OpenRailwayMap/Tagging in North America

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Definitive OpenRailwayMap (ORM) tagging conventions are found at OpenRailwayMap/Tagging. The purpose of this wiki is to provide more specific ORM rail tagging information for Canada, Mexico and the United States, especially identifying anomalies as they might diverge from wider ORM tagging. In addition to tabulating/inventorying data that can be incorporated into OSM or used as a resource, tagging North American railroad data as documented here not only encourages adherence to national standards, it also has the pleasing result of excellent ORM rendering. Unless otherwise specified or in a section named for a particular nation, state, province, rail company or signaling system, these "more local" conventions are believed to apply to all of North America.

Overview and General Tagging

This section intends to offer an introductory overview of the North American railroad network from a slightly-slanted-to-the-USA perspective, including some USA railroad standards and USA-specific tagging. For tagging notes which are specific to USA (there are some), please see here. This includes a "State (or commonwealth) projects" section listing dozens of states with state-level rail wiki. Eventually, it would be wiki-comprehensive if Mexico did this too (starting with its national rail page) and Canada (ditto) for its provinces.

Collection of infrastructure into named rail relations

Please see WikiProject United_States railways#OSM Rail Structure in the USA. Briefly stated, named rail route relations in North America are in single route=railway relations, not what ORM suggests as a paired set of route=tracks + route=railway relations. These are often known as Subdivisions. Furthermore, there are examples of super-relations of route=railway relations; two are the Northern Transcon and Southern Trancon(tinental). This super-relation structure is used in the USA for especially lengthy (thousands of kilometers) singly-named routes made up of many named Subdivisions (as route=railway members). Other examples of these so-called "Major Mainline Rail" exist as newer "regional corridor" projects like Crescent Corridor and MidAmerica Corridor.

Tagging

Useful Combination

The following summarizes the most common tags used on railway ways in North America, and is meant to serve as a quick reference for tagging in the region.

Ways

Required:

  • railway=* - avoid railway=yes, which is only used for ways about which nearly nothing is known.
  • usage=* or service=* - one (but seldom if ever both) of these will apply to every track way in North America. Minor exceptions are allowed in military areas and around mines and harbors where distinctions between usage=* and service=* can blur.
  • operator=* - in North America, unlike general OpenRailwayMap tagging, this is the operator of the trains, not the infrastructure, see below.
  • reporting_marks=* - to match operator=* in order and quantity.
  • name=* - only for tracks with usage=* (part of a route). We are currently using the Subdivision name, see the US FRA GIS for a good reference in the US.
  • gauge=* - only required with railway=narrow_gauge, railway=miniature, or where the gauge is not the standard 1435mm (4'-8.5"). (Recommended for standard gauge.)
  • electrified=* - only required for electrified routes. (Recommended for non-electrified routes.) Avoid electrified=yes and provide a more specific means of electrification if possible.
  • bridge=* with layer=* for tracks on bridges. Include bridge:name=* if known.
  • tunnel=* with layer=* for tracks in tunnels. Include tunnel:name=* if known.
  • REMOVE tiger:reviewed=no in the US if it is present, once you have finished reviewing / improving / correcting the way (if this was needed). Please do not replace it with an alternate value.

Recommended:

