Flip-Flap Board Nostalgia Will Abate in Time

Reader Greg Knapp recently wrote to ask why some folks in Philadelphia are obsessed with the removal of the Solari board at 30th Street Station.

You might think that someone had suggested moving the Liberty Bell to Washington or New York.

Knapp wrote that given the challenges that intercity rail faces in the United States, the end of this tradition is minor. He is correct of course.

Much of this story has been driven by nostalgia and the fact that the retired Solari board was the last of its kind.

Featuring a flip-flap mechanism, it was a marvel to behold. When train times were updated the board came to life with numbers and names whirling around at a fast clip.

If you looked carefully, you might see names of trains that are gone and destinations Amtrak no longer serves from Philly.

The many news stories I’ve read quoted people as saying they would miss the sound of the flaps flipping over.

I can understand that to a point even if I’ve never lived on the East Coast nor traveled all that much in the Northeast Corridor.

I’ve come to associate the whirling flaps and the noise they made with a way of life that is long gone in the Midwest where I’ve spent most of my life.

One of my fondest memories is sitting in New York’s Penn Station on a Saturday night back in the early 1980s and watching that station’s Solari board in action while hearing the station public address announcer give train boarding announcements every few minutes.

Except in Chicago, even the large Midwestern union terminals have never had the level of train service that continues to exist in the NEC, particularly if you take the existence of commuter trains into account.

The retirement of Amtrak’s last Solari board might have gone largely unnoticed beyond a news story or two but for the efforts of a Philadelphia congressman who made an issue of its removal.

Online petitions imploring Amtrak to keep the board drew 2,500 signatures.

A Philly company chimed in to say it could design a digital train board for 30th Street that would approximate the look and sound of a flip-flap board.

Nonetheless, I would not be surprised if the passion many have for a digital flip-flap board cools off as those clamoring for it move on to other concerns.

The news media outlets that kept this story alive will move on to other stories. The loss of a tradition made for good copy for a while, but not indefinitely.

Amtrak has been noncommittal about a digital flip-flap board for 30th Street and it might quietly tell the company offering to build it one “thanks, but no thanks.”

The digital board in Philadelphia won’t have the same character of a flip-flap board, but the trains continue to run as they always have and passengers are finding their trains just fine.

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One Response to “Flip-Flap Board Nostalgia Will Abate in Time”

  1. wildbillfromusa Says:

    It is rather interesting that this matter is getting remarkably greater response than such matters as dismissed ticket agents, the importance of the SW Chief beyond 09/30/2019 and the dining car situation on the Lake Shore Limited, Capitol Limited and Silver Star. I’m not against the NE Corridor at all, it is imperative but when it becomes obvious that the National Network is second-class, it’s time that Amtrak needs a complete-workover. Perhaps Airnet-21?

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