Technology Floppy disks still help to run San Francisco's trains and it could take 10 years to upgrade


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Apr 24, 2016
Earlier this year, we reported that the German ICE railroad network was still using Microsoft's Windows 3.11, which launched in 1993, to help run parts of its services. Now there's word that one of the biggest municipal train systems in the US is being run in part by three 5-inch floppy disks.

According to KGO-TV News, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has been using these floppy disks to help control its trains since the system was first installed in 1998. The story says that this system was considered to be the state of the art for train technology in that time period. However, by 1998, most new tech devices had moved away from floppy disks, so it's unclear why the SFMTA decided to use this system.

In any case, the story says that this technology was designed to last between 20 to 25 years. The SFMTA has gone over that time frame, and it looks like it could be another 10 years before the system is updated in any way.

Jeffrey Tumlin, the Director of Transportation of the SFMTA, admits in the story that before that upgrade happens, things could get very bad with the current floppy disk-based technology:
It's a question of risk. The system is currently working just fine but we know that with each increasing year risk of data degradation on the floppy disks increases and that at some point there will be a catastrophic failure.
The story does not go into concrete details about how the current system works, including what operating system, if any, is running with those floppy disks. However, it's reasonable to assume that a system failure could happen with this old technology at any time.

Upgrading the system to something more modern will not only take a lot of time but also a ton of money. The story says it could cost hundreds of millions of dollars to get this system out of the 1990s.

ForgottenSeer 109138

Catastrophic failure with software the helps run trains, what could possibly go wrong there :unsure:

I can think of many more reasons to shut down long enough to push upgrades, then to drag this out incrementally over time.
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