The Fading Memory of Departure Boards

If you’ve been to any major train station in the past 15 years, chances are you’re familiar with a certain sound: the flip, flip, flip of a large overhead departure board every time it updates. But that sound is becoming increasingly rare as analog boards that click—what are known as split-flap displays—are being replaced by digital versions.

In January 2017, Amtrak removed its large overhead departure board from the middle of Penn Station and replaced it with a fleet of digital screens scattered throughout the floor. Before its most recent renovation, Penn Station had been a consistently detested space. Walking through it didn’t generally inspire romanticism or happiness. But for some reason, when I started asking people about the sign, there was a flood of nostalgia and memories.

This podcast examines how the removal of large overhead departure boards (often referred to Solari boards after the Italian manufacturer of some of the most well-known signs) can alter shared human experiences in public spaces and expose the fallibility of memory.

Update: On January 28, 2019, the Amtrak Solari Board at Philadelphia 30th Street Station, where much of this story takes place, was removed.