June 19, 2024

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By 2030, 5.25-inch floppy disks are expected to continue to be used on San Francisco trains

By 2030, 5.25-inch floppy disks are expected to continue to be used on San Francisco trains

It is a storage facility that is a distant memory for most people, and it still plays a major role in the American city's railway network.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA), which operates the city's commuter rail network, claims to be the first U.S. agency to adopt its existing train control system, which includes software stored on floppy disks. However, it now appears that the SFMTA is ready to end its reliance on those floppy disks…even though it will take another six years and a few hundred million dollars.

The service uses three 5¼-inch floppy disks daily. These floppy disks have been part of the Automatic Train Control System (ATCS) since it was first installed in the city's metro in 1998. The ATCS consists of various parts, “including computers on wires connected to the central and local propulsion and braking systems.” “The servers are in addition to the communications infrastructure,” SFMTA spokesman Mike Rocafort said. In his statements to Ars Technica.

According to Rocafort, initial planning for the ATCS refurbishment, including the retirement of the floppy disks, began in 2018 and was expected to take a decade to complete. Due to delays caused by the pandemic, the project is now set to be completed between 2029 and 2030. SFMTA estimates that final contractor selection will be made in 2025, at which time a specific timeline will be released.

While the system works, its reliance on outdated technology creates issues that the SFMTA has highlighted for years. The train control system was built with a lifespan of only 20 to 25 years, meaning it exceeds that limit in 2023. Early in 2020, a task force made up of transportation experts recommended that the train control system trains be replaced within five to Seven trains. Years.

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Aside from the risk of damage to information stored on floppy disks, one of the problems that municipal authorities have faced over time is finding workers who know how to use this antiquated system.

“We are forced to retain programmers who are experts in programming languages ​​in the 1990s in order to maintain the current system, so we have a technology debt that spans decades,” said Jeffrey Tamlin, SFMTA's transportation director.

In previous statements, Tamlin admitted that the system ran DOS, with programs loaded from 5¼-inch floppy disks, but that it remained fully functional.

Now that the project has finally been awarded, SFMTA aims to move to “modern technologies, like fiber optics or Wi-Fi,” Rocafort said. The project will be funded with state and federal funds with municipal participation. The SFMTA declined to comment to Ars Technica on how much it has spent so far to upgrade the systems.

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