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Commuter trains consider corralling cell-phone use

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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) -- The smoking car on trains is a thing of the past, but could the talking car be a feature of the future?

The Metro-North Commuter Railroad is considering designating separate cars for cellular phone users, who often intrude on the reading, sleeping and thinking of their fellow travelers by talking loudly into their little phones."For reasons that we can't figure out, people are hollering into their cell phones," Metro-North spokesman Dan Brucker said Monday. "They're talking as if this were the beginning of the telephony age and you had to shout."

The railroad, which takes passengers between Grand Central Terminal and New York City's northern suburbs, lately has been averaging half a dozen complaints per week about loud phone calls, Brucker said.

"It's happened to me a couple of times," James Said of White Plains said as he waited for a train to take him to work in New York. "If the train is noisy and they have to shout, they're being obnoxious and they don't know it. You have to give them a look."

One woman complained to the railroad after finding herself surrounded by five people on cell phones. Another passenger resorted to turning on a tape recorder in front of a lawyer who was talking loudly to clients.

"Your attorney-client privilege is no longer privileged," the rider said.

For now, the railroad is just asking cell-phone talkers to keep their voices down. But Brucker said one solution being considered is "having a train car dedicated to cellular phone users -- an all-talking train car, the way we used to have a smoking car."

"Of course, this raises little problems like free-speech issues," Brucker said. "How do we enforce it, tell people they can't talk?"

Brian Nightingale of Greenburgh said he doesn't use his cell phone while riding the train to and from work in the city, but he stood up for the rights of those who do.

"It's just talking," he said. "Last time I looked you were allowed to talk on the train."