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December 11, 2018

30th Street Station's split-flap board might not be doomed after all

What a rollercoaster this whole thing's been

Transportation Amtrak
amtrak 30th street sign Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

The vintage split-flap board in 30th Street Station.

The fate of the split-flap board in 30th Street Station – you know, the ol' clickety-clackety thing – has been up in the air for years now. 

The most recent spate of news came about when the latest proclamation of its demise was reported by Billy Penn. The news seemed to garner a more impassioned response than the same reported demise two years ago, and all of a sudden U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, who represents the state's 13th District, was involved in the sign's defense:

How'd the conversation go? According to a conversation Boyle had on the Tuesday edition of WHYY's Radio Times, it sounds like everyone is working to save the sign.

"(Johnson) said, contrary to what’s been out there that this is a done deal, it actually wasn’t a done deal," Boyle told WHYY. "... he thought there’s a way they could still achieve that goal (of providing more useful information) and still keep the sign."

That's exciting! It's a great part of a great train station, and it's absolutely worth preserving even if it ends up feeling useless next to modern technology. 

There's also the possibility of saving the sign's feel with the help of local start-up Oat Foundry. It might seem like a compromise, but it would be better than nothing.

Here's Boyle's answer about his conversation with Johnson, which should make you feel a little better about caring so dang much about an old hunk of metal:

"I talked to Amtrak CEO Richard Anderson for quite some time about this ... the first thing I raised with him, and actually the thing we talked about in much greater detail, and greater length, was the sign. I expressed to him that, as a Philadelphian, one of the things that I’m most proud about is the beauty of 30th Street Station. It has been shown in dozens and dozens of films. Contrasted to New York’s Penn Station, which is an ugly mess, our 30th Street Station is really one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, in the country. 

"And I said to him, I think an important part of that, really the centerpiece, is that people — myself included — have a certain attachment to is this clickety-clack sign. It evokes something about rail that any other mode of transportation, it seems to me, just doesn’t have.

"I was encouraged with his response, because I frankly dug in for a harder conversation. He thought that — first, he agreed with me on 30th Street Station. He said it’s actually one of the things he’s proudest of at Amtrak, so it’s not just a Philadelphia perspective. He also said, contrary to what’s been out there that this is a done deal, it actually wasn’t a done deal. […] He thought there’s a way they could still achieve that goal [of providing more useful information] and still keep the sign. 

"This wasn’t just one flippant comment he made. At least three times, he said he was optimistic they would be able to preserve the sign, there, and re-look at this and figure out a way to keep the sign while at the same time achieving their goal of an upgrade. 

"I come away from the conversation encouraged that we can save this."

It's still not a firm commitment to keeping the board from Amtrak, but it's definitely better than nothing. Listen to the complete Radio Times podcast and discussion about the future of the 30th Street Station flip board below: