I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Metro’s Automatic Train Control System (ATCS) had a bad hair day Thursday morning.

On a tangential note, it recently came to my attention that one reason the platform signs often don’t indicate T-Third trains correctly is that the ATCS software is written in OS/2 Warp, and Alcatel-Lucent’s remaining OS/2 programmers are busy working on the Docklands Light Railway in London for a few more months.

There’s a lot of talk around Muni about how dated ATCS is, but it was installed less than ten years ago. ATCS brought with it a slew of problems, but I must admit I cringe at the thought of replacing or upgrading it, since the last time Muni installed a new train control system, we endured something like a year of early Metro closures.

Compared to some of Muni’s technology, ATCS is downright modern. The MTA CAC toured Central Control a few times, and it’s quite the computer museum. I only-half-jokingly asked where they kept the punch card readers and spare vacuum tubes. Finding a difference engine in a closet there wouldn’t have come as a great shock.

There’s a big quandary at the heart of any question about upgrading Muni technology. Much of Muni’s hardware and software is outdated, but the agency doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to acquiring new technology. Can the agency which bought the Boeing Vertol and Breda streetcars, or ATCS for that matter, be trusted to make better decisions when money is available to buy shiny new stuff? But, on the other hand, can we afford not to try? Not all of Muni’s problems relate to outdated technology—not by a longshot—but things like ridiculously antiquated radio systems, which make communication with operators difficult and slow, constitute part of The Problem.

-Daniel M.