The End of Adobe Flash Broke a Chinese Rail Line

Mass transit and technology took a strange turn

Mozilla Firefox Blocks Adobe Flash Due To Security Issue
A window on the Mozilla Firefox browser shows the browser has blocked the Adobe Flash plugin from activating due to a security issue.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Once, Adobe Flash was a ubiquitous part of the internet. Gradually, security vulnerabilities and the evolution of the web made Flash less and less vital; finally, on December 31, 2020, it took its final bow. And while nearly all currently operational websites had planned for this changeover, the end of Flash did have one unexpected result — it took a railroad in China out of operation.

Not a railroad in a Flash game, mind you. An actual railroad.

Writing at Jalopnik, Jason Torchinsky offers more details about this strange convergence between mass transit and outmoded coded methods. The railroads that Flash took out of service were in the city of Dalian, serving a population of around 6.7 million people.

An article from AppleDaily provides a little more information, noting that “[s]taffers were reportedly unable to view train operation diagrams, formulate train sequencing schedules and arrange shunting plans” in the absence of Flash.

The train system was out of service for about a day. The fix for the problem managed to be both ingenious and a little worrying on its own: engineers installed a pirated version of Flash to keep the system running. And lo, the problem was solved, at least for now.

So many questions remain unanswered, though — not the least of which is why a city nearly as big as New York had an outmoded piece of software still in operation. But at least the trains in Dalian are running again now.

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