Silence pleases as quiet cars prove a success on T trains

By Shelley Murphy and Miriam Valverde
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / April 10, 2011

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As he waited for a commuter train yesterday at North Station, Watson Etienne said he welcomes the chance to sit in a “quiet car,’’ where the goal is blissful silence, especially when he’s traveling with his 1 1/2-year-old daughter.

“People that want to be on the quiet cars have the tendency to be better behaved,’’ said Etienne, 36, of Waltham, who liked the idea of a car where there are no cellphone calls and conversations are meant to be held in hushed tones, if at all.

Soon, Etienne and other passengers will have the option of quiet over clatter on every com muter rail line during morning and evening rush hours.

The MBTA general manager, Richard A. Davey, and the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. announced this weekend that they will designate a quiet car on all 13 commuter rail lines during peak hours, based on the success of a three-month pilot program that ended last week on the Fitchburg and Franklin lines.

In a survey on that line, nearly 90 percent of commuters said they liked the refuge of the quiet car and thought it should become permanent, Davey said.

“I think at the end of the day everyone is looking for some moments of peace and quiet, and the quiet car gives you that,’’ Davey said during telephone interview yesterday. “I think our customers are respectful of the space and what we’re trying to do.’’

Davey said conductor training on the permanent implementation of the program will begin this week, and by mid-June every commuter rail line should have a quiet car during peak hours — 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Passengers in the quiet car are asked not to use cellphones, to silence electronic devices, and keep conversations brief and hushed.

“I expect sort of a library volume, if you will,’’ Davey said. “I think some modest whispering is certainly allowed, again being mindful that customers need to be aware and respectful of fellow passengers.’’

Scott Farmelant, a spokesman for Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail, the T’s commuter rail contractor, said the quiet car has appealed to all ages and demographics, and there were no incidents involving uncooperative passengers during the pilot program.

“Our biggest concern was there might be people who wouldn’t follow the rules, and that hasn’t been a problem,’’ Farmelant said. Conductors are trained to walk around the car and hand out a “Shhhh’’ card to passengers who are being loud in the quiet car.

Melissa Carter, 39, who has sat in the quiet car about five times while commuting to work in Boston from Franklin, said: “Most people do respect the rules. I think people sometimes get on and don’t realize it is the quiet car . . . so riders police other riders.’’

She added, “Some people enjoy being the ‘quiet police’ and if someone’s phone rings unintentionally they seem to enjoy taking the role of asking them to be quiet.’’

While Carter said the quiet car is nice if you are trying to work, read, or sleep, she said she may stop using it because it actually gets pretty noisy — not from people, but from sounds coming from the engine. The quiet car is always the one closest to the locomotive.

“I’d much rather hear people talking than hear the noise of the engine,’’ Carter said.

Davey said he has received some complaints about the quiet car’s location, but officials designate the car closest to the locomotive because it’s the easiest way for passengers to detect it. Since cars are moved around on a daily basis, there are no signs outside the car indicating which one is the quiet car.

Debra Martin of South Boston, 39, who uses the Providence/Stoughton line to visit her parents and daughter, said she was not bothered by a ban on noise in one car.

“I have no problem with it; my goal in life is to have contentment and tranquility, so this may help.’’

Paul Oliveira of Sharon, 51, who was waiting at South Station for a train yesterday with his 4-year-old son, said having a quiet car is a good idea because some passengers are not considerate when talking on the train.

“There are some that don’t have train decorum and can be pretty disruptive,’’ Oliveira said. “It’s disappointing because people can be so thoughtless.’’

Several commuters predicted it will be hard to enforce quiet on the quiet car.

But Davey said he is relying on peer pressure and a polite reminder from conductors, who will pass cards to loud or disruptive passengers advising them that they are in a car reserved for those seeking quiet.

“No one will be kicked off the train, just politely asked to go into the next car,’’ Davey said. “This is not against the laws of the land, this is the laws of civility.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at, Miriam Valverde at