  • description=* - should hold the actual name of the track (according to the railroad) if known. Every piece of track on a railroad will have a name, but this is often unknown without access to railroad documentation, such as employee timetables, or other inside knowledge. Sometimes, the name will be posted on publicly visible signs, such as track numbers at passenger stations. If you don't know the actual railroad name, please don't guess! It's better to leave untagged. Guidance follows to help distinguish what is likely to be a proper name:
    • For usage=main and usage=branch tracks, this will normally follow the pattern Main, Main (1/2/3/4/etc), (EB/WB/NB/SB) Main, where the parentheses indicate alternates and should not themselves be included in the tag.
    • usage=industrial tracks leading to large industries, e.g. XYZ Corporation, will frequently have a name like "XYZ Lead" or "XYZ Branch". Similarly, groups of industries, e.g. ABC Industrial Park, may be served by the "ABC Lead" or "ABC Branch".
    • service=siding tracks will usually be named something obvious like "Providence Forge Siding" for the passing track in Providence Forge, VA, USA.
    • service=yard tracks will have names like "Yard Lead", "West Lead" or "West Ladder" for the lead and ladder tracks, Track (1/2/3/etc) for the yard tracks themselves, and "Shop Track", "Fuel Track", "RIP Track", etc. for various service tracks.
    • service=spur tracks have names like "XYZ Lead" for the track to an industry (if it's not quite big enough to tag usage=industrial per the guidelines), or XYZ (1/2/etc) for the actual spurs at the industry where cars are spotted for loading and unloading. Not all industries will have a "Lead" track, especially if all spurs branch almost directly off the through track serving the area, such as the mainline.
    • service=crossover tracks are named after the operating site. For instance, a crossover at Lee Hall will be named "Lee Hall Crossover", and one at a control point named for its milepost like CA 31.9 will be "CA 31.9 Crossover". This will get more complicated for routes with more than two main tracks.
  • railway:track_ref=* for the track number, identifying parallel tracks within a line, station, or yard. For instance, "Main Track 2" should have railway:track_ref=2, "Yard Track 57B" should have railway:track_ref=57B, etc.
  • gauge=1435 for standard gauge tracks.
  • electrified=no for non-electrified tracks.
  • voltage=* and frequency=* for electrified tracks, if known.
  • embedded=* where appropriate. We are not presently tagging this just for level crossings, as it is more useful when used to represent street running and tracks in large, paved areas. For example, nearly all the tracks at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA are embedded in vast paved areas, and are tagged accordingly. Do not confuse this tag with embedded_rails=*, which is a tag for highway ways that have rails embedded in them. These tags are opposite sides of a coin - when mapping a street with street running track, the street and track are mapped as separate ways, but the track gets embedded=* and the street gets embedded_rails=*.

Optional: These keys and tags are in use in North America where appropriate, especially to help designate special features.

Nodes

Required:

  • railway=railway_crossing where two track ways cross (a.k.a. a "diamond" in North America).
  • railway=level_crossing where a track crosses a roadway at grade. ref:fra_crossing=* is recommended, see US FRA GIS and look for field CROSSING for the crossing ID (it's also visible as a label on the map). All other associated tags with additional details of the crossing are optional.
  • railway=owner_change wherever the primary operator changes. Please do not use this to indicate where trackage rights start or stop, only a change in primary operators!
  • railway=station or railway=halt for all passenger stations, with name=*. Tag a node on the #1 main track near the center of the station, not the way itself. See here for associated tags.
  • railway=yard with name=* for all named freight yards. Tag a node near the center of the yard. See here for associated tags. The name should be the rail yard name as used in railway documentation.
  • railway=service_station with name=* for all named storage and maintenance facilities. These are often called yards in English, and are visually similar to freight yards, but serve a different purpose. Tag a node near the center of the facility. See here for associated tags. The name should be the facility name as used in railway documentation.


Recommended:

