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.


    Well, It does create two very distinct modes of travel.

    I remember back when brisbane was doing the trail runs for these quiet carriages. every 5 minutes over the intercom was a voiced reminder to be quiet. talk about hypocritical

    If you tried doing that (having phone conversation) on any carriage on any train in Japan, the looks from other passengers alone would force you to hang up. Big taboo on mobile phones/noise in trains over there. That said, there's no such taboo in other asian countries where people happily rabbit away.

    And in what way does that observation not apply to someone yelling at someone else in a quiet carriage?

    I do completely agree with the author's point that the existence of quiet carriages gives yobbos an excuse to behave in any disruptive, anti-social way they feel like in the normal carriages. That's not an argument against quiet carriages, just a very unfortunate side effect that says much about people - none of it good.

    Good luck with having a quiet carriage if you travel between 3:00pm to 4:00pm. The train I catch home from work everyday is full of high school students (and we all know what chance there is of them being quiet). Not that you can class most of the trains as quiet anyway.... With the rattling, squeaking and banging of the old Brisbane trains you wouldn't be able to hear someone if they were talking anyway...

    "When did he "repeatedly attack" the guy for his weight?"

    He didn't!

    jcmccrae seems a little sensitive.

    Sounds like a fatman with a sense of humour bypass to me.

      I'm sorry, I didn't realise "I was afraid he'd sit on me" was the most blisteringly funny thing I'd read on the internet all day. I stand corrected (well, sit, my ankles get sore after standing for a while).

    Is poster in that image actually from CityRail? It seems to be asking commuters to NOT use headphones.... yet the CityRail website says "use headphones with mobile devices".

      I thought the same thing, weird message they are sending!

    Sure, you were in the wrong, but a rude tirade is no way to correct someone., particularly when the misstep wasn't malicious or purposeful. How loud were you actually being though? Even if it hadn't been a quiet carriage, you shouldn't have a normal outside voice when talking on public transport. Also, I'm sure the subject matter wasn't exactly appealing to the other passengers.
    I usually sit in the quiet carriages on the train from Brisbane to the Gold Coast, and I haven't had any trouble. Maybe once I let someone know politely that it was a quiet carriage when they were chatting loudly to their friend next to them, but they actually had no idea, so it was all fine.

    The kind of discussion in question is what I'd call an "organ recital" – discussing something as intimate as your wife's bodily functions vis a vis pregnancy. Whether it was emergency or routine, and regardless of the kind of carriage, that is the kind of conversation that should be immediately taken into the vestibule. No one needs to overhear the discussion of cervical mucus plugs etc. no matter how clearly important that conversation might be.

    As to the quiet carriages themselves: I've not had a chance to enjoy a journey on one, but I'm in favour of them for longer routes. If I wanted to read or snooze or listen to/study music with a wide dynamic range (i.e. including lots of softs as well as louds) then I'd be glad for a quiet carriage.

    I just wish they weren't first and last carriages. Generally speaking, those are the two carriages I consciously avoid, as they are most at risk should the train be in an accident.

    WTF is wrong with people, listening in to someones dodgy phone conversation is good way to pass the time on a boring train trip.

    You were absolutely in the wrong and will get no sympathy for me.

    Not buying the ‘it was an emergency’ excuse. Guess what. Pregnancies existed before mobile phones. Abdominal pains existed before mobile phones. If your wife is experiencing a medical emergency, she can call a hospital. Your narcissistic conversation with her in a public place is not required, and it can wait until you leave the carriage.

    Yes you deserved your verbal dressing down. Hopefully you will learn something from it. No, it doesn’t reflect poorly on the man who told you off that he waited until he was alighting to tell you what a selfish, inconsiderate man you were. Why should he have to risk a confrontation with you? Most people avoid confrontations with rude, ill-mannered people and for good reason.

    Personally, I have had it with idiot who think that their problems are my problem. Your wife is pregnant? Tough. Don’t care, nor should I have to.

      Hallelujah - I'm not sure why I'm even riled up about this, I don't even catch the train anymore, but this attitude just burns me up.

      If you want to take an 'emergency' call then just don't get on the quiet carriage, they are obviously not for you!

        I hear you.

        I’ve thankfully managed to go my entire life without getting into what I would consider a real emergency. I’ve certainly never had to make a call that was life or death. What exciting and action packed lives everyone else must be leading to be making life-saving phone calls all the time.

        To listen to all these douches making ‘emergency calls’ on quiet carriages, you’d think that every commuter was a member of the SES!

    I back this guy 100% quiet carriages are for small people with no social skills. If some dickhead is having a loud obnoxious conversation it entertains me for the whole trip. Lighten up people.....

    I'm going to be honest guys, I'm normally polite and quiet on trains and love the concept of a quiet cabin BUT if my PREGNANT wife calls me, well I don't care where I am, i'm taking the call.

    I think its worse to be the guy who ignores a call from his pregnant wife then to be the guy who answers his phone in the quiet cabin...

      If your wife is pregnant and you are expecting a call, simply don't get on the quiet carriage. It's pretty simple. I don't understand why anyone would have a problem with giving people a choice. Your attitudes of 'I'll do what ever I want because I'm more important' is exactly the problem they are trying to solve with quiet carriages.

      Why are you all expecting EVERYONE else to make way for your life. Have some social conscience, not everyone wants to hear the details of your wife's pregnancy...

        You didn't actually read the article did you? my haste to board the train, I sat down in the silent carriage and just plum forgot.
        Chris explains both in the article and numerous times in the comments section that he was unaware he was in a quiet carriage.
        I agree that the phone conversation matter is irrelevant. At the end of the day, regardless of the subject of the phone call, I'm sure Chris would have moved away from the quiet carriage to take a phone call had he known he was in a quiet carriage in the first place.

        Last edited 12/02/13 8:32 am

          I thought it is well established that ignorance doesn't equal innocence? He has come on the internet to attack another patron after supposed 'verbal abuse' so he loses all benefit of the doubt privileges.

          Obviously my comment wasn't clear enough - It doesn't matter if it was a quiet carriage or not, he was obviously well above the average noise level on the carriage, doesn't that ring some alarm bells that "Hey, maybe I'm being rude?".

          Fair enough if it wasn't a quiet carriage then maybe the other passengers would have cut him some slack due to the nature of the call, but you can always just get up and move to a less intrusive spot.

          Forgive me if I don't really want or need to listen to everyone else's life while travelling to work, just keep it to yourself it's pretty easy.

    the problem is that people have very different ideas of what constitutes an emergency, if people can break the rules for a pregnant wife about 15 minutes later people will be breaking the rules for important business calls, friends who just broke up with their SO or cause they havn't heard from the person in a while.

    that said the guy sounds like an officious douchebag.

      It’s not just that; the real problem is that for most people what really constitutes an emergency is ‘something that affects me’ and it immediately takes priority over the rights and comfort of anyone else.

      I’m fed up with it. There is no situation I can imagine that can’t wait until you’re out of the carriage; any real emergency call, as opposed to mere hysterical, narcissistic dramatics, will be made to the emergency services. Insisting on taking a call in a quiet carriage is not about responding to emergencies, it’s about a love of the sound of your own voice.

    You weren't 'technically' in the wrong. You were flat out in violation of the rules of the carriage and frankly, completely rude to the other passengers on the train. To try and justify it by the 'type' of conversation you were having is ridiculous.

    Not to mention the fact that, while that conversation might be import to you, it's certainly not the type of thing I should be forced to endure on my train ride to work. What the hell is wrong with you people?

    It's 2013. A lot of people don't give a rats about other people. A lot of people are just dicks. If I was in the quiet carriage and took a phone call, I would be outraged at being told not to. If I was in a quiet carriage and someone next to me took a phone call, I would be outraged and tell them off.

    That's life in 2013. Why do we need to argue one way or the other about who's right (ps it's me).

    Everyone thinks that *their* conversation is important enough to disrupt other people - is an important business call for a $1m contract important? Is organising your mum's 50th birthday party important? Is the fact that "Jenny is so totally like seeing Matt now! That skank!" important? Where do you draw the line at what is considered important enough to disrupt the quiet carriage? The answer is that you don't draw any line and all conversations are not acceptable.

    The fact is when you step into the quiet carriage you made implied agreement not to take any calls important or not and you broke the agreement. So it doesn't matter that your call was actually important (as a new dad I agree that this call *was* important) - however, you broke the agreement that you made - so it is irrelevant that it was an important call.

    If your phone rings because you forgot to turn it to silent then turn it down immediately, apologise quietly to everyone in earshot and move to a different carriage to continue the conversation.

    Asking whether quiet carriages should exist because you can't stick to your agreement is just silly.

    The fat jokes are really off. I hate to be the Funny Police but just pointing out that someone looks unappealing isn't an argument supporting your right to be inconsiderate of other commuters.

    Just for a second, let's consider the possibility that this man had a reason for wanting to be in a quiet space. He could have had a migraine coming on, he could have just been fired, his wife could be sick (fat men have wives too, sometimes) - there are myriad reasons he could have needed that space to be quiet.

    I understand you have concerns for your wife, but you're not the only person in the world who has stuff that's difficult in their life.

    Ear Plugs vs Mucus Plugs: The Pluggening

    Coming soon to a quiet carriage near you.

    Quiet carriages, pfft i scold ppl making a racket on trains in all circumstances.

    I had the same problem last night when my family and I stepped into whatever carriage we could sit in as the train was full (we heard nothing about a stupid quiet carriage ) so here we are happily chatting and enjoying our ride when an old grumpy lady started yelling at us she did not tell us it was a quiet carriage so instead of yelling back we couldn't help but laugh as she was ridiculous , this kind of crap causes more people to hate eachother and give them the opportunity to fight with someone and have no life, don't stop talking and keep smiling because it makes people like them make Australia a horrible country to live in :)

    I catch an express train from Town Hall to Mount Druitt in the afternoon each day.
    Is there a quiet carriage in this express train going to western line?
    Situation Happened!!
    Yesterday there was a lady having a earphone volume so loud that all people in that carriage can hear the irritating sound coming out - so I nicely spoke to the lady telling her that the volume of the earphone is high = she told me if I don't like it go and sit somewhere else!!
    Tell me how long a human will survive if they need to go through these type of frustration every day, I firmly believe it’s the fault of the City Rail not addressing these thinks seriously!!

    Everyone must be quiet, otherwise we wont hear the bus engine.

    Really? there are so many better things to prioritise on public transport, like reliable services, the increasing ticket price with worsening timetables, the uncleanliness that can be observed from the second you enter the station to the second you leave. I think quiet carriages are just a PR ruse to try and momentarily distract from Sydney trains other failings, and it only cost a few signs and stickers

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