In less than one week, the Bay Area Rapid Transit System (BART) Computer Network has shown signs of extreme vulnerability, and now, after Sunday’s computer hacker attack to its website, BART should consider alternative, emergency methods of running trains on the system.
The reason is that, while BART says the website is “wholly separate” from the computer network that operates the trains, and it is physically, that’s not the problem. The problem is that the attacks come at a time when BART’s entire computer based systems, from websites to the Advanced Automatic Train Control , have not been upgraded to withstand potential security breaches, let alone give better performance.
Additionally, just because the Advanced Automatic Train Control System is separate from the websites, doesn’t mean it can’t be hacked. It can, and some organizations mention how their systems have “complex” codes to deter hackers.
Such a claim has not been made by BART as of this writing.
Last Tuesday night, BART experienced a complete computer network failure, and to this day, the reason for that problem has not been explained. This is not to imply that the issue was caused by computer hacking, but by the possibility that it’s just plain old.
The Advanced Automatic Train Control system that governs BART failed last Tuesday as BART officials explained that two routers stopped communicating with each other, thus failing to govern train movement and timing. But what’s more problematic is that BART does not know why it happened and called it a “fluke.”
But the fact it happened calls up the controversy between BART and General Electric Transportation Systems Global Signaling (GETS GS) of 2006, where BART filed a lawsuit charging that GETS GS never delivered on its promise of a “next generation” Advanced Automatic Train Control system that would allow smaller time spacing between trains – the end result is that BART would be able to take more riders over a rush-hour time period.
Subsequent documents didn’t state that the issue was clearly resolved, or that BART actually installed an Advanced Automatic Train Control System that lived up to the promises given to the transit organization. But it’s clear BART was well on its way to trying to build a new system. On July 15, 2002, BART implemented Advanced Automatic Train Control System on a limited basis, but by June, 2006, the program was considered a failure and BART went to court:
BART statement on Advanced Automatic Train Control lawsuit
Regrettably, after nearly four years of protracted negotiations, General Electric Transportation Systems Global Signaling (GETS GS), a business unit of General Electric, has left BART with no option but to sue it for breach and termination of its 1998 contract with BART in which GETS GS promised to design and deliver a technological improvement to the BART transit system.
Over the course of the last nine years, BART made a very substantial investment in the development and implementation of a next-generation, communications based train control technology called Advanced Automatic Train Control, or AATC.
If perfected, AATC would allow BART to run trains closer together and at greater average speeds, thereby significantly increasing the ridership capacity of the BART system at a cost far less than the cost of physically expanding the system by building another Transbay Tube or more trackway.
Unfortunately, GETS GS has refused to honor its contractual commitment to develop a safe and functional AATC system for BART, and GETS GS has abandoned the project.
BART will not let GETS GS just walk away from its contractual responsibilities. We will fight vigorously to protect the investment the taxpayers and riders have made in this critically important technology.
So BART has been working with a system that, according to BARTrage, may be outdated in some areas of the BART line with the original, but still maintained, Westinghouse Automatic Train Control System that dates back to the 80s, still in place. And this is the one that contains the routers that stopped communicating with each other, and for reasons that BART can’t explain.
So, we have two problems: BART can’t explain its train control problems of last week, and can’t block hackers from altering its website and breaking into it, digging out the personal data of riders and sharing it to the World.
And again, we have organizations harming innocent people in waging war against BART. This is not the best way, and only turns people against those doing the hacking.
That aside, BART, regardless of what it may say to deny the fact, is in crisis.