Philadelphia is one of the last major East Coast cities to replace its flipping sign with a digital one.
Of the five senses, smell is the one best-known to conjure nostalgic memories. But hearing certain sounds can do the same—particularly for the many Philadelphians lamenting the imminent loss of the arrivals and departures board at their city’s main railway station, 30th Street.
The board, which since the 1980s has emitted a distinctive clickety-clack when letters and numbers flip to update, will be replaced this year with a digital display. Philadelphia is one of the last big East Coast cities to use such a device, called a Solari board after its Italian manufacturer. The Solari boards of New York’s Penn Station, Boston’s South Station, Baltimore’s Penn Station, and others have already clacked out their swan songs over the past two decades.
The thinking behind the replacement is sound: A digital board can show changes in gates and scheduling in real time, its display is clearer, and the fact that its audio and visual elements are synchronized makes it easier for those with disabilities to use it.
Philadelphia’s Solari board has been pretty temperamental over the past few years as well. Numbers were sometimes confused with letters, and certain train schedules just didn’t appear. Two years ago, one side of the board went blank and stayed that way for months.
Because the system is outdated, parts are hard to come by. Employees of the 30th Street Station have had to scrounge replacement parts from other train stations when things go awry. They have recently used parts from the now-defunct Solari board at New Haven’s Union Station, which was removed in 2014.
Even with these sensible reasons for the change, Philadelphians and other fans of the board are feeling wistful. The Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Mike Newall wrote about the first time he heard the board’s characteristic sound: “I was in my 20s, shuffling between old, not-quite-finished lives in D.C. and New York, and a new, not-quite-started life in Philadelphia. … It is a lovely sound. I will miss it.” Reactions on Twitter have been equally melancholic—and a little outraged:
this is major league messed up—the sound of that clicking board is the sound of my childhood https://t.co/J0XL7K317D— Sam Allingham (@SamSamAllingham) August 25, 2016
For those in need of an analogue fix, there will still be ways to access the noise: The Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired an operating Solari board in 2004. It gives arrival and departure times from its original schedule at Milan’s Malpensa Airport, reset to Eastern Standard Time.
If you can’t make it to New York or one of the many European cities that still use the boards, there’s a website that provides a simulation. The site supplies the status of Amtrak trains at any station—accompanied by that reassuring clickety-clack.