Are Quiet Trains Good Or Bad For Commuting?

Last week, I inadvertently stepped into one of the ‘quiet carriages’ that were recently introduced into NSW trains by CityRail. This is the story of the verbal-lynching that soon followed . . .

“Shhhh” picture from Shutterstock

As the name implies, quiet carriages are select train cars in which commuters are obliged to keep noise levels down to a minimum. The service is currently provided on Blue Mountains, Central Coast and South Coast lines and comprises the first and last carriage on eight-car trains.

“Everyone is welcome to travel in a quiet carriage,” explains the CityRail website. “However, customers are reminded to place mobile phones on silent, move carriages to have a conversation with a fellow passenger, and use headphones with mobile devices, keeping the volume to a minimum.”

Well, even Lifehacker journos are fallible from time to time — in my haste to board the train, I sat down in the silent carriage and just plum forgot. Later in the trip, I received a phone call from my wife who happens to be heavily pregnant. Needless to say, I took the call.

Now, it was obvious from my half of the conversation that this wasn’t idle chit-chat: I was asking about abdominal pain, whether we needed to visit the hospital and her cervical mucus plug (look it up. Actually, best not).

In other words, I was clearly engaged in an important phone conversation about a potential emergency.

Picture by mrpbps

The baleful and voluminous bollocking I subsequently received from a fellow passenger was therefore unexpected. In stunned silence, I absorbed a blistering critique on my dodgy train etiquette, horrible manners and inability to follow the rules like everyone else. (It would be uncharitable to mention that the commuter in question was also breaking the rules by spreading his girth across two seats while only paying for one ticket — but I’ve never claimed to be charitable.)

In any event, the encounter left me considerably rattled and has prompted me to wonder whether quiet carriages are such a hot idea in the first place.

Before you all blast me in the comments, I will happily acknowledge that I was technically in the wrong. But does this give other commuters the right to loudly and aggressively abuse me? Is there no circumstance in which our mutual vow of silence can be temporarily waived?

At times, the silent carriages can almost feel like overcrowded vipers’ nests, swarming with megalomaniacs just waiting to pounce at the slightest provocation. Political prisoners on their way to Siberian gulags probably had it smoother.

And it’s not just the quiet carriages that the new rule’s affected. Meanwhile, the regular carriages have descended into a lawless cacophony where anything goes: yodelling, caterwauling, kazoo playing, you name it. Anyone who dares to complain is told to naff off to the quiet carriage. Me? I’d just like my normal train ride back.

We’d like to get your thoughts on quiet carriages. Have you ever had an experience similar to the one above? Have you ever shushed another traveler (and how far did you take it)? Let us know in the comments section below.

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