Philly Solari board may be headed for preservation

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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — The clickety-clack of the Solari status board will be leaving 30th Street Station for the last time sometime in January, and its last stop may be the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

The electro-mechanical wonder is the last one in service on Amtrak, and its retirement has been anticipated for some time. While Amtrak hasn't put anything in writing, Patrick Morrison, site director at the Strasburg museum, told local media that a verbal offer had been received.

Solari boards are named after the Italian manufacturer that made the flap display signs, an electromechanical display device that spits out alphanumeric text in airports and train stations. A more common application was in alarm clocks. A handful are still in operation at small stations or airports.

A new digital annunciator is to be installed replacing the iconic Solari machine. The Solari was installed above the information counter in the huge waiting room at 30th Street sometime in the 1970s and was last updated in the 1980s. There were similar devices at major Amtrak terminal around the country, but 30th Street's is the last survivor. Amtrak has been cannibalizing retired machines to keep Philadelphia's running.

The museum at Strasburg is preparing a place to install the Solari board as part of a $4.5 million update and renovation of exhibits. The state Historical and Museum Commission asked for the board two years ago when it was first announced that it would be replaced. The machine requires computers running Windows 95 to operate, and this, along with the dearth of parts and expertise to maintain it, means it will be a non-operational display. Morrison said a video and audio of it would be set up nearby.

The clicking and clacking of the bi-fold leaves on the board is what many travelers and commuters will miss once the new digital status board is in place. The periodic sounds as the board changed drew everyone's attention. In fact, as the Solaris were retired at other locations, anecdotal reports say passengers sometimes missed their trains because they didn't notice changes on the board.

“The sounds of a board like this one have been the soundtrack of the daily life of many Philadelphia commuters and travelers for more than three decades,” Morrison said.

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