Amtrak's Incompetent Quiet Car Policies and Implementation

Amtrak Quiet Car Problems and Nonsense / Wireless Notes / HTML Vers

Back to Wireless Notes Main

From a reply post to misc.transport.rail.americas on July 16, 2002, re: 
cellphones on Amtrak's "quiet car":

"Jeremy P"  wrote in message

> On Wed, 10 Jul 2002, wired_and_tired wrote:
> > Is there entertainment a la Delta where business class seats all have their
> > own TV/Video screens?
> > What tips can you give me to make the trip smoother for us and the 3 year
> > old.
> Usually one of the business class cars is designated a quiet car
> (certainly on weekdays; maybe not on weekends).  Make sure you don't sit
> in that car with a 3-year old!

Although a good idea in its inception, the "Quiet Car" can actually be 
more of a problem than a blessing when the trains get crowded and/or as 
the train progresses along its route. (This is also true on the Amfleet 
cars/trains as well.)

First off, the "quiet car" in Amtrak's parlance means "no cellphones or 
loud electronic devices"; it does not actually mean "be quiet". Many 
times I've been (either by design or by lack of seating anywhere else on 
the train) in the quiet car on many NEC routes only to be subjected to 
some of the most obnoxiously loud people on earth. In May of 2002, I took 
the train from Stamford, CT, to DC, and after leaving NY Penn and only 
then being informed I was in the quiet car by the conductor's 
announcement, we picked up some track crews after Newark. These guys work 
around loud trains all day, and the work must have deafened them, as they 
were yelling at each other at the top of their lungs for the whole trip 
to Philly. So the term "quiet car" is a misnomer; it's a car where you 
can't talk on your cellphone. 

Secondly, they (who "they" is is beyond me; it's apparently an ad hoc 
decision making process) designate the FIRST OPEN car towards to head of 
the train as the "quiet car". Thus, on a 6 car Acela Express, where the 
last car is First Class and the second to last is the Cafe car, the first 
car may be closed when there aren't too many people on the train so the 
conductors don't have to work as many cars. While this is typical of a 
commuter rail service, I'm paying a considerably higher price to ride of 
the Acela Express than take SEPTA, so why they do this is beyond me -- 
just leave all the cars open all the time. 

At any rate, let's say you get on the Acela in NY Penn, and the first car 
towards the front is closed. Normally the "quiet car" has the main lights 
off to indicate it is the quiet car, but frequently, when you board in a 
covered station, they turn on the lights while stopped. (They apparently 
can't make signs which say "Quiet car" when you enter to alert riders 
that they will be sitting in a quiet car.) So you get on the first open 
car (the second car on the train since the first is closed), sit down, 
get out your laptop and get set up, and then when the conductor comes 
around to get your ticket, he says "Oh, this is the quiet car, if you 
want to use your cellphone you have to move back"...Great! Now of course 
all the seats in back are taken, and I have to be inconvenienced with 
moving, etc. 

Then, let's say the train fills up, and someone actually remembers that 
they have an empty/closed car in front, so they open the first car, which 
may or may not be the quiet car, and the car which WAS the quiet car 
becomes a regular car where anyone can sit. So by the time I've moved all 
my stuff after Penn/NY, and manage to find a seat next to some person who 
I'm reticent to "trap" into the window seat with my laptop, we get to 
Newark, and the train fills up, they open up car #1, and the old quiet 
car which I just had to move out of is now a regular service car! Ridiculous!

(Not to mention that people who sat in the car thinking they will get a 
nice quiet ride are then subjected to "regular" car noise as soon as the 
first car magically becomes the new quiet car.)

Third, the station personnel have no idea where or if there will be a 
quiet car on a train which is pulling in to a station, so many times, 
boarding passengers will go to the emptiest car (the quiet car), sit 
down, start talking it up on their cellphones, and others seeing this 
done, figure it is OK to do so, only to be told 20 minutes later when the 
conductor picks up tickets or remembers to announce it that the front car 
is the quiet car, and thus repeat step #2 (above) all over again.