  • railway=switch at turnouts. Related tags are optional.
  • railway=junctions with name=* for all junctions between two lines, only if you know the proper railway name for the junction. Tag a node on the #1 main track of the dominant route, near the center of the junction. For a diamond, choose the actual crossing node (or one crossing node where multiple tracks cross). For a branching point, tag at the turnout/switch. See here for associated tags. Tag operator=* according to the operator whose dispatcher controls use of the junction. The name should be the rail junction name as used in railway documentation (if the junction is between two railroad operators, they will often use a common name. If not, choose the name used by the operator who controls the junction). If you don't know the correct name, please leave the name untagged.
  • railway=spur_junction with name=* for the control points at each end of a siding. Tag at the turnout/switch. See here for associated tags. Tag operator=* according to the operator whose dispatcher controls use of the junction. The name should be the control point name as used in railway documentation. If you don't know the correct name, please leave the name untagged.
  • railway=crossover with name=*, only if you know the proper railway name for the individual crossover; else, please don't tag the node. Place tag on a node near the middle on the way of the crossover.
  • railway=derail derailers, preferably with railway:derail=*.
  • railway=buffer_stop where some sort of positive stop device is used at the end of a track. Nodes where tracks simply end, with no stop device provided, should not have this tag. Most commonly, but not always, found at the end node of a track way, but a stop with a (sometimes significant) length of railway=disused beyond it is not uncommon at all, and is worth mapping where found.
  • railway=milestone at milepost locations, if you have this data and it is accurate. Standalone milepost locations should be tagged at a node on the main way.
  • barrier=gate where tracks (usually industrial lines or spurs) cross through gates into fenced areas. This is extremely common at the rail entrances to industrial facilities, and often at the entrance to military installations. Only use this where there is a physical gate, not where there is an opening, even if the opening is guarded.

Optional

Many operating site facilities at OpenRailwayMap/Tagging are already well developed for North American use as described.

Route Importance

usage=*

This section covers application of the usage=* to railroad routes in North America, and should apply equally well to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. As the tag description on OpenRailwayMap/Tagging aligns a bit better with European railway organization and classification, it does not always capture the nuances of usage classification in North America; this page should be used as the primary reference for this tag on North American routes.

Caveats:

  • The usage=* tag is exclusively for ways that are part of routes, meaning they connect to something or somewhere. This may mean a through route, which connects to other routes at both ends, or a dead end route, which connects to another route at one end, and a yard or collection of spurs at the other end or along the way. This may apply even to completely isolated railroads and larger industrial railroads; an isolated railroad may, for instance, connect from a set of spurs at a mine, to a yard at a port, or a now-isolated tourist railroad may connect from its main yard to a scenic or other spot at the end of the line. If the track isn't a route as described here, it should be tagged with service=* instead.
  • AAR railroad class in the US is not a reliable indicator of route importance, but it can sometimes help start looking in the right direction. Please don't focus on the nature of the operator, but rather on the other characteristics given below.
  • Route name is not at all a reliable indicator of route importance. An independent industrial line operator may well have a main route they refer to as their "Main Line," but the route would still be tagged usage=industrial based on its use, extent, or other more important features.
  • Often looking at the route on maps alone will be enough to determine which tag to apply. However, sometimes a little more knowledge of the actual railroad will be required for determination. Nearly every active railroad in North America has a reasonably current Wikipedia page, and in most cases that page will provide enough further information to make the determination.
  • We name routes in ORM according to the railroad's subdivision, but it's not true that a route will automatically have the same usage=* value all the way through the subdivision. This is a product of ORM's current tagging scheme in North America not having a good relation to how the railroads themselves actually use and categorize their routes. A good example would be a dead-end usage=branch subdivision which effectively ends in a yard at the terminus, with a mile long usage=industrial lead into an industrial complex. These two parts of the route are part of the same subdivision according to the railroad, and the primary track of the branch may continue clearly straight through the yard and into the industrial lead; the mere fact of the shared name and direct continuation does not mean we should force an inappropriate tag onto the industrial lead.

None of the below guidelines are hard rules; judgement will still be required. However, following the guidelines is likely to result in correct tagging in 95% or more of example instances.

Possible usage=* Values
Tag Defining Characteristics
usage=main

(Examples)

Required:

  • Route connects multiple localities.
  • Predominant traffic is long-distance through traffic. This is typically seen as large trains traveling most or all of the route without stopping to serve individual customers en route.
  • Local industries and customers are very likely to exist, but local service is clearly secondary to the through service.

