I recently took a round-trip Amtrak train ride from New York City Penn Station to Washington DC Union Station and back (check out my review here). I opted for the “Quiet Car.” On Acela, you can reserve a seat, but it’s “first come, first serve” on any other train service. Since I was doing tons of work, I wanted to make sure I booked the Quiet Car for peace and quiet.
So is the Quiet Car actually quiet?
Here’s my experience on the Quiet Car on Amtrak Acela Business Class Train
Amtrak serves over 500 destinations in 46 states with over 30 train routes through America and Canada. While some journeys can take days and weeks, my New York City to Washington DC business class train ride was only 3 hours. This already makes a huge difference. If you’re taking a longer route, you could have a different experience in the Quiet Car since many passengers may board and deboard, which can get noisy. Also, with so many passengers shuffling through the cars, some may be respectful of the Quiet Car rules, while others may not.
New York City (NYP) to Washington DC (WAS), Train 2155
As soon as all passengers boarded, I just knew it would be a quiet ride in the Quiet Car on Acela Business Class. The first sign is that the lights were dim. When lights are dim on a train, passengers automatically go into quiet mode.
I had a seat at a 4-top table, meaning there were 2 seats facing me. Luckily for me, all three remaining seats were empty the entire journey (Note: I was taking a train on a Thursday in the morning, which will be quieter than afternoon or weekends).
Also, you can now see the passenger load for all cars when booking. The Acela train was booked 50 percent, meaning that half the seats would be empty. Less passengers, less noise.
For the entire journey, with no one sitting near me, and only half the car full, it was a joyful, quiet ride. The Quiet Car was indeed quiet, and the only “noise” was when passengers would be getting on or off the train.
I had a completely different experience on my return to NYC. The journey was unfortunately not as quiet.
Washington DC (WAS) to New York City (NYP), Train 2254
I booked a return trip to NYC on a Sunday at 12:50 pm. This is a peak travel time, no matter the destination, and no matter the transportation (train, plane, or automobile). Why? On a Sunday at noon, travelers are checking out of hotels, people are returning home after brunch from visiting families, etc. I didn’t want to travel at 1 pm on a Sunday, but the ticket was affordable.
One of the great things about Amtrak is that passengers can now check their seats through the mobile app or online. I had checked my seat to see that my train was 95 percent full. I’m not a big fan of crowded transportation, but again, the ticket was unusually cheap.
When I boarded the Acela business class train in the Quiet Car, the train conductor was quick to repeat that the train was full and there should be no seat switching. I didn’t think much of it until I sat in my seat. It was another 4-person table-top configuration, and there was one passenger across me. An old woman, maybe in her 70s. Since she was traveling alone, I had a feeling she’d be quiet. This was not the case.
After the train departed Washington DC, her daughter, an older woman in her 50s, snuck to the Quiet Car and sat with her the entire time seeing that the seat next to her was available. They chatted the entire time. In the first hour of the ride, the train conductor actually walked the aisle and announced a reminder this we were in the Quiet Car. The two ladies definitely heard him, but did not respect the rule.
Many other passengers had shot looks over with that stare of death (oh, you know how it is… especially if you’ve ever been in a library and your phone suddenly goes off or you’re talking with a friend in a loud whisper). I wrote a story on how to avoid being passenger shamed, and these two definitely never read the story!
Since I was sitting at the four-top table, I felt the most cursed since, out of all the seats in this Quiet Car, the only talking couple happened to be sitting directly across me — and it wasn’t even the daughter’s assigned seat! I know for a fact because every time the train stopped, she squeezed her mom’s hand as people came onboard, and she would look them in the eyes to see if they would be sitting there.
I think it’s trashy when you don’t sit in your assigned seat, but the fact these two passengers were not respecting the rules of the quiet car made them look terrible. Everyone in the train sitting near us was annoying, but because it was an older woman and her daughter, nobody said anything.
Eventually, after the hour mark, when they wouldn’t stop talking, I politely asked them to whisper. I told them they are in the quiet car, and people book seats in the quiet car for a reason. At first, they didn’t know how to react, but they finally gave a reluctant “yes, we’ll whisper, sorry to bother you” response. They did whisper for 20 minutes or so, but then proceeded to talk louder. At this point, I noticed many passengers simply put their headphones on, because nobody wants to tell an old lady and her old daughter to be quiet.
Luckily, they got off the train in Philadelphia, which was more than halfway through the journey.
After the couple left the train, another couple two seats behind me brought their infant daughter in the quiet car. The baby had bursts of crying here and there, some lasting 20 minutes or so. At this point, I put on my headphones.
So, is the Quiet Car on Amtrak truly quiet?
It depends on the passengers and how much they respect the rules.
How can you ensure the Quiet Car stays quiet on your train journey?
Tell the talking passengers politely that they are traveling in a Quiet Car. If they continue to talk, don’t hesitate to get the Amtrak worker. Train workers don’t like to put up with BS, and the only reason I didn’t notify the worker of my train is because it wasn’t worth my time or effort to flag him down — but it showed the Quiet Car will not always be quiet.
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