fast in parts of Australia and the US.
The quiet carriage concept is transferring a public library experience to a train.

It does not mean total silence- but passengers in the quiet car are asked not to use cellphones, to silence electronic devices, and keep conversations brief and hushed. If you have a mobile on, you must set it to vibrate.

Pennsylvania's Quiet Ride logo

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Authority goes as far as to warn: “Cell phones cannot be used at all for making or taking calls. You may text message/IM providing all phone settings are set on vibrate or mute.”


A trial in the Boston area has bene so successful with so much demand, the transport authorities there announced at the weekend that within a month or two, every commuter rail line will have a quiet car at least during morning and night time peak hours.
They say the Quiet Car (yes it now is written with capitals as a generic brand) has appealed to all ages and demographics, and there were no incidents involving people not following the rules.

Conductors are trained to walk around the car and hand out a “Shhhh’’ card to passengers who are being loud in the Quiet Car.

Amtrak’s rules go as far as to cover someone sneezing during the journey saying: “If those around you have to cough or sneeze, there’s no need to glare or complain. Offer them a throat lozenge or cough drop.’
The Quiet Car is also being branded Quiet Ride in some places. Amtrak in fact started it - it’s not a new concept but is gaining ground as public transport use increases.

The Quiet Car concept was born in late 1999 when a small group of regular Amtrak commuters asked their conductor if one car of their early morning Philadelphia-Washington train could be designated as ‘cell phone-free.’ The conductor agreed and Amtrak quickly expanded the concept.
In Queensland, demand for the “Quiet Carriages” at the very front and very back of the train has often exceeded supply on some train journeys but the biggest complaint I heard while I was there earlier this year was a lack of supervision.

There were common complaints that passengers in quiet cars, either through ignorance or through intention, who broke the rules were not caught by train staff or the staff ignored them.

Queensland Rail's notice

If you do prove disruptive and are caught, you aren’t kicked off at the next station - just told to go to the next carriage.
The Quiet Car usually starts off as being the one nearest the locomotive so people can find it. As the service expands, the back carriage gets used as well.

But the New York Times had an hilarious report earlier this year when the New Jersey Transit expanded Quiet Cabs .

Its promotion reads:  ”No cell, no song; low talk; in peace we travel; arrive calm.” The newspaper reported:

The quiet cars have now become some of the noisiest, as passengers trying to read or sleep are constantly hushing and shushing others.

All conductors have been told to issue business cards to noisy passengers in much the same way that soccer referees issue yellow or red conduct cards to unruly players. The cards show a hand with an extended index finger placed over a pair of bright red lips, with the words “Quiet Commute” written underneath.

On Friday, one passenger asked a conductor if he could disable the automated announcements, which inform riders of impending stops, as well as the conductor’s work radio, which he needed to stay in contact with the train’s engineer. “It’s unnecessary noise,” the passenger said.

The conductor gave the passenger the silent treatment, moving away from him and whispering to no one in particular, “Why don’t I just get this guy a pair of pajamas and a pillow.”

Only in New York.

And a Chicago line is worried that the Quiet Cab concept may suggest you can be as noisy as you like in the other carriages.

It advises its non- Quiet Cab commuters: “We hope that designating some cars as quiet won’t result in even louder behavior in the remaining cars. We expect all riders to treat others with courtesy no matter which car they are in. This will all work better if everyone acts reasonably and responsibly.”

I have certainly noticed as trains get busier, the noise level has gone up.

Too many people have no idea how to have a reasonable volume mobile conversation and keep yelling “I AM ON THE TRAIN’ to the person at the other end as if to explain why they are shouting in the belief they need to rise above the train noise.

At the moment in Auckland and Wellington, there is probably not a noticeable clamour for Quiet Cabs to be introduced.

Commuters, coping with overcrowding, just want to get in any carriage thank you!




  1. Scott says:

    If only we could get rid of those nasty door closing ear pearcing tone every carrage would be nicer to be in.

  2. Patrick R says:

    And wireless broadband.

  3. Simon says:

    Virgin Trains operates ‘Quiet Zone’ carriages in the UK; however as a passenger, you’re completely reliant on the courtesy of other (invariably selfish, rude & noisy) passengers to actually observe the plea for silence.
    Unless the Zones are enforced and disruptive passengers are moved to other carriages (which on Virgin, at least; they’re not); the ‘Quiet Zones’ amount to little more than ordinary carriages with more stickers obscuring the windows.
    Getting the silence enforced will inevitably lead only to fare increases.

  4. Feijoa says:

    The major problem with this quiet carriage idea for Auckland is that the main noise-generating culprits are the deafening diesel engines of the ADK/ADLs. Until electrification happens outlawing these would pose a problem…

  5. dave s says:

    I love the throaty roar of the locomotives, what annoys me is the clanking and crashing of the carriage couplings.I hope the new trains have an improved coupling design


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