Fourth, be prepared for a crowded train when there is a quiet car. 
Frequently cars fill up, and many people ride Amtrak precisely so they 
can conduct business en-route (a "feature" heavily advertised by Amtrak), 
and want to use their cellphones. The quiet car takes a whole car out of 
service for them and can easily make a moderately crowded train into an 
overcrowded one in no time.

And God forbid you go on the Amfleet (non-Acela Express or 
non-Metroliner) NEC service -- often a cattle car feel prevails and the 
disorganization and lack of definitive info is increased by an order of 

Generally, the idea of a quiet car is a good one IF Amtrak can do the 

1. Designate a fixed car with CLEAR signage outside and inside when you 
enter that it is to be the quiet car.
2. Have a car which is really quiet -- like the same rules which you 
would apply in a movie theater -- no loud talking, no screaming babies, 
no loud drunks coming back from the cafe car after a hard day at the 
office (this isn't the New Haven line, you know! :) ), no load 
headphones, just QUIET (and as a matter of fact this *would* be a good 
policy on the New Haven line as well!).
3. Have a sufficient number of cars on each train with a quiet car so 
that passengers are not hoarded on like cattle and forced to scavenge for 
a seat if they want to talk and/or use a cellphone or be forced to sit in 
the quiet car unwillingly just so they can get a seat.

But this is Amtrak, and after many, many,  trips with them on the NEC 
between Stamford, CT and DC, I gave up and just decided to drive. I'm 
tired of crowded trains when three cars up front are closed off, I'm 
tired of rude, condescending conductors who act like "Oh, you should KNOW 
this is the quiet car - move back" as if they were still working for the 
Penn Central, I'm tired of feeling like I am in Junior High School and I 
sat at the wrong table in chem lab and am being admonished to move to my 
"correct" seating area, I'm tired of being moved around like cattle since 
the conductors don't want to or aren't allowed to service a full train, 
and in general I am tired of the unpredictable, unprofessional, almost 
comical level of service and concern exhibited towards the passenger by 
the Amtrak train crew and administrative staff who are supposed to be 
proactively advocating and promulgating pro-customer/pro-"guest" policies 
and procedures.

When the train runs well, when it is not too crowded, and when I can 
either use my cellphone in a known "regular" car or sleep in a truly 
quiet "quiet" car, Amtrak can be great and well worth the expense. And 
this can often be the case during weekdays on the Boston - NYP section of 
the trip.

But come Friday, a weekend, or Monday, or use Amtrak to go from NY Penn 
to DC during business hours and be prepared for a never ending zoo of 
overcrowding, incompetence, unpredictability and mismanagement, all which 
make what could be a pleasant trip into 3 hours of hell. (and this 
doesn't even begin to address the issue of being on time, even when they 
run *on their own tracks* on the NEC from NY to DC!).

Amtrak has a long way to go before they get my regular business again, 
and unless they add more cars and capacity so I don't have to sit next to 
someone for 3 hours with a hacking cough and likely catch who knows what 
since the first three cars are mysteriously closed off and/or they have 
no additional equipment to offer, or promulgate standard operating 
procedures which are more consumer-friendly AND sensible (the quiet car 
being an example of a good idea shot to hell with horrid implementation), 
I'll stick with my car and not have to put up with the roulette wheel or 
riding Amtrak anymore. One can only call their Customer Service line and 
ask for a refund/new ticket so many times only to feel like you are 
banging your head against the wall -- they don't take a hint and it seems 
they never will, even now when the threat of bankruptcy/shutdown looms 
ever closer.

I wish I could say better things about them but at this point I am so 
disgusted with their lateness and poor administration that there is no 
joy or reason left for me to take Amtrak anymore :( .



Back to Wireless Notes Main