Commuters Quietly Pleased With MBTA Experiment

By B. John Campbell

Jan 14, 2011

MBTA officials may hand these cards out to commuters who make too much noise on the quiet cars it's piloting for the next few months. 

BOSTON — Thousands jam into South Station for the afternoon commute. The place is loud. Announcements echo through the hall. And above it all is an electronic board, rattling off departure times. 

But the MBTA is piloting a program to give commuters a little solace from all this noise. They're marking off certain cars on the commuter rail as quiet cars. And as the program wraps up its second week, it's getting rave reviews from riders.
Robert Huggin is a train master for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Rail. He's been in the rail business all his life, and he thinks quiet cars are just the right thing for many commuters.
"I absolutely enjoy the train ride everyday, it's very relaxing. You can get a lot done. Or you can get nothing done. It's your choice, and now we are giving you the option of just coming in for a nice peaceful, quiet ride," Huggin said.
The MBTA introduced the quiet cars for 90 days beginning on New Years Day. The car closest to the locomotive is designated as the quiet car. Riders who choose this car are asked to behave as if they were in a library--no ringing cell phones or audible music and no loud conversations. Currently, the trains only run on the Franklin and Fitchburg lines. 

Inside the quiet car it's, well, quiet. There are no cell phones or computers -- though some people are reading books and magazines. It feels like a moving library, which is exactly what MBTA General Manager Richard Davey wants it to.
"For some of our customers the quiet train ride in the morning or the quiet train ride in the evening is really the only quiet time they have to nod off, read a book, read a newspaper, or just think," Davey said.
In the quiet car, when all you can hear is the steady rumble of an engine, it sure is peaceful.

But inside the regular cars, conversations flow. Among the talkers is Alisha Volla, who rides the commuter rail everyday from Franklin. Although she steered cleared of the quiet car this evening, she says it could be a godsend on certain mornings. 
"Every morning it's the 6:12 train. Won't say who it is… but particular people: yip-yip-yip-yip-yip! Loud as can be! I always make sure to go in whatever car they're not going in. That's how loud they are," Volla said. "Under that aspect, I'm all about the quiet car."
The MBTA reports early reviews about the quiet cars have generally been positive -- but there are reports of some riders not obeying the rules. The conductors hope to fix this behavior with quiet cards. On the cards is an image of a man shushing with his finger. The goal is to quell noise with making any --  and keep the quiet cars just that: Quiet. 

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