quiet carriage

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So, apropos of nothing, I was waiting for a train.

It had been a while since I’d taken a V/Line trip.

The train glided into the station pretty much on time and, being off peak, there were plenty of vacant seats in all three carriages.

Yet for some reason a knot of young passengers completely eschewed the last carriage although it was nearest them.

I wondered at first if it was that ridiculous first class and economy thing that still exists on some Victorian country trains – some of which indeed look like they’ve hailed from the last days of the Raj.

But no. It was one of the sleek new VLocity trains which does not discriminate against different ticket holders.

Upon taking a seat it became clear why the students had opted to move along the train.

This was a “quiet carriage”.

A sign advised: “The quiet carriage concept is based on courtesy and respect for others. To keep it quiet and peaceful please refrain from loud conversations and from using mobiles phones or electronic devices that can be heard by others.

To help keep the peace please turn down electronic devices, switch your mobile phone to silent. Speak quietly.”

So it was for the best part of two hours only the gentlest murmur of conversation could be heard above ambient swoosh along the rails.

And it was bliss.

People snoozed, heads against windows; many read or tapped away at tablets.

The concept recently quietly introduced to 35 VLocity trains following a successful trial earlier this year has proved a hit with commuters, and V/Line – the recipient of so many brickbats – is thoroughly deserving of a bouquet.

When you think about it, just when was the last time you spent two hours in any public place without hearing a phone ring or at least ping a message.

The cellular menace occurs in restaurants, theatres, lifts. It seems no event is sacred – not weddings, nor even funerals – from that unthinking plonker who leaves his or her phone on.

And it’s small wonder we’re hearing continuous ring tones in our ears.

UN agency The International Telcoms Union predicts there will be more mobile subscriptions than people in the world by the end of next year.

The world is almost at tipping point already with 6.8 billion subscriptions and 7.1 billion people.

But here in Australia mobile subscription has already outstripped population by almost four million thanks to a large number of people holding multiple phones or SIM cards.

That’s pretty incredible market penetration when you consider the first ever public mobile phone call was made just 40 years ago.

Hand-held mobiles were not even introduced to Australia until 1987 when then Communications Minister Michael Duffy received the first official call using an brick-like analogue phone which retailed at more than $4000.

What Telecom Australia managing director Mel Ward said to the politician as he stood on the steps of the Sydney Opera House during an event hosted by the ABC’s Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has been lost in the mist of a zillion banal conversations that have transpired since.

For profundity it couldn’t possibly compare to the first telegram sent by Samuel Morse 170 years ago: What has God wrought?

But in the quiet carriage we can at least once again hear ourselves to ask the question.

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