Useful Clarifications:

  • Routes are unlikely to be dead end, and usually (but not always) connect to other main routes at both ends. (Frequent exception: routes that are long but dead end routes, where the route is generating substantial blocks of traffic from major customers, most of which are destined for interchange. Typical example of this exception is a mainline servicing a major port or industrial area, where the majority of traffic generated is bound for long distance travel at the connected end. However, one or two industries generating unit trains do not automatically make the route main).
  • Most, but not all, main routes in the US will be owned by Class I railroads. For an example of an exception to this, see here.
usage=branch

(Examples)

Required:

  • Route connects multiple localities.
  • Predominant traffic is locally generated by on-line customers. This is typically seen as local trains, which operate between or out of yards to serve all customers on their route. Multiple small to medium customers along the line are typical.
  • Route serves multiple customers.

Useful Clarifications:

  • Route may be dead-end or connected at both ends; this does not affect branch classification.
  • Some through traffic may exist, but under ordinary circumstances does not represent the predominant source of traffic. For example, route may be parallel to a main route, and may take through traffic when the main route is overloaded or blocked.
usage=industrial

(Examples)

Required:

  • Route serves a single locality, port, or industrial complex (including one large or multiple adjacent customers), OR
  • Route connects multiple localities, but serves a single large customer (exception).
  • Predominant traffic is locally generated by on-line customers. Multiple small to medium customers along the line are typical, though not required; an industrial route may equally serve a single, dispersed industry's complex.

Useful Clarifications:

  • Route may be dead-end or connected at both ends; this does not affect branch classification. For example, many port railroads connect to multiple competing mainline railroads, to allow the cluster of customers to get better price competition. Conversely, many port or industrial railroads are part-owned by multiple larger railroads in partnership, to help promote fair competition and allow all participating railroads to access all the customers equally.
  • Route has some sort of discernible primary route through the locality or complex it serves. A cluster of non-independent spurs immediately off another railroad's main or branch track is not a good candidate for usage=industrial, as all of its individual tracks are better represented by service=spur.
usage=military

(Examples)

Required:

  • Route is contained (mostly) within, owned by, and operated by a military installation. (Exception: route may be owned by the installation, but operated by contract personnel, or via trackage rights by the railroad connecting to and serving the installation).

Useful Clarifications:

  • Often likely to be usage=industrial or occasionally usage=branch, if it weren't on an installation.
  • If the route is actually owned and operated by an independent, outside railroad, use usage=industrial or usage=branch as otherwise appropriate and tag as if the line were not on an installation.
  • If the route is government owned and on a government installation, but not a military facility, use usage=industrial or usage=branch as otherwise appropriate and add tag ownership=* to indicate the level of government who owns the installation.
usage=tourism

(Examples)

Required:

  • Predominant traffic is tourism, such as a scenic, wine or dinner train, part of a museum operation, historic or "heritage" trains.

Useful Clarifications:

  • A tourist railroad may still operate as a common carrier and handle some local freight. However, if the railroad's primary income or traffic is freight, it should be tagged usage=industrial or usage=branch as appropriate, with other tags such as railway:preserved=yes to indicate the railroad operates in part as a historic railroad.
  • Some may operate only on weekends and holidays and/or seasonally.
usage=test Tracks used for testing of new rail vehicles, wheels, track, technologies
usage=scientific Tracks at large observatories (like Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array) or spaceports (Kennedy Space Center)

Predominant traffic

To clarify term "predominant traffic" as used in the characteristics table, if you stand at a point on the route and watch the traffic, the income-generating trains that pass that point will generally fall clearly in one of three categories:

  • Local trains (or just "locals" in most of North America), which travel either from end yard to end yard, or round trip from a single yard, to serve every customer on their route with a shipment. In an analogy with mail delivery, the local train is the letter carrier, making deliveries door-to-door while working out of their home Post Office (yard).
  • Through trains pass long distances along the line, stopping only to set out and pick up larger blocks of cars gathered at yards by locals. Very rarely, they may stop to serve an individual, very isolated industry along the line, far from the nearest yard. In the same analogy with mail delivery, the through train is a mail truck, hauling a full load of letters from one post office (yard) to another.
  • Unit trains are a common special subcategory of through trains. Unit trains serve a single, large industry, big enough to put out entire trainloads of cargo at once. They may originate along the line, but are best considered through traffic for purposes of route classification. In the same analogy with mail delivery, the unit train is a dedicated mail truck to a big shipper like Amazon, who sends out such a large volume of letters, their traffic requires dedicated through service.

