photochemsyn 2 months ago

Is this really an issue? The kind of signalling system needed to safely operate trains seems well-understood and doesn't require vast amounts of data storage, and it's been pretty reliable since the 1970s apparently:

So data about the system configuration is stored on floppies instead of USB drives - so what? It might even have the benefit of nobody being able to easily corrupt the system by plugging in a USB drive loaded with some Stuxnet-type malware.

  • terminalcommand 2 months ago

    Fun fact, due to corruption Turkey's newly built suburban rail system called Marmaray does not have signalization. They accepted the project without it. For years, we did not know when the next train would arrive. Now we have tables but they are based on estimates and are totally wrong (of course).

    They cannot risk running two trains on the same track so they suspend the rail system whenever an international train is passing.

    My country managed to invent a new train signalization, whatsapp and radio signalization.

    We experience frequent train crashes and delays because of this. Don't take any technology for granted, corruption can make it cost more, take longer and make it more dangerous.

    • martinald 2 months ago

      I really don't think a train line with ~30tph in each direction is operating with no signals! I think you may be misunderstanding what 'signalisation' is? It's not just live display boards etc.

      Siemens says it has both CBTC and ERTMS. I imagine the interaction of the two is the problem, Elizabeth line in London was delayed by nearly 4 years because of the complexities of integrating multiple signalling systems (EL has 3 to contend with). It's actually a common problem of lines completed recently, as ERTMS wasn't considered robust enough to deal with "metro" style frequencies at the time, so CBTC was overlaid on top, but generally made every project that took this approach a bit of a disaster.

      Now ERTMS is definitely mature enough for metro style frequencies new projects wouldn't use a proprietary CBTC system in conjunction with it.

      • terminalcommand 2 months ago

        This is horrifying but true. We actually have an active court case against Siemens for corruption. Unfortunately, the court case was deemed as confidential because of national security and public order. No journalists are allowed in, protocols are kept secret.

        There is wide reaching news articles about this topic, one example you can read it via google translate:

        I believe Siemens is actively lying to cover up the corruption scandal. This will blow up hugely after the elections.

        There is a press ban on the corruption scandal, all news articles have been ordered to be deleted, the article I read about the scandal has also been purged from the web, this is the tweet of the esteemed journalist who was tipped about the corruption scandal:

        • martinald 2 months ago

          This video shows signals everywhere:

          You can even see a train on the opposing line stopped at a signal before the platform.

          You literally would have accidents daily if you had NO signals at all on such an intensive line. You cannot run more than one train on a line with no signals and not have accidents given the stopping distances of trains, you can't do it visually like a car. Perhaps you coudl get away with it on very long straight sections of track at lowish speed, but absolutely not a 30tph urban railway with curves, tunnels and frequent stations.

          Maybe you mean there was no automatic train protection installed? That sounds very plausible to not be done right and disabled due to wanting the line open quickly or corruption.

          Many train lines don't have ATP installed across the world. In the UK only a handful have lines have 'true' ATP which will stop the train if the train is speeding (right now it only stops it on most lines if it goes through a red signal, regardless of speed).

          • terminalcommand 2 months ago

            I believe the video shows a small part of the track and specially shot this way. In reality the signalization does not work reliably and is not available for the whole track.

            I have never seen opposing trains running side by side, they only use rail tracks one-way and do not run trains side by side even in the same direction.

            They do the coordination via sight and communicate through whatsapp and radio.

            • martinald 2 months ago

              Ok I've totally lost you. Rail tracks are only used one way. You can see a train waiting at a signal.

              There is absolutely 0 chance that you can do a 30tph service like you are describing. It simply isn't possible.

        • SECProto 2 months ago

          > There is wide reaching news articles about this topic, one example you can read it via google translate:

          That article seems to be discussing how track works were being conducted without signal protection. Which is very different than no signals being installed.

          The rest of your comment, regarding corruption scandal, seems totally possible.

      • iggldiggl 2 months ago

        > Now ERTMS is definitely mature enough for metro style frequencies

        Is it quite? In Germany they're planning to resignal the core of the Stuttgart S-Bahn system with ETCS, but found that there is still a bit of development work to do in order to actually unlock additional capacity using ETCS, and so the whole project is treated a bit as a sort of pioneering pilot scheme for high capacity applications of ETCS.

        In the UK ETCS is now in service on the Thameslink core, but AFAIK it has yet to see its design capacity of 24 tph being fully utilised – peeking through, it looks like the current maximum peak service is 20 tph.

        • martinald 2 months ago

          Well, it's mature enough that people are trying to do it now. Perhaps definitely is overkill :).

