OpenRailwayMap/Tagging in North America

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The purpose of this page is to provide more specific tagging information for the United States, in addition to tabulating data that can be incorporated into OSM or used as a resource. It is broken down into two main sections. The section "National Overview and General Tagging" gives an introduction and overview to the U.S. portions of the North American railroad network, U.S. railroad standards, and how to tag them. The section "Individual Railroad Overview and Specific Tagging" gives specific railroad-by-railroad information; this includes a short overview of individual railroads, (OSM-relevant) operating/signal rules, and other tagging dependent on specific railroads. In addition, anomalies from railroad standards will be covered throughout this page.

National Overview and General Tagging


Operator and Owner

Distinguishing who operates over trackage, and who owns that trackage is increasingly important in North America; there are a growing number cases of the owner not always being the operator, or the owner not being the only operator.

Key Value Property Used On Description
operator=* <string> Operators Tracks, Buildings, Property (Landuse) A listing of all the operators of this object. Multiple values are separated with a semicolon (;).
operator:freight=* <string> Freight Operators Tracks These operators can service freight on this line. Multiple values are separated with a semicolon (;).
operator:passenger=* <string> Passenger Operators Tracks These operators can service passengers on this line. Multiple values are separated with a semicolon (;).
operator:overhead=* <string> Operators with Overhead Rights Tracks Operators with Overhead Trackage Rights cannot stop to service customers on this line. Multiple values are separated with a semicolon (;).
owner=* <string> Owner Objects with defined Operator The actual owner of this object.
ownership=* ownership=private Privately Owned Objects with defined Operator/Owner This object is owned by a private entity; does not have to be for-profit.
ownership=federal Federally Owned Objects with defined Operator/Owner This object is owned by the Federal Government. This includes property of government-owned corporations (like Amtrak).
ownership=state State Owned Objects with defined Operator/Owner This object is owned by a State Government. This includes property of state agencies or state-owned corporations.
ownership=municipal Municipally Owned Objects with defined Operator/Owner This object is municipally owned. This includes property of municipal agencies or municipally-owned corporations.

Collection of infrastructure into named rail relations

Please see OSM Rail Structure in the USA. Briefly stated, most named rail route relations are in single route=railway relations, not what ORM suggests as a paired set of route=tracks + route=railway relations. Furthermore, there is at least one example of a super-relation of route=railway relations. This super-relation structure is useful in the USA for especially lengthy (thousands of kilometers) singly-named routes made up of many named Subdivisions (as route=railway members).

Track Gauge

The standard guage in North America is the international Standard Gauge of 1435mm (4ft 8.5in). This is tagged as gauge=1435.

Route Importance

As railways become more consolidated, terminology for referring to routes emerges towards standardization. The following table suggests values for rail infrastructure elements. Judging by name is not always a proper predictor; reasonable judgement needs to be made. For example, sometimes a (frequently short line) railroad which is really "just" branch rail names significant trackage "XYZ Mainline." This doesn't automatically mean that usage=main is correct when usage=branch would be a better tag applied to track elements.

Tag Common Names
usage=main Main Line, "XYZ Subdivision," "JKL Transcon" (as in "transcontinental")
usage=branch Secondary
Secondary Track
"MNO Branch," Branch Line, Branch Rail
usage=industrial Industrial Track, "ABC Industrial Line"
Running Track

Factory Spur, Mine Spur, Lumberyard Spur, etc.

usage=military U.S. Government Railway, "Old Garrison Railroad" (for example)
usage=tourism Historic, Heritage, Tourism Railroads
usage=test Tracks used for testing of new vehicles.

Often, a Main Line is named after a significant city (often with a yard) or other important geographical feature (e.g. a major river) the line passes through or near, suffixed with "Subdivision" (e.g. "Los Angeles Subdivision"). Generally, if a "long" (hundreds of kilometers) active rail segment crosses a state boundary with the same name, it can be tagged usage=main. However, some usage=branch rail does this, so this is not a strict rule. Rail which connects together usage=main via shorter segments, in a web-like fashion, or shorter segments radiating outward in multiple directions from a geographic center is often usage=branch. Again, this seems to be best left to "reasonable judgement," as no perfect system exists to distinguish usage=main from usage=branch in all cases.

<section still under development>

Historical Mapping and Tagging

The railroad had a significant impact on how and where cities and towns were settled and developed in North America, in addition to having a significant cultural impact. U.S. railroad mileage peaked at 254,000 miles in 1914; as of 2008, there are approximately 140,000 miles still extant, leaving approximately 114,000 miles of former railroad routes just in the U.S. The majority of these routes still leave lasting remnants on the ground, and leave long-standing geographic marks that can be seen by aerial/satellite imagery. There are also a large number of historical societies and organizations that are dedicated to the history of specific railroads, and many other local organizations that seek to preserve their locality's railroad history. As a result of all of this, there is a lot of historical mapping that can be done with railroads that still adheres to the OSM principle of mapping what exists.

