As the 4:31 p.m. train pulled out from Atlantic Terminal Monday, the conductor made an announcement: The front car, number 7346, is a "quiet car," he said.
Robert L. Douglas was ready. The Woodmere labor mediator had read about the new program in the paper and, he said, "I waited today, hoping to get into this car. People are oblivious. They're just unaware of how much their voice carries. To them, it may be sound, but to other people, it's noise."
Douglas was one of several customers taking advantage of the debut of a new Long Island Rail Road pilot program to create a minimum-noise space on rush hour trains between Atlantic Terminal and Far Rockaway. Passengers riding in the quiet car should speak in subdued voices, put their phones on vibrate and avoid playing loud music through their headphones, although cooperation is voluntary.
Four morning and six evening trains will have a car designated "quiet" although if trains face service changes, the designation may be canceled for that day.
At first, some passengers looked around in puzzlement, trying to figure out whether they were part of the experiment. But soon, many leaned back and began to enjoy the relative silence.
"It's a good idea. Nothing is more annoying than someone having a cellphone conversation in the next seat over while you're trying to relax on the way home," said Brendan Walsh, 29, an IT technician from Floral Park. "Already, this is much more mellow than usual."
The quiet car has no special labels because LIRR needs to add and remove cars from trains on a regular basis, said conductor Tim Dennehy. If any passengers do make noise, the conductor on duty is supposed to hand them a small card asking them to keep it down. Monday, no cards were handed out on the 4:31 train as everyone complied with instructions.
Many passengers agreed that loud conversations and ringtones make their commute too noisy and praised the project.
Monica Jones, 38, of Springfield Gardens, Queens, said that on a prior train ride, "They wouldn't shut up. Someone was on the cellphone and it sounded like she was yelling at someone far away. How rude is that?"
"Especially if you're trying to get some sleep," agreed Val Valencia, 49, a designer, also from Springfield Gardens.
But not everyone agreed. "I hate it," said Lindsey Gershberg, 22, a student from Atlantic Beach. "I like talking on my cellphone and texting. It [the train] can be a little noisy, but for the most part, it's fine."