Posted on February 15, 2024 in Technology

The Train That Breaks Itself

If you’ve paid any attention to big tech in the last several years, you’ll probably know that Apple is on the verge of switching to USB-C for phones. It’s easier and more accessible for the average EU citizen to acquire than Apple’s lightning chargers. It’s not just Apple that’s being forced to change for the sake of the customer – the shareholder system at large is constantly at odds with the end user’s rights to buy a complete, sturdy product that wasn’t designed to break a few months down the road so that an official BrandProduct shop can charge over the market rate to fix it. Thanks to the EU’s legal interventions, Apple (and many others) cannot continue to sell a product that only they can make chargers and power supplies for, that only they can update, that they can choose to brick whenever they feel like the user needs to move on to the next phone, etc.

The Newag train scandal is particularly egregious given this context!

Big parts of Europe rely heavily on trains for both passenger and freight transit, and trains are expensive to make and repair; once the state has invested money into infrastructure and the trains themselves, they won’t simply be switching brands on a whim. This already gives the company a massive amount of leverage over their contractors.

 Newag is one such train company. Allegedly, as Apple did, Newag figured that regular repair and maintenance were good places to squeeze a bit more money out of the customer, and set up a bit of code within the train’s computer brain that would cause it to error and stop working if anyone but a Newag shop touched it to fix it. Keep in mind train repair shops are already incredibly niche, and repairs to trains come out of taxpayer money – to be thriftier by going to an independent shop is an obligation when the money isn’t your own. Worse, even if the shop didn’t need to fix anything in the train’s computer, Newag’s trains are GPS-enabled, and if the train spent too long at an independent train-repair station, it would still mysteriously stop working.

Of course, Newag denies this heavily – they even went as far as trying to sue the company that discovered this quirk, Dragon Sector, into shutting up about it. Then, they suggested it was the result of cybercriminals and not Newag itself, which could make sense if this were ransomware stopping the train entirely and not just when the train didn’t stop at a Newag shop or get it’s special unlock code. The odds are stacking up against the company, as the evidence is too clearly pointing towards predatory practices for them to get out of an investigation.