Hackaday Podcast Episode 250: Trains, RC Planes, And EEPROMS In Flames

This week in the Podcast, Elliot Williams is off at Chaos Communication Congress, hearing tales of incredible reverse engineering that got locomotives back up and running, while Al Williams is thinking over what happened in 2023. There’s a lot of “how things work” in this show, from data buoys to sewing machines to the simulated aging of ICs.

Whether you’re into stacking bricks, stacking Pi Picos, or stacking your 3D prints to make better use of precious bed space, this episode is for you. Enjoy.

This is your last chance to download a new podcast this year. Take it!

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Polish Train Manufacturer Threatens Hackers Who Unbricked Their Trains

A week ago we covered the story of a Polish train manufacturer who was caught using software to brick their products after they had been repaired by in independent railway workshop. Now 404 Media has a follow-up story with more information, including the news that the hackers responsible for the discovery are now being threatened by the manufacturer.

The more we learn about this story the more interesting it becomes, as the Newag trains in question began failing after service as far back as 2021. In desperation after services were affected by the number of non-functional units, an employee searched online for Polish hackers and found a group called Dragon Sector. The group was able to find the issue, and are now being threatened with legal action by the manufacturer, who are citing possible safety issues.

It’s clear from where we are standing that Newag have been caught red-handed in some extremely dubious practices, and seem to have little sense of how their actions might not be the best in terms of protecting their reputation. We are guessing that the European regulators will become very interested in this case, and that meanwhile the order books of a company which puts DRM in its trains will start to look very empty indeed. You can catch our original coverage as the story broke, here.

Thanks [JohnU] for the tip.

The Deere Disease Spreads To Trains

If the right-to-repair movement has a famous story, it’s the familiar green and yellow John Deere tractor. Farmers and mechanics have done their own repairs as long as there have been tractors, but more recent Deeres have been locked down such that only Deere-authorised agents can fix them. It’s a trend that has hurt the value of a second-had Deere, but despite that it appears to be spreading within the machinery world. Now there’s a parallel on Polish railways, as Polish-made Newag electric passenger trains have been found to give errors when serviced by non-Newag workshops.

At the heart of the problem are the PLCs which control all aspects of a modern rail traction system, which thanks to a trio of Poland and Germany based researchers have been found to play a range of nasty tricks. They’ll return bogus error codes after a set date which would presumably be reset by the official service, if the train has been laid up for a while, or even if they are detected via GPS to have visited a third-party workshop. Their work will be the subject of a talk at 37C3 which should be worth watching out for.

It will be especially interesting to juxtapose the reaction to this revelation with cases such as the Deere tractors, because of course Poland is part of the European Union. We’re not specialist EU competition lawyers, but we know enough to know that the EU takes a dim view of these types of practices and has been strong on the right to repair. Who knows, Polish trains may contribute further to the rights of all Europeans.

Polish Railways Fall Victim To Cheap Radio Attack

Poland’s railways have recently come under a form of electronic attack, as reported by Wired. The attack has widely been called a “cyber-attack” in the mainstream media, but the incident was altogether a more simple affair pursued via good old analog radio.

The attacks were simple in nature. As outlined in an EU technical document, Poland’s railways use a RADIOSTOP system based on analog radio signals at around 150 MHz. Transmitting a basic tone sequence will trigger any duly equipped trains receiving the signal to engage emergency braking. It’s implemented as part of the PKP radio system on the Polish railway network. Continue reading “Polish Railways Fall Victim To Cheap Radio Attack”

The State Of High Speed Rail, And A Look To Tomorrow

In the 21st century, the global transportation landscape is in shift. Politicians, engineers, and planners all want to move more people, more quickly, more cleanly. Amid the frenzy of innovative harebrained ideas, high-speed rail travel has surged to the forefront. It’s a quiet achiever, and a reliable solution for efficient, sustainable, and swift intercity and intercountry transit.

From the thriving economies of Europe and Asia to the burgeoning markets of the Middle East and America, high-speed rail networks are being planned, expanded, and upgraded whichever way you look. A combination of traditional and magnetic levitation (maglev) trains are being utilized, reaching speeds that were once the stuff of science fiction. As we set our sights towards the future, it’s worth taking a snapshot of the current state of high-speed rail, a field where technology, engineering brilliance, and visions of a greener tomorrow converge.

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Luxury Train Cars Used To Ride On Paper Wheels

Early on, railways primarily used wheels made of wood or iron. The former were cheap and relatively easy to manufacture, while the latter had far superior wear qualities. It may surprise you to learn, however, that some railways once used wheels made out of paper, as [Train of Thought] explains.

The wheels were pioneered by a man known as Richard N. Allen, in the 19th century. The wheels were constructed by layering up hundreds of sheets of paper with glue, compacting them with a press, and allowing them to cure for a few weeks. The solid paper disks were then machined to size, and were drilled to accept bolts that attached metal plates for protection. The wheels were given a cast-iron hub and a steel rim for wear reasons.

The benefit of the wheels was that their composite paper construction helped damp vibrations and noise from the wheels and rails. The North American Pullman railway ended up using the wheels for sleeper and dining carriages for the more luxurious ride they provided.

The paper wheels were short lived, however. While the wheels were up to the task when new, they would fail much sooner than solid metal wheels. A series of derailments led to the wheels being declared unsafe for use in the US by 1915.

The wheels serve as a good example of wheels and tires acting as a tuned part of a whole suspension system. Experimental wheel designs come and go, but there are reasons why we landed on certain designs for certain applications, after all. Video after the break.

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China’s New 100 MPH Train Runs On Hydrogen And Supercaps

Electric cars are very much en vogue right now, as the world tries to clean up on emissions and transition to a more sustainable future. However, these vehicles require huge batteries as it is. For heavier-duty applications like trucks and trains, batteries simply won’t cut the mustard.

Normally, the solution for electrifying railways is to simply string up some wires and call it a day. China is trying an alternative solution, though, in the form of a hydrogen-powered train full of supercapacitors.

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