'Quiet cars' a welcome PATCO innovation

Posted: January 21, 2012

Designating a "quiet car" on PATCO trains may strike some riders as a quaint, if not preposterous, notion.

I think it's great.

Starting March 1, cellphone use and loud conversations will be prohibited in the last car of specially marked weekday trains between Lindenwold and Center City.

If the three-month experiment succeeds, my colleague Paul Nussbaum reported Thursday, PATCO may make this eminently civilized amenity permanent. Amtrak, SEPTA, Metro-North, and other transit agencies also are rolling out quiet cars.

A PATCO rider for 35 years, I've watched - and heard - the trains get clunkier and, sad to say, junkier with age. Elaborate in-car advertisements can't disguise the decline in cleanliness. And what's up with all those increasingly opaque windows? It's like riding inside a smudge.

So I'll be happy when the overhauled cars, featuring groovy new gray-blue interiors, come online.

The Freedom cards, brighter stations, improved signage, and smarter branding already have improved my Speedline experience.

And having occasionally been a captive audience for cellphone melodramas and soap-operas-on-wheels starring PATCO's ruder riders, I'll be all aboard the quiet cars.

What is now a half-acre of dried grass in East Camden could be transformed into a community garden by later this year.

At Tuesday night's school board work session, Camden City Garden Club founder and Children's Garden executive director Mike Devlin presented a plan to beautify (and yummify) a vacant plot at 29th and Cramer Streets that the Camden Board of Education has owned for more than 50 years. James Garfield School occupied the site for several decades until it burned down in 1960, according to a local historical website.

The school board will vote on leasing the land to the garden club at next Tuesday's meeting. The half-acre lot Devlin wants for the community garden is assessed at $70,000 but would be leased at a nominal rate to the nonprofit.

The lot is one of dozens around the city that the school board owns but doesn't use.

Some board members wonder whether they should sell land and buildings not in use; others - the optimistic ones - say if there's a resurgence in Camden's prosperity, they will need the land (or even the buildings) for new schools.

In the meantime, more lots are on the horizon.

On Tuesday, the board approved the demolition of the Lanning Square School, which was damaged during last year's earthquake, and the former H.B. Wilson School.

Camden has 116 community gardens; 25 more are planned for this year.

In the early 1900s, thrill rides lured thousands of tourists to Burlington Island in the Delaware River off Burlington City.

There was a towering wooden roller-coaster - just a bit tamer than the Scream Machine - and a Jollier.

A what?

Black and white photos found on the Board of Island Managers' website include a Jollier, a strange multi-seat swing anchored to the edges of a giant spinning top. It must have treated riders to a dizzying jolly good time.

The roller-coaster, named the Greyhound, was a major attraction with its hairy dips and twists. Don't laugh too hard. You can bet future generations will mock us for being scared out of our wits by rides with harnesses that flip us only in every direction and not into a different dimension.

Read more about the island's history in Tuesday's Inquirer.

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