To determine the predominant traffic on the section of track being considered, consider the typical traffic on that track over several normal days, as if you were standing there counting trains. If the majority of the trains you would expect to see could be described as "locals" above, you would consider the traffic "locally generated" for use in the table. If the majority of trains fit the description of "through trains," including unit trains bound for somewhere off the current route, the predominant traffic is through traffic.

Usage Tag to designate Freight Only Lines

With increasing frequency, the tag usage=industrial has been used used to denote lines which are primarily or exclusively freight, especially on spurs to industrial areas that are not mines or lumberyards. These may serve factories or clusters of industrial activity along a rail spur in (often urban) industrial-zoned areas. This doesn't directly contradict with ORM tagging's suggestion that this tag be used on lines "that serve only goods transport." However, if it is desired to tag track infrastructure as exclusively freight, the tag railway:traffic_mode=freight is a better choice.

Operator and Owner

Distinguishing who owns trackage, and who operates over that trackage is increasingly important in North America; there are a growing number of 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> Operator Name(s) Tracks, Buildings, Property (Landuse) A listing of all the operators of this object. Multiple values are separated with a semicolon (;). Names should be the full proper name, without abbreviations, and not reporting marks. For track with multiple operators, list the primary operator (owner) first, followed by trackage rights holders, and add the owner=* tag. For leased tracks, list the operator here, and list the owner using the owner=* tag.


Unlike in general OpenRailwayMap tagging, this tag should be the operator of the train, not the "operator of the infrastructure". The international definition and use of this tag implies a railroad industry organization that is nearly nonexistent in North America, making the standard definition a poor fit here.

reporting_marks=* <string> Operator Reporting Marks Tracks, Buildings, Property (Landuse) A listing of the primary reporting marks for all the operators of this object. Multiple values are separated with a semicolon (;). Many railroads own multiple reporting marks; however, one mark is commonly regarded as primary, and only the primary reporting mark should be listed. For most railroads in North America, Wikipedia will be a reliable reference for the correct primary reporting mark. For track with multiple operators, list the primary operator's reporting mark first, followed by trackage rights holders. For leased tracks, list the operator's reporting marks here.
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 Name Tracks, Buildings, Property (Landuse) The actual owner of this object. In North America, this tag may be omitted if the owner is also the only operator. However, be aware there are many cases with a single operator and a different owner, as some railroads are exclusive operators on tracks leased from other railroads or owners.
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=national 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=county County Owned Objects with defined Operator/Owner This object is owned by a County Government (or county-equivalent, such as parishes in Louisiana). This includes property of county agencies or county-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.

Track Gauge

Standard gauge in North America is the international Standard Gauge of 1435mm (4ft 8.5in). This is tagged as gauge=1435, however it is frequently omitted in the USA. If there is a gauge=* tag, you may be sure of the gauge. Often, not always, railway=narrow_gauge and railway=miniature have a gauge=* tag.

<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 exerting 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. Even today, many of these routes leave lasting remnants on the ground, have shaped and continue to shape the geography, landuse and development of both rural and urban areas and leave long-standing geographic marks that can be seen by aerial/satellite imagery. Also, there are a large number of historical societies, organizations and individuals dedicated to the history of specific railroads and many local organizations that seek to preserve railroad history. As a result, there is a lot of historical railroad mapping that can be done which still adheres to the OSM principle of mapping what exists.

The tags railway=abandoned (which does not render in Carto) and railway=disused (which does render) have rather specific semantics; distinctions should be fully understood. The tag railway=razed is also used.

