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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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LIRR’s Quiet Cars

Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) riders know that the LIRR’s good news usually comes with a disclaimer, and its bad news is either withheld or chronicled in complaints filed by a U.S. attorney (e.g., the LIRR’s disability scandal).

But let’s focus for the moment on June 2012’s good news, and the disclaimer. The LIRR announced that effective Monday, June 18, it was expanding its Quiet Car Pilot Program “to include all peak single-level electric trains that operate to/from Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal during the rush hours,” according to a LIRR pamphlet left recently on riders’ seats.

In the morning, the train’s first car is the Quiet Car and, in the evening, the train’s last car is the Quiet Car. Customers traveling in the Quiet Car are being asked to refrain voluntarily from using cell phones, disable the sounds emanating from their electronic devices, and set their headphones at a volume so that others cannot hear them. Using an indoor voice is encouraged on Quiet Cars, as well.

Based on a market research project known as my own personal experience, more than half of the LIRR’s rush hour riders are ineligible for the Quiet Car. The question is whether passengers falling into that category even know the LIRR has established Quiet Cars. The LIRR rider yapping on a cell phone, playing a video game, tuning out the world with headphones, or speaking loudly is not the type of person who reads a LIRR pamphlet about the LIRR’s expansion of its Quiet Car Pilot Program.

Alas, there’s hope for the noisemakers, and it comes in the form of the LIRR’s disclaimer. “If there is a service disruption or if a train is operating with a reduced number of cars,” the aforementioned pamphlet explained, “we [the LIRR] will be unable to designate a Quiet Car.”

Oh, is it because late trains, or those operating with fewer cars, don’t have first or last cars? Nah, the LIRR’s missive implied, this Quiet Car thing must fall to the wayside immediately if everything isn’t going 100 percent according to plan. Besides, do you really think giving passengers a one-car refuge from the circus materializing in the train’s other cars is really a LIRR priority?

I’ve tried mightily to champion mass transit. Yet the LIRR, with its half-hearted attempts to make the rush-hour travel experience more relaxing for people who don’t like being trapped in a rolling arcade, and Amtrak, an enterprise which consistently meets low expectations, often make me want to get into a car.

Here’s a recent Amtrak anecdote to illustrate my point. I was in Washington, D.C. early last week on business, and returned to New York on Wednesday, June 20. The Amtrak train left D.C.’s Union Station on time at 6:05 p.m. The long day’s journey into night ended at Penn Station at 10:15 p.m., 45 (!) minutes after its scheduled arrival time. But my evening of bad train experiences was just beginning. I then took the 10:48 p.m. on the LIRR’s Port Washington branch, and it ran about 15 minutes late because of signal problems. Given the fact that this was an off-peak LIRR train, and there was a service disruption, I already knew there was no Quiet Car, too.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net