Road Warrior

Quiet car freak-outs on a train few and far between

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Fliers across America are nervously hoping they won't be on a plane when cellphone service is turned on and people stop being polite and start getting real. But if commuter trains are any guide, the quiet-car reality-show-style freak-outs are few and far between, save for a few unintended Internet stars.

While social media offers a selection of dramatic fights and other incidents involving loud talkers on trains, that is the exception rather than the rule, according to officials at commuter lines around the country.

Transit agencies have a hard time keeping track of the incidents, in part because even some of the rowdiest confrontations don't get reported, such as one on YouTube titled: "Metra fight... I sit on the Board of Trade, I will cut you in half."

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"We never figured out where and when that happened," Michael Gillis, a spokesman for Chicago's Metra. "We never heard about it at the time—until it was on YouTube."

Gillis said Metra runs hundreds of trains a day and enforcement is generally left up to the riders, which were the ones who asked for quiet cars in the first place. Metra has had quiet cars on its 11 lines since 2011.

Quiet cars can also be found on Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road and the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. Since 2000 Amtrak has been adding quiet cars to its trains and they can now be found on Acela Express, Northeast Regional, Keystone, Hiawatha, Wolverine and select Capitol Corridor and Empire Corridor trains.

It's "very rare" that Amtrak officials have to get involved with passengers using their outside voices inside the train, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said.

"We haven't had a rash of complaints about people violating those rules," he said. Like other transit agencies, it does not keep track of noise incidents, he said.

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New Jersey Transit has also expanded its quiet cars due to their popularity, said NJT spokesman John Durso Jr. Now all trips going in and out of New York have quiet cars at the front and back of the trains.

"Sure, you get an occasional customer who takes enforcement into his own hands, but obviously we don't encourage that," he said.

And while the quiet cars have been popular on many commuter lines, apparently California transit riders aren't in need of as much peace and quiet.

FCC reviews cell phone rule

With average weekday ridership at a record 50,000 riders, CalTrain cars are at capacity and quiet cars haven't been added because officials think there would not be enough demand from people who want the solitude.

"Maybe people who are not committed to quietness" would then flock to the empty seats in the quiet car, thus defeating the purposes, said Caltrain spokesperson Christine Dunn. "Certainly everyone has a cellphone," she said, "but I think generally people are very courteous."

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But airline passengers may not have to worry right away anyhow. Late Friday afternoon, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement reiterating that the talking-on-phones-on-planes proposal is merely a technical consideration that would allow airlines to consider a change.

"We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself. Ultimately, if the FCC adopts the proposal in the coming months, it will be airlines' decisions, in consultation with their customers, as to whether to permit voice calls while airborne," he said.

"We encourage airlines, pilots, flight attendants, and the public to engage in our upcoming rule-making process."

—By CNBC's Amy Langfield. Follow her on Twitter at @AmyLangfield.

Follow Road Warrior on Twitter at @CNBCtravel.

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