Historical railway mapping may be described as "sketchy" in North America: the USA import of TIGER data in 2007-8 left a lasting legacy and "perhaps half or more" of this has been "TIGER Reviewed" (evidenced by the absence of tiger:reviewed=no on a specific datum). Comprehensive efforts to address TIGER review of rail data in all fifty states is "about half done;" all Western states have at least early wiki documentation (State/Railroads). These show most states to be "around alpha stage" of completion, though some (like California, a complex rail state) are middle to later beta, largely complete, with much or most TIGER Review completed (though still more to go). Historical rail mapping is only partially complete in the USA. However, some states (notably New York) show a great deal of care in the data gardening of railway=abandoned ways in OSM.

<section still under development>

Operating Rulebooks

See OpenRailwayMap/Work Rules in North America.

Individual Railroad Overview and Specific Tagging

This section is intended to offer specific (OSM-relevant) railroad-by-railroad information, and other tagging conventions which may be dependent on specific railroads.

Please note that a railroad's status as Class I, II, or III does not directly determine the proper completion of the usage=* tag. The tag should be based on a characterization of the route being tagged, not the operator. For example, many Class I and Class III operators have track that is most appropriately tagged usage=branch, and certain Class II routes may be of sufficient signifciance to warrant tagging usage=main. AAR Class is referenced in this section only in that it helps determine railroads which have sufficiently widespread reach to merit appearing on the North America level page vs. a state page.

Conventional Freight Rail

Class I and II railroads, and companies meeting the AAR definition of a Regional Railroad, are listed for reference in order to provide consistent operator naming. As most smaller lines only operate in one or two states, they should be similarly listed on their individual state page.

Class I Freight [1]

Class II Freight [2]

The Class II list is based on the latest check of the Wikipedia list, unless separately linked below.

  • Alaska Railroad (ARR)
  • Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad (BPRR)
  • Central Maine and Quebec Railway (CMQ)
  • Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad (CORP)
  • Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad (DME)
  • Florida East Coast Railway (FEC)
  • Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC)
  • Indiana Rail Road (INRD)
  • Iowa Interstate Railroad (IAIS)
  • Kanawha River Railroad (KNWA)
  • Kansas & Oklahoma Railroad (KORR)
  • Long Island Rail Road (LI)
  • Montana Rail Link (MRL)
  • New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway (NYSW)
  • Paducah and Louisville Railway (PAL)
  • Pan Am Railways (PAR), formerly Guilford Rail System
  • Portland and Western Railroad (PNWR)
  • Providence and Worcester Railroad (PW)
  • Pan Am Railways (PAR)
  • Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad (RCPE)
  • Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad (RBMN), commonly known as simply "Reading and Northern"
  • Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (WE)
  • Wisconsin and Southern Railroad (WSOR)

Class III Regional Railroads

The following Class III railroads were classified as Regional by the AAR in 2007. [3]

  • Alabama and Gulf Coast Railway
  • Dakota, Missouri Valley and Western Railroad
  • Indiana and Ohio Railway
  • Kyle Railroad
  • Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad
  • Nebraska Kansas Colorado Railway
  • Northern Plains Railroad
  • Red River Valley and Western Railroad
  • San Joaquin Valley Railroad
  • South Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad
  • Texas Northeastern Railroad
  • Texas Pacifico Transportation
  • Utah Railway

Independent Shortlines and Tourist Railroads

Finger Lakes Railway

Conventional Passenger Rail

In Canada, Via Rail provides national passenger service. Several Canadian cities are served by other kinds of passenger rail at regional/provincial, suburban/commuter and more local levels (passenger=urban, subway, light_rail and tram), including Calgary, Edmonton, Montréal, Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa.

In Mexico, a commuter rail/suburban light_rail/subway network serves Mexico City and both Monterrey and Guadalajara have Metro systems. There are also usage=tourism railroads. In developing stages are regional (intercity) passenger services, while highspeed service is being planned.

