Old-fashioned schedule boards are disappearing from train stations across the country. Black and white flapper panels with their familiar ‘click-clack’ sound, are being replaced with electronic light displays. The board in New Haven, Connecticut is scheduled to depart in the coming weeks.
Travelers at New Haven’s Union Station stop and look up from Blackberries, Ipods and private screens to a large information board. All eyes watch as panels flip round till they settle on words and numbers that let folks know when the next train departs. Some passengers jump up and head quickly to the track. Others sigh and sit back to wait some more.
CT transportation officials have announced they’ll take down the old schedule board and replace it with 2 new L.E.D light screens. Quinnipiac University professor Rich Hanley says that’s a shame because the mechanical sign fits Union Station, which was built during the age of the great American railroad. "This building was initially constructed in 1918 and it’s a traditional early 20th century train station..giant shed with various large open spaces and a tunnel to the train. And the dominant architectural feature happens to be the information board. Its where all eyes go."
And passenger John Ball says the board gives you more than just visual information. The “click-clack"-ing sound becomes part of the whole travel experience. "The train man’s story is that a diesel engine is just a train. A steam engine is an event and just as a steam engine is an event, the rattle that attracts your attention is probably a good thing"
For years, flapper information displays, known as Solari boards, were a fixture in railway stations, airports and bus terminals. Now most are gone. New Haven’s board is the last of its kind on the Metro-North line. But officials say its hard to maintain and they’re replacing it with two electronic panels. The new screens have room for 24 lines of information. (The mechanical board has only 7.) Emergency messages can be posted quickly and in three different colors.
Still, traveler Judy Watkins-Shapiro says she’ll be sorry to see the old board go. " I love sitting here and watching the sign go back and forth..its good entertainment while I’m sitting here."
In an e-mail, Connecticut transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick says the Solari board may be donated to a museum. But he adds that travelers shouldn’t worry about missing the familiar rattle. L.E.D screens feature an audio component, so the old ‘click-clack’ can be programmed in electronically.
For WNPR, I'm Diane Orson.