Train System In The Heart Of Silicon Valley Still Runs On Floppy Disks, But Why?

train system in heart of silicon valley still runs on floppy disks
Most people don't realize it, but older technology powers much of our current infrastructure. Whether it is due to a lack of acceptable alternatives, costs, or just plain bureaucratic indifference, ancient technology like floppy disks are still being used in some niche applications, like at Chuck E. Cheese locations for example. Another one of these niche applications came to light recently regarding the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) train system, which also relies on 5-inch floppies which are deployed every morning.

Floppy disks have been around for over 50 years at this point. As time goes on though, their stability and reliability decrease and thereby increase risk to systems reliant on them. This is why the U.S. military finally replaced floppy disks in the chain of technology that powers the nation’s nuclear arsenal. However, SFMTA’s train system is a lower risk application where floppies are still critical, but it is facing a similar set of circumstances, forcing an expensive upgrade.

system train system in heart of silicon valley still runs on floppy disks

ABC 7 News’ Luz Pena spoke with officials at SFMTA’s Train Control Project, that explained that the system was cutting edge back in 1998 when it was installed. Since then, nothing has changed or been upgraded because, “The system is currently working just fine,” but that said, they 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.” With that in mind, SFMTA's director Jeffrey Tumlin explained that “upgrading the system will take another decade and cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” but it is in the works.

Despite the concerns and seemingly dramatic worry of catastrophic failure, the SFMTA’s train systems are an amalgamation of many systems, which likely include fail safes. As such, this is less of a concern than one would initially think, but still worth the investment to change which we applaud.

(Images from SFMTA)