IT capital of the USA: Without DOS and Windows 98, no trains run

The transit system in San Francisco, in close proximity to Silicon Valley, runs on DOS, Windows 98, and ancient spare parts.

DOS, Windows 98, ancient hardware: public transport in Silicon Valley.© Rudy Balasko/

Bart (Bay Area Rapid Transport) is a major public transit company in the San Francisco area. As the daily newspaper The Mercury News reports, the extensive public transport network in the San Francisco area only works thanks to DOS, Windows 98, and age-old spare parts sold on eBay they have to be painstakingly bought together. In Silicon Valley of all places, IT oldtimers keep the trains and buses running.

Bart’s local transport system is now around 50 years old. The notebooks running Bart’s vehicle maintenance software are still running Windows 98. The microchips installed in the vehicles are just as old. But finding spare parts is difficult because the technicians sometimes don’t even know the names of the original spare parts.

All designed from the ground up – and now completely obsolete

When building the local transport system, Bart did without the existing old technology and instead commissioned a space company to redevelop the train fleet. This was to serve as a model for local public transport at the time. The result was a railway that was indeed ultra-modern at the time. With slim aluminum carriages, wide windows, and very advanced train management technology. But the hardware and software are now completely outdated. The proximity to Silicon Valley did not change that.

The system that controls the trains and that has to be evaluated for diagnostic functions even runs on DOS computers with Windows 98. The technicians usually use Windows 10 PCs and open a virtual machine on which Windows 98 runs, to do their work on the train system software. In a DOS window, the technicians then download the system’s log files for evaluation.

Search on Ebay

But even more problematic is the supply of spare parts, because components for this ancient technology have not been manufactured for a long time. The technicians cannibalize decommissioned cars in order to gain spare parts. And of course, they look for suitable parts on eBay.

In the meantime, however, the old trains are slowly being phased out and replaced by new machines.

Old technology is often still in use

However, public transport in the greater San Francisco area (San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District) is by no means the only important user of age-old computer technology. Even crasser: 40-year-old computers with 8-inch floppy drives nuclear weapons. A Windows 3.1 failure once paralyzed the Paris airport. the US Army continued to rely on Windows XP long after this system was obsolete. And the Berlin administration made a fool of itself with its old Windows XP computers because they became a security risk and had to be converted to Windows 10 for a lot of money. Chip giant Intel even stores its own ancient technology for research purposes: Intel’s secret warehouse with old chips – that’s what’s behind it.


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