June 7, 2013 at 10:00 AM ET
In a crowded city like Manhattan, silence comes at a premium. And for harried New York commuters who ride Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), and now the Metro-North Railroad, passengers can find peace of mind in the "quiet car," the designated area where cell phone calls, loud conversations, and noisy electronic devices are verboten.
After a pilot program proved popular, Metro-North, rolled out its Quiet CALMmute program to all rush hour trains, offering a silent rail experience in the last car of morning rush hour trains and in the first car of evening rush hour trains for commuters, and those visiting the suburbs north of New York City that Metro-North serves. A year in, travelers are giving it a nod of approval.
Stacy Cicatelli of White Plains, N.Y. told NBC News that people are respectful of the no-talking rule. She said that while she rides the commuter rail, "I'll read, I'll destress, I'll listen to music or check email on my BlackBerry. I like the quiet."
Joan Smith of Tuckahoe, N.Y. said that she prefers a silent atmosphere so that she can read during her commute. "There are no distractions for the most part--for the most part. There's always someone talking."
However, Fred Hughley of White Plains said, "Men, women, children--they all break the rules. They probably know it's the quiet car, but they don't care."
One passenger, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that he sees people violate the quiet car rules about three times per week, usually by speaking on their cell phones.
During a recent ride of the Metro-North train, the only official sign indicating which car was the "quiet car" was a large, handwritten note scrawled on the back of a promotional poster.
However, silent areas on the train should come as no surprise. In the past decade, more and more rail systems have designated a noise-free car.
Amtrak led the charge over a decade ago, piloting a quiet car program back in 2000 and officially rolling it out in 2001. Said Amtrak spokesperson Clifford Cole, "The amenity came at the request of a group of passengers who lobbied for an area, or in this case a dedicated train car, where they could travel with greatly reduced noise levels."
Other rail services that offer quiet cars include Southern California's Metrolink, Chicago's Metra, and DC's Virginia Railway Express (VRE).
Metro-North's CALMmute program expanded to all rush hour trains in April of last year.
"It's taken awhile to catch on" aboard Metro-North, said Smith.
She said that, when a scofflaw disobeys the quiet car rules, "people get frustrated and angry. Everyone rolls their eyes."
Emily Moser, who writes the blog I Ride the Harlem Line, said via email that when passengers break the silence, "you get nasty stares from your fellow commuters."
Hughley said that even with these conflicts, riders avoid fights: "People don't want to get in anyone's business. Even the conductor doesn't say anything."
One passenger headed to Brewster said that he rides in the quiet car every day. When fellow travelers get loud, then "the conductor will say something. One or two [conductors] are reluctant to say anything--but that's the exception."
According to Metro-North's website, conductors may silently reinforce the Quiet CALMmute rules by distributing “Shhhhhh” cards to passengers on an "as needed basis."
However, one event that stood out to Moser was an incident on the evening rush hour train: "The engineer had a trainee...As one would expect, the two would need to talk to one another. Apparently a quiet car passenger was unhappy with this arrangement, told the engineer to shut up, and then ultimately told him to go [expletive] himself. Funny thing is that particular engineer is one of the nicest guys in the entire world!"
Smith said she has never witnessed any fights. Surprisingly, the most common culprits aren't unruly passengers but social chatterers. "When you're riding the train, you make friends over the years," she said. "That's OK, just move to the next car."