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Transportation

Philly Won't Give Up Its Amtrak Flip Board Without a Fight

Amtrak’s 30th Street Station was slated to lose its iconic “split-flap” display. But Philadelphians had other ideas.
Even bad news looks better on the vintage split-flap information sign at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
Even bad news looks better on the vintage split-flap information sign at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.Matt Rourke/AP

One of my most distinct memories from my college years in Philadelphia is sitting in the sanctum of 30th Street Station, the city’s stately train station at the eastern edge of University City. I’d be there, waiting for a train, listening for the flutters of clickety-clacks that punctuated the hollow silence. The sound told me that the iconic split-flap display board showing the train arrivals and departures of Amtrak trains was being updated. It was a comforting sound, and as the tiles flipped-out the new letters and numbers, it felt as if a reset button had been pushed and the next moment was somehow newer and shinier.

Most of these old-school display boards have been scrapped in recent years; Amtrak recently announced that it planned to replace this analog technology with a digital screen, just as it had done at stations in Boston, Baltimore, New York, and all the other cities it serves. But Philly residents and lawmakers objected so vehemently that the rail agency seems to have relented.