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 is intended 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.

Collection of infrastructure into named rail relations

Please see 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(? maybe "co-op rail network?") like Crescent Corridor and MidAmerica Corridor.


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 railroad (frequently a short line) 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 such as these.

Tag Common Names
usage=main Main Line, "XYZ Subdivision," MT1, MT2 (as suffix for "main track #2"), "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, US Navy Rail, "Old Garrison Railroad" (for example)
usage=tourism Historic, Heritage, Museum, Tourism Railroads
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)

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.

With increasing frequency, the tag usage=industrial is 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 greater specificity is desired to tag track infrastructure as exclusively freight, the tag railway:traffic_mode=freight may be used.

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> 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.

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


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
Adirondack Scenic Railroad fixme fixme Associate Member Heritage/Tourist fixme fixme
Amtrak AMTK Full Member Passenger No Shore Line (New Haven to Boston)
New York Terminal District
Springfield Line (New Haven to Springfield)
Philadelphia to Harrisburg Main Line (Keystone Corridor)
New York Terminal District
Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railway B&ML BML Associate Member Heritage/Tourist Rights to Belfast and Moosehead Railroad
Cape Cod Central Railroad
Cape May Seashore Lines
Claremont Concord Railroad
Columbia & Reading Railway
Finger Lakes Railway FLGK Associate Member Heritage/Tourist Common Carrier fixme
Grafton & Upton Railroad Company
Housatonic Railroad fixme HRRC
Maine Eastern Railroad MERR Associate Member Heritage/Tourist Common Carrier Rockland Branch
Lower Road
Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority MBTA MBTX Full Member Commuter No fixme
Metro-North Railroad fixme fixme Former Member
Naugatuck Railroad fixme NAUG Associate Member Heritage/Tourist fixme fixme
New Jersey Transit NJT NJTR
New York, Susquehanna, and Western Railway NYS&W NYSW Associate Member No Common Carrier All
Pan Am Railways PAR fixme fixme Member fixme Common Carrier fixme
Providence and Worcester Railroad P&W PW Full Member Excursion Common Carrier fixme
Southern Railroad of New Jersey
Seminole Gulf Railway
SMS Rail Service
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority SEPTA SEPA
Valley Railroad VRR VALE Associate Member Heritage/Tourist Rights to Valley Line
Wellsboro & Corning Railroad
West Chester Railroad
Winimac Southern Railroad
Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad
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.


The General Code of Operating Rules (GCOR) is a set of operating rules for railroads in the United States. The GCOR is used by Class I railroads west of the Chicago, most of the Class II railroads, and many Short-line railroads. The current version is the 7th Edition in effective April 1st, 2015.


Members and Membership Status
Railroad Name Abbreviation Reporting Mark(s) Membership Status Passenger Freight Applicable Lines Notes
BNSF Railway BNSF BNSF, GN, BN, Seventh Edition Yes Yes All
Union Pacific Railway UP UP, WP, SP, Seventh Edition Yes Yes All

<membership table under construction>


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

Individual Railroad Overview and Specific Tagging

This section is intended to offer specific railroad-by-railroad information, perhaps brief overviews of individual railroads, (OSM-relevant) operating/signal rules and other tagging conventions which may be dependent on specific railroads. Currently, it is in an early skeletal structure and is subject to change.

Conventional Rail

The sections Freight, Holding and Independent(s) are under construction and subject to change.

Class I Freight

A list of railroads is presented. BNSF Railway CSX Transportation Grand Trunk Corporation Kansas City Southern Railway Norfolk Southern Corporation Soo Line Railroad Union Pacific Railroad

Holding Companies

A list of holding companies is presented. 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

Some independent regional railroads. Florida East Coast Railroad Providence and Worcester Railroad

Independent Shortlines and Tourist Railroads

Finger Lakes Railway

Passenger Rail

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

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>


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



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 is a 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. Such growth is happening now, you are welcome to join the efforts!

State 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 visual feedback of correct rail infrastructure tagging. Also, look for state or provincial Department of Transportation Rail Planning reports in your state or province: 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 to inventory and guide OSM's improving rail network dataset continue to grow, for example: Alaska/Railroads, California/Railroads, Illinois/Railway_Relations, Missouri/Railroads, Montana/Railroads, New Mexico/Railroads, Oregon/Railroads, South Carolina/Railroads, Virginia/Railroads, Washington/Railroads and Wisconsin/Railway_Relations.

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)