I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

AmtrakIt hasn’t quite been “all the live-long day”, but lately I’ve been riding Amtrak up and down the East Coast as an alternative to flying. In general I find it comfortable, relaxing and a very pleasing way to travel. You can plug in your cellphone or laptop, stroll to the cafe car for a coffee and pasty, and generally work/play/sleep as you see fit. However, there is one thing about riding the rails that I’ve found quite surprising – passengers engage in ridiculously loud and highly confidential cell phone conversations for all to hear!

Let me offer just a few examples:

  • “Jack” coos sweet nothings to a woman in NYC for ten minutes, reassuring her that they’ll be together again soon. Another call comes in, he curses, quickly wraps up with his lady friend and then flashes over to talk to his wife about their severely ill child. “Tell him Daddy’s on his way home and will be at the hospital soon.” How about telling him Daddy has been having an affair in New York while he’s struggling with his respirator.
  • “Nancy” sits with a colleague and reviews the terms and conditions of a hostile takeover of an extremely large publicly traded company (I’ll keep the name private here but she managed to scream it out ~100 times). She then dials into a conference call with the board of the takeover target and begins to verbally discuss issue after issue that this firm is struggling with. It’s a public beating. I’m sure Nancy’s non-disclosure agreement didn’t control for a trainload of strangers, some of whom just might know how to place on online stock trade.
  • “Henry” is an Army Lieutenant on his way to a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. According to his call, Henry has a boyfriend. This is not a problem in my book. What is a problem is discussing your past missions, where you’re headed, what you’re doing, who you’re meeting with and where you’ll be deployed next for a “highly covert operation”. Covert Henry? The seven-year-old next me even rolled her eyes in disappointment at that one.

So here’s the deal people. If you have a very important call to take or are dealing with sensitive information of any kind, please do the world a favor and find a quiet and secure place to chat. I know this issue isn’t limited to trains, but if I were in the blackmailing business I would ride the Acela from Boston to DC once a week to fill my quota. Take this one piece of advice or please keep thy information spewing pie hole closed. The rest of us thank you in advance for your cooperation. Let’s keep the (quiet) conversation going.

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Adriel Hampton

Hilarious! I thought about doing a blog called BART Chronicle about the train here, but more of a focus on the inane than the confidential. Since I’ve had kids, I use the train to read, pray and sleep – no time to listen in.

Dave Farley

Next time, jump into their conversations. I’ve tried that a few times when loud talkers were nearby. It’s a little awkward at first but they lower their voices.


That’s what I think about when people worry about what staff may say on blogs/forums/etc. People should know better and if they are making mistakes they are already doing this in person and on cell phones on trains, metros, happy hours, etc. It’s not new.

Adriel Hampton

Either you are an adult or not. My only bug is anonymous IDs, which is why I’m happy to see GovLoop evolving as a community of real people.

Have I ever tweeted about a stakeout at so-and-so’s house #PIlife? No, I have not!

Mark Stelzner

@Adriel Hampton – When I lived in the Bay Area, BART suffered from the same “disease” so I can completely empathize.

@Dave Farley – Great idea Dave! I’m going to give that a shot next time.

@GovLoop – Great point and one that should continue to be emphasized when the naysayers cry about social/new media.

Marcus Peacock

From one Amtrak fan to another I’m pretty sure there is a ‘quiet’ car on each train where cell phone use is prohibited. I think it’s usually the last car. I’m not sure because, I admit, I’m usually one of the people on a phone — although I’m happily married, not involved in a takeover, and was in the Navy, not the Army.

Mark Stelzner

@Marcus Peacok – I hear ya and I’m familiar with the quiet car. But if I did that, what could I possibly complain about? 🙂 Great Army big by the way. Ha!


It’s ridiculous that people have to be on their cell phones all the time. How quickly we forget that we used to survive just fine without them. I am constantly amazed how quickly people bust out their cell phones the second the plane touches down! Yes, I have a cell, but it’s primary purpose is so that I can be reached for a child-related emergency. Secondary purpose is convenience for me and my husband to talk, especially when one of us travels for work. After that, it mostly sits silently in my bag — to the point where I forget to check it’s charge! Everyone needs to make that random call in a public place once in a great while — but as a society we’ve gone too far.