    • ulfw 2 months ago

      "The joint venture of Invensys Rail and Spanish-based OHL won a €195m ($254.08m) contract to supply signalling and communication solutions for the project. Transport Design International (TDI), an interior and exterior design firm, provided rolling stock designs for Hyundai Rotem.

      Siemens Mobility installed and commissioned the signalling and control system, SCADA systems, and CBTC and ERTMS technology on the Gebze-Halkali rail line."

      • terminalcommand 2 months ago

        Please refer to my answer above, Siemens is involved in a huge corruption scandal. As it involves the minister there is a press ban. The court proceedings are handled in secrecy due to alleged threat to public order.

        I have provided links above.

    • SECProto 2 months ago

      > Fun fact, due to corruption Turkey's newly built suburban rail system called Marmaray does not have signalization. They accepted the project without it.

      Do you have any backing for this? I couldn't find any (english language) complaints about signalization with a few searches.

  • fredoralive 2 months ago

    An obvious issue is that you may have issues finding replacement parts for the drive mechanisms, or even the discs themselves. Things will wear out and fail, and what was 30 years ago a commodity item is now either an expensive niche spare, or an eBay scavenger hunt.

    • nemo44x 2 months ago

      Just get an emulator. You don’t need physical devices for old tech.

      • fredoralive 2 months ago

        Yes[1], although as the signalling system on a railway is safety critical, you are probably going to have to go through a fair amount of safety checks to make sure the emulator can’t somehow feed invalid data to to main unit.

        [1] although the original poster was worried about various USB attacks etc, and that’s kinda how the emulator would be loaded nowadays?

        • nemo44x 2 months ago

          Security through obscurity isn’t security.

          • fredoralive 2 months ago

            The issue isn’t security through obscurity, the protocols and physical layer between the signalling system and disc drive are going to be documented. The issues are more making sure that the emulator is an accurate emulation, and can’t somehow feed false data. The “DOS” on the signalling system might be a somewhat eccentric system written in the 70s, and might trigger edge cases in an emulator designed for generic CP/M or MS-DOS systems. It might not be (and probably isn’t), but when the worst case is a train crash, you have to be cautious.

            • nemo44x 2 months ago

              Yeah I hear ya, examine it and proceed with caution. I’m just saying it’s probably an extremely simple system and physical, outdated media isn’t a blocker.

              So many of these old systems are unbelievably simple by todays standards in terms of the hardware we have to allow layer after layer of abstraction. Back in the day the complexity was squeezing it into limited spaces.

      • anigbrowl 2 months ago

        It might even have the benefit of nobody being able to easily corrupt the system by plugging in a USB drive

        Just get an emulator.

        Context matters.

  • userbinator 2 months ago

    It might even have the benefit of nobody being able to easily corrupt the system by plugging in a USB drive loaded with some Stuxnet-type malware.

    That was my thought too --- and given the deteriorating skills that even malware programmers today have been affected by, fitting it on a floppy might be a challenge itself.

  • Oxidation 2 months ago

    If the problem is that they can't get disks or drives, you can buy an "industrial" 5.25 inch USB emulator for $250.

    If the problem is that the system is just that old, and that's the only criticism, that sounds like it's a near-perfect-for-the-job system that's firmly at the bottom of the bathtub curve¹.

    Electronics of the era can plausibly continue almost indefinitely: plenty of industrial and aeronautical equipment does, as well as things like the tank-like HP printers.

    ¹: if it's coming up the other side of the bathtub and failures across the system are accelerating, then they should watch out.

kelnos 2 months ago

> a city known as a global tech capital would be so reliant on a storage format that lacks the capacity to store a single hi-resolution photograph.

Statements like these annoy me; having a lot of tech businesses in a city is completely unrelated to what government agencies use.

  • rbanffy 2 months ago

    Besides, a system where a failure can cause massive loss of life should not be replaced just because there is a new flashier technology available. Replacing it would require running the two systems concurrently in n+1 redundancy until everyone is happy the new system is not attempting mass murder by train collision.

    There will be a point where operating the current system will become more costly (due to failures and outages) than developing and validating a new one. At that point it's rational to start replacing it.

  • spicyusername 2 months ago

    I mean, maybe you've accepted that as normal, but it is a little amusing.

    It's not obvious, or even necessary, that there couldn't be sharing of domain knowledge between organizations so closely headquartered.

netsharc 2 months ago

The article embeds a tweet of a news interview where it's some guy asserting that this is the case, TBH it'd be more interesting to actually see the hardware instead of just watching some guy say this is the case...

But if it ever became critical, get some Raspberry Pi's and implement this hack:

Oh wait, there's a Pi shortage isn't there... we're doooomed!

JoeAltmaier 2 months ago

You call 5 1/4" disks 'old'? I remember 8"! And mag-tape! And paper tape! And front-panel toggle switches!

Kids these days.