Amtrak is the USA's national passenger rail network: largely long distance (including overnight service, some medium-long distance routes are international as they cross into Canada) and regional (medium distance) routes, with one highspeed route in the Northeast Corridor (Acela). At state and local levels, passenger rail organizes as regional/statewide (sometimes overlapping with Amtrak's regional routes) and a slightly porous combination of suburban (sometimes known as commuter rail) and subways (overlapping with the concept of Rapid Transit), urban (largely on light_rail infrastructure, occasionally tram) and local including virtually all other kinds of short-distance rail like tourism/heritage/preserved/museum rail, airport-style "people mover" monorail, trams, miniature, narrow_gauge, funicular and theme_park/amusement_park rail. Please see Provincial/State Data ahead.

Rapid Transit

Subways often overlap with the concept of "Rapid Transit," a strategy as much as a component of a transportation network. Dozens of metropolitan areas in all countries of North America have such a (subway, underground, "heavy") rail component as part of Rapid Transit strategies.

In the USA, better-emerging over the longer term is highspeed rail: Amtrak's Acela steadily increases its speed as improvements are made to the Northeast Corridor infrastructure (Washington, DC to Boston) and California is in early stages of constructing the USA's first dedicated highspeed rail system.

Airport-style, often monorail "people movers" are found, blending into a local transportation network.

Light Rail

The tag railway=light_rail is applied to rail track elements as infrastructure, collected together into both route=railway and route=light_rail relations. There are dozens of light_rail systems in North America as part of metropolitan transportation networks. Where this blends and blurs into what is "commuter" rail, whether we tag it urban rail, or if it meets a definition of heavy rail or light rail, whether underground, above ground or street-running tram, please do your best to tag accurately with tags that have emerged in both OSM and ORM.

Tourism/heritage rail, Historic Railroad Systems

The tag usage=tourism is applied to infrastructure of what is often known as "tourism/heritage rail." Oriented towards diverse groups such as tourists, families with children, history buffs, railfans, food and wine enthusiasts and the general public, these are not usually a significant part of the local or regional transportation network. Rail services offered are often round-trip excursions, sometimes coupled with a rail-sponsored event at the destination (seasonal fairs, beach-going, cultural sites...), as part of a museum associated with the railroad or events on the train itself. For example there are "Mystery Trains" where patrons are engaged to solve a staged detective story, "Dinner Trains" serving an epicurean meal with locally-featured food and wine, "Holiday Trains" with festive lighting and decorations, trains in livery evocative of children's book or cartoon characters for the enchantment of the very young, "Run A Locomotive" opportunities as an apprentice engineer on a vintage steam train, et cetera.

<section still under development>

Resources

Private rail corporations may publish geo data and are often authoritative regarding Subdivision names. However, take care to respect copyright and adhere to OSM's ODbL. Sometimes public resources are harmonious with OSM, sometimes a bit more care must be taken to use public data as a good Contributor to OSM. Ask others, listen and gain consensus.

Federal Data

Canada

Mexico

United States

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! Here is their web portal.

Provincial/State Data

In North America, rail in the USA is vast, encompassing hundreds of thousands of rail kilometers. In 2007-8, OSM imported TIGER road data from the US federal government, including fairly comprehensive railroad data. While these data are quite old, they may be characterized as "noisy, though OK" as they have minor problems that must be cleaned up (see WikiProject_United_States_railways#Editing_Railroads_starting_from_TIGER_data), and indeed OSM is in the process of doing so. Accordingly, a "divide and conquer" strategy is partly and currently underway at the state level in the USA. California/Railroads and its two sub-wiki are better-developed (later beta, 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 US and Mexican states and Canadian provinces. For a smaller, simpler wiki to use as a template to clone, try New Mexico/Railroads. Also, please see Amtrak for the USA's passenger rail network which is ~98% complete in OSM at a public_transport:version=1 level. However, for Amtrak, regional (often dovetails with statewide), especially commuter and more-local passenger rail, much more work is required on both the underlying track infrastructure (route=railway elements) as well as route=train elements to achieve a truly complete public_transport:version=2 level. The major effort to complete these are sometimes-missing passenger platforms, though there was robust growth here in the late 20-teens. Such growth in adding platforms continues now, you are welcome to join the efforts: Map Your Train Ride! You might find an existing route_master, that v1 route relations are already done with stations and even finished and properly tagged platforms are there, all that needs doing is a careful job of blending existing platform elements into a relation with the right stops in the right direction. Are relations properly included in route_master? Hey, now we have a v2 route. There remains variation between "better and best" with v2 routes as more complex tagging schemes emerge (station objects, "stop_area,") please do your best.

