One year after the state signed its death warrant, the flapping schedule board at New Haven’s Union Station is slated to depart. On track to replace it: The voice of Delta Airlines.
Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT), said Wednesday that the sign with the signature sound will be taken down in the spring and put out to pasture at the Danbury Rail Museum.
The old-style arrivals-and-departures board, made by Italy’s Solari company, will be removed to make way for a couple of high-tech display panels. It’s part of a set of station improvements currently underway, including work on the distinctive silver pedestrian tubes to the train platforms. Click the play arrow above to see the board in action.
One year ago, when news of the Solari board’s demise broke, rail travelers reacted with surprise and nostalgic sadness. That regret turned to organized resistance when RailTEC, a local transportation advocacy group, rallied to save the board. Rich Hanley, a journalism professor at Quinnipiac University, started a “Save Solari” Facebook group—now with 592 members—and wrote an op-ed in the Register calling for the state to preserve the board. Hanley asked that the board be kept in the station, in another spot if necessary.
In an email on Wednesday, Hanley called the Danbury Rail Museum an acceptable home, if the Solari board must go somewhere. If it were left in the station, people might just think it was broken, Hanley said.
“I went through the station and couldn’t find a decent place where the board would fit as work of art rather than as a functional device,” Hanley said. “So all in all, though I hate to see the sign go, the museum is as good a place as any.”
New Haven high school student Rigel Janette, a member of the Save Solari group, said he thinks the Danbury Rail Museum will be a good place for the board.
“It would be nicer if it was on display at Union Station somewhere,” Janette wrote in an email. “But I welcome the fact that at least it’ll be up for public view.”
Janette said that despite his initial reaction that the board should be kept in service in the station, he now thinks that it needs to be replaced.
“First of all, the board is quite broken. I’ve seen it malfunction numerous times, and I’m told by a friend who works with Amtrak at Union Station that the board breaks quite often and needs help a lot,” Janette said. “The board also doesn’t have enough room, I don’t think. If we’re going to be serious about expanding service (e.g. Springfield commuter line), then we’ll need the space on the board.”
Other preservationists were not so sanguine. “I’m disappointed,” said Anstress Farwell (at right in photo), head of the Urban Design League. “We kind of knew that they [DOT] weren’t listening to us. It would be better if it stayed either in the building or stayed in a New Haven museum.”
Aaron Goode (at left in photo), a RailTEC member, said he hopes the public outcry to preserve the Solari board will be a lesson to the state. “When you do historic preservation advocacy, you have to be ready to fail 90 percent of the time. I’d like to think that the ‘Save Solari’ effort will make DOT think twice in the future about messing with beloved New Haven icons without any community consultation, but maybe that’s wishful thinking.”
RailTEC head Richard Stowe commended Danbury Rail Museum for taking the board, but offered a critique of the way DOT handled the process. The public should have been given more opportunity for input from the beginning, he said. “I think the DOT really lost a number of prime opportunities by not bringing this to light, not allowing the disaffected and the public to evaluate what the project was all about in advance of the contracts being signed.”
“There is nothing wrong with the process whatsoever,” Nursick said. “The proof is in the pudding here.” When the improvements are all done, the train station will have a state-of-the-art public information system. To keep the Solari board would be like getting a brand new muscle car and swapping out the supercharged motor for a “small, underpowered engine,” Nursick said.
The new digital panels will display twice as much information and they won’t require $1,000 in maintenance every month, Nursick said.
“Grant”: The New Voice Of Union Station
Janette said he has been monitoring the station improvements and has contacted DOT to offer some advice about the new public address system. He shared some correspondence with DOT, in which he asked about what recorded voice will be featured in the new system.
“It seems that the CDOT voice (I’ve heard in New London) and the Metro North voice (I’ve heard in Stamford) are slightly different, and honestly, sound incredibly computerized,” Janette wrote to DOT. He requested that those voices not be used. He praised the voice of the “T” in Boston, which belongs to Frank Oglesby. Click the play arrow below to hear a sample.
“Search Frank Oglesby on YouTube and look at the first seven or eight results,” Janette told DOT. “The voice is great, I really think that the DOT should look into a voice like his for Union Station.”
Despite Janette’s preferences, the new voice will be “Grant,” better know as “the voice of Delta Airlines,” Nursick said. “Grant is an effective communicator. Pleasant voice. Large vocabulary.”
Spokesman Nursick provided an update on the status of the rest of the train station’s multimillion-dollar package of improvements, which includes a pedestrian tunnel overhaul, improved signs and audio systems, and changes to plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and lighting systems to help the station meet new building codes.
In the tunnel (pictured last year), a contractor is installing new fire sprinklers and addressing a “water infiltration” problem. New signs and audio speakers are being installed as well. That work is “progressing well,” Nursick said. One side of the tunnel has been closed to the public for some time, while work is completed there. When that one opens, the other will be shut. Both sides should be open by the summer and look much the same as they did before upgrades, Nursick said.
The station’s west elevator has been closed since October for renovation. It will be back in service within a month, Nursick said.
In terms of the public information system, the “wiring framework” is being installed, Nursick said. When that is complete, the new display panels will be installed. The new boards will adjust for ambient light, just as the hundreds of new speakers in the station will adjust for ambient sound, Nursick said. The new public address system will be fully ADA-compliant, he said.
The new boards should go up this spring, Nursick said, at which point the Solari board will be packed up and shipped off to Danbury. Nursick said the DOT hasn’t determined if Solari will travel to Danbury by truck or by train.
Nostalgic New Haveners will be able to journey by rail to visit the Solari board in its retirement home. In about two hours, one can take Metro North to South Norwalk and transfer to a train to Danbury, where the rail museum is right next to the station.