<section still under development>

Individual Railroad Overview and Specific Tagging

Conventional Rail

Class I Freight

CSX Transportation

Norfolk Southern Corporation

Holding Companies

Delaware Otsego Corporation

Genesee Valley Transportation

Genesee and Wyoming

Gulf and Ohio Railways

Iowa Pacific Holdings

Patriot Rail Corporation

Pioneer Railcorp

R.J. Corman Railroad Group

Watco Transportation Services

Independent Regional Railroads

Florida East Coast Railroad

Providence and Worcester Railroad

Independent Shortlines and Tourist Railroads

Finger Lakes Railway

Passenger Rail

See Amtrak for the USA's "national" (federally-subsidized) passenger rail network: largely long distance and regional routes (and international as they cross into Canada), with one high(er)-speed route in the Northeast Corridor (Acela). There are many other kinds of passenger rail at the state, regional and local levels including commuter rail, subways and light rail (often overlapping with the concept of rapid transit), trams, amusement park rail, tourism/heritage rail, urban funiculars and more.

Rapid Transit

Light Rail


is a tag applied to rail elements used as infrastructure, correctly collected together into a route:railway=* relation. There are many such light rail systems as local/metropolitan/regional transportation networks in North America.

Historic Railroad Systems, Tourism/heritage rail


Operating Rulebooks


The Northeast Operating Rules Advisory Committee is both a rulebook and the organization that defines said rulebook. NORAC was formed in 1985 to create a common rulebook for the Northeast; operations became more complicated after the creation of Amtrak and Conrail, and after state and municipal agencies took over commuter rail operation and ownership. As such, NORAC has more ways to represent the same signal rule than any other set of operating rules in the United States. NORAC is a speed signalling system, and has the most speed signalling than any other rulebook. Those using NORAC have to use the rulebook in its entirety, with no additional rules.

Members and Membership Status
Railroad Name Abbreviation Reporting Mark(s) Membership Status Passenger Freight Applicable Lines Notes

<membership table under construction>

Defined Terms
Signal System Types


Name Passenger Freight Notes
Normal Speed The Maximum authorized speed.
Limited Speed Not exceeding 45 MPH. Not exceeding 40 MPH
Medium Speed Not exceeding 30 MPH
Slow Speed Not exceeding 15 MPH
Restricted Speed Not exceeding a speed that permits the movement to be stopped within 1/2 the range of vision short of any obstructions or signals requiring a stop.
Operating Rules
Signalling Rules

Keyvalues are defined US-NORAC:<rule>, where the value of <rule> is defined in the table below.



Federal Data



United States

In the USA, Federal Rail Authority (US FRA) data are a rich and largely untapped public resource that may be utilized by OSM — so let’s get the good stuff in!

Private rail corporations may publish geo data and are often authoritative regarding Subdivision names. However take care to respect copyright and adhere to our ODBL.

Provincial/State Data

In North America, rail in the USA is vast, encompassing hundreds of thousands of rail kilometers. In 2007, OSM imported TIGER data, including fairly comprehensive rail data, from the US federal government. These TIGER data may be characterized as "somewhat noisy, though OK" including some minor problems that need to be cleaned up (see WikiProject_United_States_railways#Editing_Railroads_starting_from_TIGER_data). Accordingly, a "divide and conquer" strategy is currently underway at the state level in the USA. California/Railroads is a better-developed (approaching comprehensive) statewide wiki which may be used a template to create new statewide wikis to encourage continuing rail cleanup (from TIGER data) and growth in other states. For a smaller, simpler wiki to use as a template to clone, try Montana/Railroads. Also, please see Amtrak for the USA's passenger rail network which is about 98% complete in OSM at a public_transport:version=1 level. However, for Amtrak, regional and especially local (commuter) passenger rail, much more work is required on both the underlying infrastructure (route=railway elements) as well as route=train elements to achieve a truly complete public_transport:version=2 level.

State Public Utility Commissions (or equivalent) often publish road-rail crossing data, perhaps a spreadsheet with columns to sort. This can aid stitching together named Subdivisions, allowing ORM to display excellent visual feedback of correct infrastructure tags. Also, check for State Department of Transportation Rail Planning reports in your state: these often provide not only comprehensive inventories of any given state's present rail infrastructure, but plans for the near- and medium-term future as well.


See California/Railroads

New Mexico

See New Mexico/Railroads


See Montana/Railroads

To Do List/Editor Notes

  • Transfer tagging scheme to page, and developing new values and tags when needed
    • List of proposed tags
    • Suggested use of such tags, emphasis on minimal tag usage
  • Compose tags in a neat and orderly set of tables
  • Create short overviews of different railroads, and anything notable to tagging there
  • Create signal rule tables to help identify what aspects a signal can display and how to tag this
  • Generate JOSM presets for NA ORM, possibly as a fork on github of the DE version
  • Collect and define a list of railway terminology for reference
  • Create a listing of public domain or openly licensed GIS data and referential materials (maps/other documents/etc)