State (or provincial) Public Utility Commissions (or equivalent) often publish road-rail crossing data, perhaps as a spreadsheet with columns to sort. These can aid in stitching together named Subdivisions, allowing ORM to display excellent and correct rail infrastructure tagging. Also, look at state (or provincial) Department of Transportation Rail Planning reports: these often provide not only plans for the near- and medium-term future, they usually have definitive and comprehensive inventories of a state or province's present rail infrastructure.

State projects in the USA to inventory and guide OSM's improving rail network dataset continue to grow beyond the halfway mark, please see here.

Private Data

In many instances, the railroads themselves are the only authoritative source for the names of routes, operating sites, and other railroad features. After a brief look, it is unclear how copyright and licensing restrictions apply to proper names that are not duplicated directly from railroad resources, as this is not a clear-cut example of directly copying a work. However, this must be investigated and clarified before material can be reliably used.

Railroad timetables are the primary source of valuable information here. In the North American rail industry, a "timetable" as used is not a train schedule as the general public understands it, but a description of the line and its operating rules. As a map, it would have at most a schematic representation and tabular description of the route; the place names here would be the valuable information which is very difficult to source elsewhere. The license-approved FRA GIS system carries only route names, and not always current and reliable; the applicable timetable is the ultimate authoritative source.

If timetables are usable as a name source, this excellent collection of scanned timetables would be an invaluable resource.

Glossary

The following table contains abbreviations that are common in railroad reference material in North America, and may be useful when working with the references above, or other outside industry references. Click to expand table for viewing.

Abbreviations
Abbreviations description
ABS Automatic Block Signal System
ACS Automatic Cab Signal System
AMTK Amtrak
ATC Automatic Train Control
ATS Automatic Train Stop
AUTH Authority
BO Bad Order
BRN Branch
BRT Block Register Territory
C Center
COFC Container on Flat Car
CONDR Conductor
CP Control Point
CTC Centralized Traffic Control
DCS Dual Control Switch
DISPR Dispatcher
DIST District
DIV Division
DT Double Track
DTC Direct Traffic Control
E East
ENG Engine
ENGR Engineer
ESS East Siding Switch
EWD Eastward
FRT Freight
HER Head End Restriction
IM Intermodal
JCT Junction
MAX Maximum
MMT Multiple Main Track
MP Mile Post
MPH Miles Per Hour
MT Main Track
MW or MOW Maintenance of Way
N North
NO Number
NSS North Siding Switch
NWD Northward
OK Correct
OOS Out of Service
OPR Operator
PSGR Passenger
RC Radio Channel
RCO Remote Control Operator
RCZ Remote Control Zone
RE Region
S South
SDG Siding
SSS South Siding Switch
SUB Subdivision
SUBDIV Subdivision
SW Switch
SWD Southward
TOFC Trailer on Flat Car
TRK Track
TRN Train
TWC Track Warrant Control
W West
WSS West Siding Switch
WWD Westward
XO Crossover
YD Yard
YL Yard Limits
YM Yardmaster


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)
  • Investigate license compatibility of railroad timetables as a location name source

References

  1. "List of Class I Railroads", Wikipedia, 2020-02-28. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  2. "List of U.S. Class II Railroads", Wikipedia, 2020-02-28. Retrieved 2020-06-04.
  3. "Regional Railroad", Wikipedia, 2019-05-31. Retrieved 2020-06-04.