  • burntalmonds 2 months ago

    The article called them 5-inch disks, which immediately bothered me. C'mon, you can't just round it off. We always referred to them as 5 and a quarter inch floppies.

    • tengwar2 2 months ago

      FWIW, rounding off would have cause more problems with 3½" disks, since 3" disks also existed (and were popular in the UK and some parts of Europe).

  • thelazydogsback 2 months ago

    Plug-board wiring!

    • Symbiote 2 months ago

      Railway signaling goes a lot further back than that.

      Steel cables connected between a mechanical signal and a lever, including fail-safes should cables break.

      A special baton to carry, only a train carrying a baton is allowed to move.

      These are still in use in some places.

      • arethuza 2 months ago

        Jacquard looms are even older than that.

        • JoeAltmaier 2 months ago

          I don't go back that far. My first computer was an Altair 8800.

          • arethuza 2 months ago

            I once met a chap who had done programming with a hand drill....

            Ancient mainframe controlling a steel plant, booted from a paper tape that had decades before been replaced with a leather strap. He need to alter something in the boot process - so had to resort to a hand drill :-)

muzz 2 months ago

This seems like one of those things which is perfectly okay for private companies to do-- one was even mentioned in the article-- but somehow not for government

  • perryizgr8 2 months ago

    Yes, there is a double standard in play. It arises due to the fact that private companies are working with their own money. They are free to decide what to do and how to do it. But the government works with money coerced from law-abiding innocent citizens, and so must strive to perform its duties in the most efficient and perfect way possible. Otherwise it becomes difficult to justify the continuous violence imposed on the populace in the form of taxation.

    Maybe an example that makes the distinction obvious: Bill Gates can outfit his bathroom with all kinds of advanced tech, spending millions of dollars on it, and nobody will feel the need to criticise him for it. After all, it is his money and he is free to do whatever with it. However, if a city government builds a public bathroom that costs millions of dollars per stall, that's a scandal. You cannot take the same liberties with public money as you can with yours.

  • baby 2 months ago

    I would say it's not OK for anyone to do. Software, like gardens, is something you need to tend to otherwise it decays and will eventually stop working.

    • xabotage 2 months ago

      It's clearly been working for decades. The only reason modern software needs so much attention is because 1) Internet connectivity requires constant security updates and 2) new features to sell, neither of which should apply here.

    • klyrs 2 months ago

      Does it? It sounds like this software has been doing just fine for longer than most of us here have been alive. Interesting that your preconception has not been challenged by this obvious counterexample.

      The hardware is eventually going to give out, which might require a change to software, but the software itself is clearly fine and doesn't need mucking about.

    • tluyben2 2 months ago

      Not only does this decades old software from the article tell you otherwise, but it doesn’t apply to gardens either. We (and many others here) don’t tend to most of our garden and all is fine.

      There are piles of software on from the 70s/80s that was not touched since it was built and it also works fine. Not everything is brittle always breaking tech. Not everyone is a feature hoarder either so why would you need changes to something that works well; without changes, things don’t just break.

  • Jtsummers 2 months ago

    Why the distinction, in your mind?

perihelions 2 months ago

- "SFMTA is hardly unique in using them, however. As recently as 2020, British Airways was loading avionics software onto 747s via floppy disk."

Topical thread here, ("Boeing 747s receive software updates over floppy disks" (2020))

freitzkriesler2 2 months ago

If it ain't broke and I know they make solid state floppy drive replacements for use cases like this. Sometimes older systems are perfect by design and shouldn't be replaced.

Drunk_Engineer 2 months ago

The current ATCS system was installed in the late 1990's, so it is actually not that old (for a train signal system). The real issue here is the usual SF Muni incompetence when they spec'ed and installed a signal system without knowing what they were doing.

Before upgrading the train system, SFMTA will first need to upgrade the in-house staff. Otherwise the same problem is going to happen again.

ransom1538 2 months ago

Floppy disks? That is insane. They should upgrade and put it online with a nice CRUD interface. That is smarter.

sourcecodeplz 2 months ago

No way this is real. Floppy disks used to get corrupted all the time when I exchanged them with friends. Just a little sun light and ..

xtiansimon 2 months ago

I lived in San Francisco and the Bay Area, and I never knew there was a “subway” system. LOL

andbberger 2 months ago

just another "state of good repair" hustle

seltrac is the least of muni's problems and there's no need to update it

  • twblalock 2 months ago

    Of course there are reasons to update it. It’s going to be harder to fix when it breaks than a modern system, it’s going to be harder to find people to work on it than a modern system, and those problems will only increase over time to the point where they could cause extended transit outages.

  • jeffbee 2 months ago

    Are you saying that they leak these stories out in advance of asking for a billion dollars for CBTC?