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Fans Of An Iconic Philly Rail Sign Are Rallying To Save It From Retirement


It could be the end of an era for Amtrak's 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. An old flipboard that shows arrivals and departures is slated to be replaced by a new digital screen. It's the last one still in the U.S. run by Amtrak. There's a lot of love in Philly for the old sign. And as Marie Cusick of member station WITF reports, there's a last-minute effort to keep it.


MARIE CUSICK, BYLINE: For decades, this has been the soundtrack for millions of passengers coming through the nation's third-busiest train station. Since the 1970s, this display board has filled the station with a distinctive clickety-clack sound as hundreds of little letter and number cards flip over to provide updates.

Known as a Solari board after its Italian manufacturer, it sits atop a massive marble information desk in the center of 30th Street Station, a soaring neoclassical and art deco building that evokes the former power and prestige of the railroad. The digital replacement is supposed to be part of a broader effort by Amtrak to modernize stations and improve customer experience.

JOE KOCHUBA: For nostalgic reasons, I'd be disappointed if it were removed.

CUSICK: Joe Kochuba of Morristown, N.J., was in Philadelphia recently for a work training and stepped out during a break to snap a few pictures at the sign.

KOCHUBA: There's not many things I feel that are left that are the way they were in their original state. And what you find is as you get older, you find more appreciation for those types of things in life.

CUSICK: For younger people like 20-year-old Liam Dunn of Dallas, Texas, the board feels like a surprise.

LIAM DUNN: I've never been anywhere else where they have the nondigital board, so I think it's pretty cool.

CUSICK: Other people like Betsi Griffith of College Park, Md., can't quite articulate why they like the sign. It just feels special.

BETSI GRIFFITH: Well, you kind of hear the stuff moving, and it kind of gives you a clue that something's, you know, changing and - I don't know. It just - there's a sentimental feel to it, I think.

CUSICK: Four state legislators recently penned a letter to Amtrak's CEO urging him to keep the board right where it is. Local Congressman Brendan Boyle has also gotten involved.

BRENDAN BOYLE: So I'm in the middle of negotiating/fighting with Amtrak now to satisfy their demand that the entire system of updating passengers in real time happens while at the same time doing that in a way that preserves the sign.

CUSICK: He says he enjoys hearing the sound as he commutes to Washington, D.C.

BOYLE: There is a certain romance about rail and about trains that no other mode of transportation has.

CUSICK: He says Philadelphia's Solari board adds to that romance, and he's convinced Amtrak to be part of a stakeholder meeting soon to discuss its fate. For NPR News, I'm Marie Cusick.


THE KINKS: (Singing) Like the last of the good ol' puffer trains, I'm the last... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

WMHT/Capital Region reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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