Amtrak Conductor Charlene Roberts thought she was the victim of an insensitive prank when a commuter on the train’s popular Northeast Corridor route made an unexpected complaint.
Traveling from Washington to New York aboard Amtrak’s high speed Acela Express, attorney Bettina Corning complained to Roberts that the couple seated behind her on the train’s ‘Quiet Car’ were making too much noise. The couple seated behind Corning happened to be both mute and deaf.
“I’m a very busy attorney, and I had a lot of important briefs to compile for very important clients that I have,” explained Corning from her office in Midtown Manhattan.
‘Quiet’ cars on Amtrak trains were introduced over a decade ago at the request of customers wishing to commute without the usual distractions that accompany train travel – cell phone conversations topping the list. Growing popularity has led many regional and commuter rail lines to add quiet cars to their standard routes.
“The quiet car is there for a reason, and I shouldn’t have been inconvenienced,” said Corning. When informed that the couple she had complained about were deaf mutes, she replied, “That’s another issue and doesn’t have anything to do with what Amtrak offers and what I pay for. I lost valuable time and I consider the matter closed.”
“Many deaf people vocalize,” said Dr. Franklin McLogan, of New York’s Health Care Partnership for the Deaf. “It depends on the individual. If deafness has begun in childhood where speech is at an early or evolving stage, some vocalization based on that level of development may take place. These individuals though, also happened to be mute. So it’s really a wonder what kind of noise they could have been making on the Quiet Car that got another passenger so worked up.”
“Personally and professionally,” conductor Roberts recalled, “I thought it was wrong for her to ask me to move the couple, because they weren’t being loud in any way, shape, or form. I always check the volume level of my cars, and remind customers to speak with ‘library voices’ if I feel they are distracting others. Apparently the couple were signing to each other too loudly? I have no idea what Miss Corning’s problem was, except to say that it’s possible she’s just a heinous bitch. That, by the way, is my professional opinion of someone who works with the public on a daily basis, not that of the Amtrak company itself.”
The couple seated in back of Corning, Bill and Susan Welch, commented through an interpreter. “We didn’t know why the lady in front of us was upset. We were surprised when we found out it was because of us. The conductor was very polite and apologized, but she didn’t have to. It wasn’t necessary. We never had any problems traveling before. We’ll continue to ride quietly in the Amtrak Quiet Cars and hopefully other people just ignore us, just as we do them.”
All three customers were issued courtesy travel vouchers to be applied toward future trips.