OpenRailwayMap/Tagging in North America

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The purpose of this wiki is to provide more specific rail tagging information for the United States (and currently to a lesser degree, Canada and Mexico). In addition to tabulating 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 OpenRailwayMap (ORM) rendering. The section "National Overview and General Tagging" gives an introductory 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 brief overviews of individual railroads, (OSM-relevant) operating/signal rules and other tagging conventions which may be dependent on specific railroads. In addition, where known, anomalies from railroad standards (specific to North America) which diverge from those in other parts of the world are identified.


National Overview and General Tagging

It is reiterated that definitive OpenRailwayMap tagging conventions are found at OpenRailwayMap/Tagging and this wiki is primarily addressed to specific differences in North America.


Operator and Owner

Distinguishing who owns trackage, and who operates over 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 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).

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 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.

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.
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. 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.

<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.

<section still under development>

Individual Railroad Overview and Specific Tagging

Conventional Rail

This entire section is skeletal and exceedingly incomplete (it seems almost randomly constructed). Its entire structure is highly subject to change.

Class I Freight

BNSF Railway

CSX Transportation

Grand Trunk Corporation

Kansas City Southern Railway

Norfolk Southern Corporation

Soo Line Railroad

Union Pacific Railroad

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 supported) passenger rail network: largely long_distance and regional routes (some are international as they cross into Canada), with one highspeed route in the Northeast Corridor (Acela).

In OSM, the USA's passenger rail network below the level of international and national/long_distance (Amtrak) organize at a state level as regional/statewide and commuter/local. Please see Provincial/State Data ahead.

There are many other kinds of passenger rail at regional/state and local levels like commuter rail, subways (often overlapping with the concept of Rapid Transit), light_rail, trams, tourism/heritage rail, urban funiculars, amusement park, miniature rail and more.

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 and local levels like commuter rail, subways, light_rail and tram.

In Mexico, a commuter rail/suburban light_rail/subway network serves Mexico City and there are a small number of usage=tourism railroads. In earlier and/or developing stages are regional (intercity) passenger services, while highspeed service is being planned.

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 the early stages of constructing the USA's first dedicated highspeed rail system.

Light Rail

The tag railway=light_rail is applied to rail track elements as infrastructure, collected together into route=railway relations. There are dozens of light_rail systems in North America as part of local/metropolitan transportation networks.

Tourism/heritage rail, Historic Railroad Systems

The tag service=tourism is applied to 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...) 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 to be the engineer on a vintage steam train, et cetera.

<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

<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.


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


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!

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.

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 data from the US federal government, including fairly comprehensive rail data. These data may be characterized as "noisy, though OK" as they have 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 New Mexico/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 (often dovetails with statewide) and especially local (commuter) 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, so you are welcome to jump in and 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 stitching together named Subdivisions, allowing ORM to display excellent visual feedback of correct infrastructure tagging. Also, check for state Department of Transportation Rail Planning reports in your state: these often provide not only plans for the near- and medium-term future, but comprehensive inventories of a state's present rail infrastructure.


See Alaska/Railroads


See California/Railroads


See Missouri/Railroads


See Montana/Railroads

New Mexico

See New Mexico/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)