The clicks of a train sign

At Westwood’s rail station, the old-fashioned board still noisily announces its changes.

Like stockbrokers tracking tickers on the Big Board, train travelers up and down the East Coast share a common ritual: standing, bags at our feet, under massive signs displaying departures, peering up until our number is called. And then we shuffle — quickly — to the appropriate platform, bound for Washington or New York or even Richmond, Virginia. In the old days, the train signs made a mechanical noise as the cities, tracks, and times changed. Just like brake lights on the car ahead of us alert our brains to stop, the sound of the flipping digits told our brains to pay attention, and then to hustle.

Alas, the old-fashioned boards at North and South stations in Boston were replaced by electronic signs, but they still can click, thanks to computer-generated recordings. If you want the real thing, though, you can get it at the much smaller rail station at Route 128 in Westwood, where the sign (above) makes a click-click-click as it cycles through the day. The difference is that, here, with just two tracks, there’s little mystery to where your train will be.


Scott Helman is a Globe Magazine staff writer. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @swhelman.WHAT DO YOU HEAR? Send ideas to