Sign of the times: At 30th Street Station, display board will soon be no more
THE WARM, click-clacking sound of a forgotten time tumbles through the cavernous atrium of 30th Street Station. It emanates from a large, old-fashioned board that displays train departure and arrival times on flaps that spin and spin, cycling through a half-dozen destinations.
THE WARM, click-clacking sound of a forgotten time tumbles through the cavernous atrium of 30th Street Station.
It emanates from a large, old-fashioned board that displays train departure and arrival times on flaps that spin and spin, cycling through a half-dozen destinations.
The board is a reminder of a lost era. And for better or worse, it is nearing its end.
Amtrak soon will replace the board, although a timeline has not been set, spokesman Mike Tolbert said Thursday.
"The hope is to improve our passengers' experiences with an easier-to-read sign," he said.
Boards like the one at 30th Street are called split-flap displays, but are commonly referred to as Solari boards after their Italian manufacturer, Solari di Udine.
In 1956, Solari introduced the split-flap display to the world, and airports and train stations, yearning for signage that could adapt with their ever-shifting schedules, bought in. The one at 30th Street arrived in the early 1980s.
But as LED signs - which are more easily customizable, are easier to maintain, and can display more information - gained popularity, the older displays began to disappear.
New York's Grand Central Terminal replaced its split-flap display with an LED-powered one in the mid-2000s. So did Baltimore's Penn Station in 2010 and New Haven's Union Station in 2014. And now, 30th Street Station will follow suit.
Anthony Wilkerson says the new signage will be a welcome upgrade.
Wilkerson deals with 30th Street's boundless logistics, including the upkeep of the Solari board.
"These boards are so antiquated," he says, staring at the display.
Getting parts to fix broken ones has become a herculean headache. More and more often, Wilkerson says, Solari, which has refocused its efforts on digital signage, is having trouble replacing parts for the old displays.
So, instead of going to the company for replacement parts, he says, employees have to place calls to nearby - or sometimes not-so-nearby - train stations and ask for help. New Haven's Union Station has been helpful as of late. Since it took down its Solari board in 2014, any spare parts the station had left have been available to assist a board in need.
Despite the headaches and disadvantages of the split-flap display, Amtrak employees like Charles Crilley say they will be sad to see it go.
Crilley regularly sits under the display sign above the information desk, directing frantic customers to the ticketing window and helping others who are thoroughly confused.
"I figured it would happen eventually," he says of plans to replace the sign. "But I know I'm going to miss it."
Nearby, a small LED sign kitty-corner to the Solari board displayed twice the information on arriving and departing trains.
Eric Lamb, 26, stood facing the display, his face buried in his cellphone. An Allentown native, Lamb commutes from his new home in New York to Philadelphia about once every two weeks. He works for Vistar Media, a digital advertising company.
His first thought when he heard the display is being replaced? Dollar signs, of course.
"I imagine they'll go ahead and throw ads on it," he says.
Truthfully, Lamb adds, he doesn't have much of an opinion on replacing the sign. He says he understands why they'd want to do it. It will probably be easier to keep up, and they'll probably be able to use it to display more information. It makes sense.
He's silent for a few seconds. The flaps dance and Lamb can't help but grin.
"Yeah," he says, "but [the nostalgia's] why you'd want to keep it, I guess."