Goodbye, clickety-clack: Amtrak removes 30th Street station flipboard

The beloved 30th Street Station flipboard schedule’s dismantling went ahead this weekend as planned, despite a public outcry and last-minute rushes by political leaders to save the iconic, old-fashioned public display.

U.S. Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-PA) and Amtrak leadership announced on Jan. 24 that the board, technically a split-flap schedule board built by the Solari company, would still be removed, despite his efforts lobbying Amtrak to save the board.

“The new Passenger Information Display System is necessary to help us modernize the station, comply with ADA-law and sync the main board with the gate boards, which will improve the overall customer experience for our Philadelphia customers,” Amtrak VP David Handera said in a statement.

Boyle said he was holding out hope that in the near future a modern sign retaining the vintage character of the original can be erected in the station, but noted that “thousands of passengers” have spoken out in support of the sign.

“I’m very disappointed to see Amtrak is going ahead and removing our iconic sign at 30th Street Station,” Boyle wrote on his Facebook page. “With all of the things Amtrak could be addressing to improve its service, I am bewildered they’re insistent to take down the one thing people like. However, after months of pushing them, I am glad Amtrak has officially committed to reincorporatimg the iconic sign into the station’s new design. I will continue pushing Amtrak to make the permanent replacement for the old sign a new one that has the same look and sound of like the Solari. A Philly company called Oat Foundry has shown this is possible.”

Engineers with Philadelphia-based Oat Foundry on Friday posted video of their proposed, modern flipboard replacement to arouse public interest.

Handera agreed that Amtrak will continue to pursue some means of preserving the original sign. “We too have a deep appreciation for the board as part of our history and are working with Congressman Boyle and other leaders to make sure this board has a temporary home at The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania until it can be reincorporated into the station for everyone to enjoy,” Handera said.

In the meantime, the Solari board was set to be replaced by Jan. 28 with temporary boards with train information and extra Amtrak staff directing customers. The final “Passenger Information Display System” will be installed by late February, Amtrak said.

Amtrak's split-flap flipboard schedule, soon to disappear.

Amtrak’s split-flap flipboard schedule, soon to disappear. (Courtesy of Phila. Chamber of Commerce)

Sad to see the flipboard sign go 

The news of the sign’s eminent removal, after a breathless few months of renewed hopes that the beloved sign would be saved by a public outpouring of support, hit some Philadelphians like a punch in the guts.

One flipboard fan tweeted that they were “genuinely heartbroken.” Another tweeted, more succinctly, “Click Clack we want the split flap back.”

30th Street Station’s flipboard was the last analog split-flap sign at an Amtrak station in the country. The second-last such sign was removed from Penn Station in New York in 2016.

But unlike New York City, where commuters cheered the change, in Philadelphia, the news was greeted by a feeling of gloom and nostalgia for the unique sound so strongly associated with memories of waiting for the train. The Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Inga Saffron wrote that “the satisfying clickety-clack of the flaps … echo the clickety-clack of the trains as they race along the tracks.”

The Solari board was originally installed in the 1970s to replace a chalkboard schedule. It’s removal was due to reportedly being considered not ADA-compliant, and according to some reports, the increasing, regular cost of maintenance.

The Solari company has previously claimed they could restore the original board for $100,000, as opposed to the reported $11 million Amtrak has budgeted for its new sign system.

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