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Eight years after news broke that the iconic split-flap departures board at 30th Street Station would be taken down, and nearly four years after it was actually dismantled, officials confirmed they’re bringing it back to Philadelphia’s Amtrak hub.
The downside for fans of the classic Solari display: it’s only returning as part of the decor, not a functional wayfinding device.
That’s been the plan since 2019, when an Amtrak spokesperson told Billy Penn a requirement to include the Italian-made flipboard in the historic station’s decor had been made part of the the RFP for its $400 million renovation.
Discussion around the flippy board’s fate started back in 2016, and was recently reignited by Brendan McPhillips, who served as campaign manager for Sen.-elect John Fetterman and is rumored to next be working on a Philadelphia mayoral campaign.
After McPhillips tweeted a lament that the old-fashioned board had been replaced with a digital version — as is common among travelers who’d gotten used to and fallen in love with the split-flap’s soft flutter as it updated with new track information, so different from the flash of ubiquitous digital screens — he heard from the office of U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle.
“Our beloved clickety-clack sign will be returning to 30th St upon completion of the remodel,” McPhillips posted.
However, plans for its return have not changed, Amtrak spokesperson Beth Toll told The Inquirer. “As part of the ongoing master development at Gray 30th Street Station, Amtrak continues to work with our developer partner to reincorporate the [S]olari board into the station as a design element (not as a functioning train information board) for everyone to enjoy,” the paper reported Toll saying last week.
The flipboard was replaced as part of Amtrak’s system-wide effort to bring its departure displays into compliance with ADA regulations.
Neither hearing-impaired or vision-impaired passengers were being accessibly served by the Solari board, advocates and officials said. Because it wasn’t integrated with 30th Street’s public address system, some updates that were indicated visually were not delivered via audio. And the font used on the flipping letters was hard to view from a distance unless you had perfect vision.
Rep. Boyle has been instrumental from the start in trying to save the flippy board.
“Accessibility is of paramount importance,” the lawmaker said three years ago. “However, at 30th Street Station, there is tremendous opportunity to achieve these aims in a manner that also retains the iconic character of the Solari sign — of which thousands of passengers have spoken out in support. I remain committed to continuing my advocacy with Amtrak to achieve such a resolution.”
Manufactured by Solari di Udine, of Udine, Italy, the board was installed at 30th Street in the 1970s. It was at the time one of dozens if not hundreds across the world.
Over the past two decades, technological advances and ADA advocacy meant split-flap boards were relegated to curiosities. Local firm Oat Foundry creates custom versions for corporate clients — fast-casual restaurant Honeygrow installed one, for example, as did the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore on Walnut Street.
30th Street Station was a holdout. The Metro-North transit system had replaced its network of them by 2014, and New York Penn Station got rid of its Solari board in 2016.