Trust on the Amtrak

I was on the afternoon Amtrak Acela Express from Boston to New York.

I got on at the Back Bay stop in Boston (the second stop), and went to the next-to-last car, designated as the Quiet Car. It has signs posted asking customers to talk quietly, and to not use cell phones.

After a while, a genteel-looking woman seated in front of me began to talk on her cell phone. The woman seated next to her clearly made some annoyed gestures, and a man two rows further up turned and glared at her. The call ended.

An hour later, her phone rang and she began to talk again. Again, the gentleman turned and glared. Her seatmate said, “this is supposed to be a quiet car,” and pointed at the no cell phone sign.

“The conductor told me when I got on that since the train was pretty full, we didn’t have to be quiet in this car,” the lady responded. Though she did get off the phone.

45 minutes from New York, the conductor came through, and the lady asked him, “didn’t you tell me we could ignore the quiet sign in this car?” Her tone said she expected vindication. Her seatmate and Mr. Two-Rows-Up turned in anticipation of the ratification of the policy and to watch Ms. Violator get her come-uppance.

“That’s right lady,” said the conductor, “we were pretty full, so talk all you want.”

He left. Unspoken emotions of triumph on her part. Sullen resentment on everyone else’s part—including me.

The lady wasn’t at fault here, the conductor was. He must have overruled the policy on the way out of South Station, but never mentioned it to those getting on at Back Bay, 128, Providence etc.

The point is not to be rigid about policies. They’re made to be broken. The point is, if you’re going to break them, say so.

One of the most fundamental requirements for trust in the workplace—with customers, employees, partners—is to be clear. Clear about intent, clear about roles, clear about expectations. That doesn’t mean rigidity—it means be clear about change.

I still love the Acela, though. The conductor may have been sloppy at trust-based customer relationships, but if I let it ruin a nice train ride—well, that would be on me.