New Jersey Transit to Test ‘Quiet Cars’ on Trains

New Jersey Transit will become the largest U.S. transit agency to provide designated quiet railcars when it begins a 90-day test of the service on its Trenton-to- New York line Sept. 7.

The biggest statewide transit system will roll out a program similar to one used by Amtrak on its Acela and Northeast Regional trains on the East Coast. Passengers in quiet cars will be asked to refrain from using mobile phones, talking loudly and operating electronic devices with sound.

The agency said it expects passengers to enforce the rules themselves. If necessary, conductors and ticket-takers will hand out cards reminding riders that they are seated in a quiet car.

“We’re not looking to create a police state,” said James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, in an interview today at Newark Penn station, where the agency announced the test. “We believe people will be cooperative.”

A quiet car is the “most-requested” service by passengers and will incur the agency “no real incremental costs,” Weinstein said. The program will be tested in the first and last cars on the 28 daily express trains between Trenton and New York.

“This is designed for people who want to do work and don’t want noise,” Weinstein said. The agency is considering adding wireless Internet access to the trains, he said.

‘Awesome Idea’

The introduction of quiet cars is “an awesome idea,” said Reneé Bavineau, a 44-year-old fashion design consultant from Millburn, New Jersey, as she waited on the platform in Newark to catch a train to New York.

“There are handfuls of people who go above and beyond with their noise, and it’s disrespectful,” Bavineau said. “Maybe they should add loud cars too.”

In addition to Amtrak, the nation’s passenger railroad, commuter railways such as the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC network and the Virginia Railway Express also operate quiet cars on some trains, said Malcolm Kenton, transportation assistant at the National Association of Railroad Passengers, a Washington-based advocacy group.

Philadelphia’s Septa transit agency, operator of public transportation in the nation’s sixth-largest city, started a rush-hour “QuietRide Car” in 2009 after a three-month pilot program.

Increased Seat Capacity

Ridership has declined 2 percent since New Jersey Transit raised the system-wide average fare 22 percent in May, Weinstein said. The board of directors approved the increases for trains and New York City-bound buses to help close a $300 million budget deficit. It had last raised them in 2007, with a 9.6 percent boost.

The pilot program comes as the agency said today its board of directors approved a $1.79 billion operating budget and a $1.35 billion capital program for the 2011 fiscal year, which began July 1. Included is the purchase of 100 multilevel rail cars, which will “replace aging equipment in the fleet to increase seat capacity and improve reliability,” according to a statement.