The American train control system in San Francisco depends entirely on floppy disks

At the beginning of 2024, we published the article “

If you drown, you drown, you won’t drown: 2024 seems to be the last year for floppy disks. Or not?

” It said that this rather ancient storage medium would never go out of use: floppy disks are used by both companies and individuals. And now, the other day another confirmation of what was said appeared. Details under the cut!

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What's happened?

One of the largest train systems that operates in San Francisco,

totally depends

from floppy disks. We are talking about the local train control system (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, SFMTA), which was developed back in the 90s of the last century.

Of course, it can be converted, but this will require time and significant funds. And the operation of the system cannot be interrupted even for a minute, otherwise collapse may occur. According to the head of the SFMTA, it is necessary to change the system, because sooner or later the old hardware may refuse to work – then the railway workers will have huge problems.

But on the other hand, replacing all this is not so easy. The system itself was developed back when hard drives were not widely used. In the 90s, they were already used almost everywhere, but the infrastructure of the railway system itself was designed on the basis of even older hardware. In any case, that’s what the head of SFTMA says, which, however, many do not believe.


Moreover, experts believe that since we are talking about computers without hard drives, then perhaps all this works not on 3.5-inch floppy disks, but on older 5.25-inch ones. For a moment, they recently turned 40 years old.

However, the SFMTA chief says a global outage could happen, but it is unlikely to happen. Now the system is stable, problems will arise only if the floppy disks become corrupted, and at some point a crash occurs. It is worth noting that the service life of the system according to the original design was about a quarter of a century. But now, at least officially, no one is talking about upgrading or completely replacing the infrastructure. “Everything works – and that’s fine.”

If you change all the hardware and software, then the employees of the train control system from San Francisco will need about 10 years and several hundred million dollars. So far, the organization cannot afford either one or the other. And the search for a contractor, even a theoretical one, is not yet underway. In general, this whole situation can be compared with the plot of the ancient Greek legend about the sword of Damocles.

Everyone understands the danger, but so far they can’t do anything. Well, or they don’t want to, which is also possible, given the huge amount of resources that are required to modify the existing infrastructure.

What about other countries?


Similar artifacts of past technological eras also periodically surface there. But the problems are gradually being solved. In Japan, floppy disks continued to be used until the beginning of 2024 – despite all the government’s statements that “we are about to get rid of floppy disks.” And only in 2024, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan abolished the requirement to attach floppy disks to the package of official documents for any of the government procedures. And these procedures, for a moment, numbered about 1900. The submitter of documents for each of them had to provide additional data on a laser disk or floppy disk.

The government will eliminate the need for legal entities and individuals to work with floppy disks and laser disks, starting this year. Of course, officials will need some time to update the requirements for almost two thousand official procedures, but statesmen have experience here, and this is not the first time something has had to be changed.

There are, however, more complex examples. Thus, airplanes also operate with floppy disks – from the Boeing 747-200 to the Airbus A320 and a number of business jets, including aircraft from Gulfstream. Nobody wants to take responsibility and modernize these systems, because if something happens to the plane later, who will be responsible?

So far there is no shortage of floppy disks, but what will happen next?

As far as one can judge, floppy disks of all formats will continue to be used quite actively. The only problem is that there are fewer and fewer of them, floppy disks. After all, all production is closed. So you have to use either used floppy disks, or look for floppy disks that are stored in the depths of dusty archives.

Specialized companies are looking for them. One of them, the most famous, is floppydisk. It does not produce floppy disks, but resells them – purchases them from warehouses of different companies, from private owners, etc. It checks, formats and sells new floppy disks. Old ones – he also checks, formats, replaces the old used sticker with a new one and also sells it.

Business owner Tom Persky says he expects the floppy business to last another four years. After this, if floppy disks are used somewhere, it will be in very isolated cases. It is worth noting that the company’s warehouses contain not only the usual floppy disks: on the shelves there are both standard floppy disks and older 5.25-8-inch ones, plus completely non-standard formats. According to the business owner, about 90% of his company's income comes from the sale of empty floppy disks of various formats and capacities.

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