Tech Industry

Y2K may stall transit

The transportation industry could be the latest victim of the Year 2000 bug, a federal official says.

The transportation industry could be the latest victim of the Y2K bug, a federal official warned today.

Bus, rail, boat, and car travel after 12 midnight on New Year's Eve, 1999, could be all but stalled by the Y2K bug if state and local transportation officials don't act now to fix the computer glitch in time, Deputy Transportation Secretary Mortimer Downey told a gathering of transit and traffic experts today.

"The delays and risks to safety are potentially enormous," he said.

"Imagine the disruption if 1 million traffic signals were to fail, if buses or trains couldn't run because transit management systems failed," Downey added.

The Year 2000 bug gets its name because most older computers allocate just two digits for the year in recognizing dates, and at the end of next year many are expected to either process 2000 as 1900 or simply fail.

The transportation official's claims come just one week after the Federal Aviation Administration technicians determined that a critical mainframe computer used in the nation's largest air traffic control centers will function properly in the year 2000, according to reports.

Downey said roads, railways, and ports were rightly proud of their increasing reliance on computers for efficient operation, but it left them highly vulnerable.

The technical fix for Year 2000 is relatively straightforward but it requires a heavy commitment of resources and the close attention of management, the official noted.

While there is no special federal assistance for local transportation authorities to address the problem, Downey noted several categories of funds under the recent $198 billion highway bill could be used for that purpose.

"I'm confident that working together we can solve this problem," he said as he urged localities to put contingency plans in place.

Downey's comments also come one day before the Clinton administration launches its "National Campaign for Year 2000 Solutions" by focusing on challenges facing the electric power industry.

The chairman of the President's Council on Year 2000 Conversion, John Koskinen, will join acting Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Moler and Michehl Gent, president of the North American Electric Reliability Council, to kick off the campaign that the White House announced during President Clinton's speech on the issue--his first on the technology problem.

Reuters contributed to this story.