San Francisco Metro’s Transition: Moving Beyond Floppy Disks For Future Rail Control

San Francisco Metro’s Transition: Moving Beyond Floppy Disks For Future Rail Control


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), responsible for the city’s Muni Metro light rail, has been utilizing a train control system reliant on 5¼-inch floppy disks since its installation in 1998. This system, known as the Automatic Train Control System (ATCS), facilitates the operation of trains in automatic mode while ensuring operator supervision. However, the agency is now poised to transition away from this outdated technology.

SFMTA officials have disclosed that the ATCS relies on three floppy disks loaded with crucial software each morning. The system involves various components, including onboard train computers, central and local servers, and communication infrastructure. The process involves connecting trains to the control system upon entering the subway, where they operate automatically, and reverting to manual operation upon exiting.

Acknowledging the system’s limitations and the increasing risk of data degradation and potential catastrophic failure, SFMTA initiated plans to overhaul the ATCS in 2018. The projected timeline for completion extends to 2029-2030 due to pandemic-related delays. The agency aims to select a contractor by early 2025 and develop a comprehensive project timeline thereafter.

Despite the current functionality of the floppy disk-based system, concerns persist regarding its sustainability and maintenance challenges. SFMTA acknowledges that the system has exceeded its expected lifespan and faces increasing difficulty in finding personnel proficient in outdated programming languages. The agency has emphasized the necessity of transitioning to a modernized control system to mitigate risks and ensure operational efficiency.

Furthermore, SFMTA reassures current staff of continued employment opportunities and plans to provide training in new technologies. Additionally, the transition is expected to create employment opportunities for skilled positions, such as signaling engineers, to support the implementation and maintenance of the new train control system.

Filed in Transportation. Read more about Public Transport and Train.



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