Grand Central got a questionable makeover yesterday when one half of the retro Departures board was switched to digital displays. The controversial upgrade has been in the works since March and is part of Metro-North’s Way Ahead initiative which will replace the station’s gate boards, digital track indicators, departure monitors and platform displays with a new, modern system that promises brighter, easier-to-read, and more accurate displays that can help curb congestion in the busy terminal.
Commuters have been largely critical of the change, which swapped the nostalgic Art Deco-inspired signage for a still hard-to-read blue gradient background and sans serif font. But there’s actually not a lot of history lost in the process.
Grand Central’s displays have been digital since 1996 when the original, split-flap Solari boards were replaced by an LED display made by the same company and designed to maintain the look of the analog version.
In a letter to the editor published in the New York Times in 1996, Patricia G. Horan wrote: “On July 17 the classic whirring departure board was removed from its time-honored place atop the ticket windows…On the day the old board disappeared I was standing next to a Metro-North conductor who stared at the gaping space and muttered, “Now I know why they waited for Jackie O.’s demise to do this.” Horan later added, “they’re destroying the very Grand Central Terminal they talked us into believing they’re preserving.”
The same upgrade hit Penn Station in 2016 when the Amtrak Departures board was replaced with smaller digital displays, inspiring strong reactions from the public. In addition, all of the stops along the Metro-North lost their Solari displays years ago in favor of digital ones. Even though the change isn’t surprising, it’s hard to look at the bright new boards and not feel like it’s the end of an era.