Amtrak Quiet Car Getting Even Quieter

I heard an announcement Sunday on Amtrak’s Northeast Regional heading back to Hartford that starting today there will be absolutely no talking on the quiet cars.

So brush up on your sign language, people.

The rules and signs until now have forbidden cell phones and loud conversations. Henceforth, the rule will be NO conversations, although presumably the conductors will still talk to passengers in order to get their tickets.

I’m not able to find anything about this change on Amtrak’s Web site, or anywhere else. I can’t tell whether it applies on all routes, or just the Northeast Regional. I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who can clue me in on that, while I try to get more information from Amtrak.

Wherever the new rule applies, it will be interesting to see whether it alleviates or exacerbates tensions in the quiet cars. My own experience suggests that the cases where passengers are oblivious to the rules are more easily solved than those in which passengers disagree over the interpretation of the rules. No cell phones means no cell phones. But what constitutes loud?

And what about enforcement? Some conductors clearly don’t want to get involved, so the shushing has largely been left to passengers.

On my recent Hartford-to-Baltimore trip, a porter helped a family with two small children onto the quiet car and told them to “sit anywhere,” to the consternation of everyone in the vicinity. When another passenger explained the quiet car thing, they got up and hauled their children and all their gear to another car — by which time all the good seats were taken.

It was the porter’s fault, and I felt bad for the family.

Another passenger in the quiet car started a cell phone conversation but cut it off when other passengers pointed out the signs, which he said he hadn’t noticed.

It was all perfectly polite, but the guy was clearly embarrassed. And the signs certainly could be more prominent.

I’ve seen grumbling and glaring at passengers who sit and converse, even at a relatively low level, in the quiet cars.  Perhaps forbidding all conversation will make it easier to police that.

“It’s going to be interesting,” said the conductor I asked about the new rules.

True that. It’s all a rather fascinating cultural study. All I can figure is that some people seem to want silence more than they want to be silent.

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