WikiProject United States railways

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This page intends to help organize efforts to map railways in the United States.

Editing Railroads starting from TIGER data

Like highways, railroad tracks have been imported from (federal government, public domain, mid-2000s) TIGER data and share similar problems like disconnected segments, wrong tagging, missing bridges and crossings and positions that are frequently off quite a lot. So a review is necessary as it is for highways. Sources to improve these data might include Bing imagery, a recent state government Department of Transportation rail document and/or a state Public Utilities Commission road/rail crossing spreadsheet. Another source is (see below for link) with various rail layers that OSM can use; these often authoritatively yield subdivision names, rail ownership and operator data. Such review might include following an entire rail "line" of less-reviewed TIGER rail (tiger:reviewed=no) from one end to the other, paying particular attention to:

• alignment (against recent aerial or satellite imagery like Bing),
• multiple tracks (each mapped individually, preferably not with tracks=#),
• crossover tracks between mainlines, branches, sidings and spurs,
• tracks which make up yards,
• bridges (bridge=yes, layer=1) and tunnels (tunnel=yes, layer=-1), where they exist and
• assuring that at-grade road/rail crossings are an actual intersecting node with a railway=level_crossing tag.

Reviewed/corrected segments of a single named railway (subdivision, branch or line) are correctly collected into a named route=railway relation. However, before doing so, given the abundance of less-reviewed or non-reviewed TIGER rail data OSM has in the USA, try these steps while doing the above review:

• Select an element of TIGER rail, change its name=* tag to operator=* (rail company, transit district...) and add a new name=* tag with a value of the name of the rail segment, often something like "XYZ Subdivision" or "ABC Industrial Line."
• Check the railway=* tag: valid tags include railway=rail, railway=tram, railway=light_rail, railway=subway, railway=disused, railway=abandoned, railway=narrow_gauge, railway=preserved and railway=construction.
• If you find a railway=spur tag, change it to railway=rail and add service=spur.
• See if an odd service=* tag exists (like service=branch, which doesn't make sense) and delete it if necessary. Valid service=* tags include service=spur, service=crossover, service=siding and service=yard.
• Add a usage=* tag [main, branch, industrial, military, tourism] if one doesn't already exist. These can be subjective (see here), but usage=main is generally correct for heavy-traffic passenger and freight rail, especially as a contiguous named Subdivision. Omit this tag on spurs, sidings, crossovers and yard tracks.
• If a tiger:reviewed=no tag exists and you "reviewed" the rail (e.g. comparing against Bing imagery and better aligning where necessary, tags are all correct...), delete this tag — don't change it to the superfluous tiger:reviewed=yes or something like tiger:reviewed=aerial.

Now you might gather identically named rail segments into a named relation with type=route, route=railway and name=Name of Subdivision or Line. Values of railway=* and name=* should be identical, though minor name differences (like suffixed with MT1 and MT2 to denote two main tracks) is sorting itself out now; slight variations in name=* allows multiple OSM volunteers to buffer edits as we more properly tag and organize. Be aware of private/corporate rail map data being copyrighted; don't copy these into OSM. Some good news, (links to offers map browsing of rail layer data displaying owner, trackage rights (sometimes shared among a surprisingly large number of operators) and subdivision names, these geo data are freely available to OSM in the public domain by the federal government, while rail professionals consider them authoritative. In 2018, better operator=* and owner=* tags (absent from TIGER import) continue to improve, especially as name=* tags from TIGER properly become one or both of these two tags and subdivision names are discovered and entered as a correct name=* tag. Please do not prefix subdivision names with the operator unless a nearby identically-named subdivision benefits from disambiguation by doing so. For example, there are two "Dallas Subdivision" relations in Texas, but because of their proximity and ease with which they may be confused, one is named "KCS Dallas Subdivision" and the other is named "UP Dallas Subdivision." Good practice has also properly set operator=* on both. Otherwise, continue to "migrate" the operator (e.g. UP, BNSF, CSX, NS...) to the operator=* tag, removing it from the name=* tag unless the "proximity exception" exists, then "prefix" the name=* tag with an operator abbreviation as in the example above.

These steps (visual layer review, discovery of and tagging of subdivision name, proper alignment and tagging, including usage=* and operator=*, creating a named route=railway relation) lead toward excellent OSM data and render well in OpenRailwayMap (ORM) after approximately 24 hours. Definitive ORM tagging documentation is found here, however, see below, especially Rail Structure. These are only "local" (to the USA) summary guidelines for rail tagging. Also, these are additional useful North American rail tagging conventions which are helpful to know.

As of 2018, TIGER Review of rail is spotty, much still needs doing. After TIGER Review of a segment or line (alignment, proper tags, deleting tiger:reviewed=no so others know...), it is helpful to wiki document the state of its completion. This is done in "infrastructure tables" of state-level /Railroads wikis: often these are color-coded (red, yellow, green=done or almost done) for an at-a-glance status of TIGER Review progress in a given state (see State projects below).


If you wish to improve USA railroads in OSM:

• Follow unreviewed TIGER rail along its length, comparing it with your best data. This might be many things: a survey or GPS track, a state's Department of Transportation latest rail document, Public Utilities Commission crossing data, Bing imagery, rail enthusiast lore that OSM has permission to use or personal rail knowledge that is "on the ground verifiable."

• Assemble identically named rail segments (not already gathered) into a named route=railway rail relation. And/or, improve these. It CAN be tedious to stitch them together properly! JOSM is the recommended editor as it has an excellent relation-editing dialog window.

• Using an Overpass Turbo query or ORM (black lines, though be aware that usage=tourism and usage=military also display as black), find unreviewed TIGER rail incorrectly named as a railroad (e.g. name=Union Pacific Railroad). Properly tag these with e.g. operator=Pacific Harbor Line, name=ABC Industrial Lead and usage=industrial.

• Using an Overpass Turbo query or ORM (railway=disused as brown and railway=abandoned as dashed brown lines), find TIGER rail with incorrect status. Properly tag these with knowledge of whether they are truly disused, abandoned or active rail.

• Clean up yards using Bing imagery or better knowledge. Currently yards are moderately correct, but can use improvement from recent Bing imagery or newer real-world data.

Map Your Train Ride! Add public_transport=platforms to the route=train relation of your commute. It's easy: add a node or draw a small way or polygon representing the exact location of the platform, tagging it with public_transport=platform, railway=platform and one of either rail=yes, light_rail=yes, subway=yes or tram=yes. You might also add it to the proper route=train relation(s) which should be found around that railway=station. For further guidance, see this diagram of a "simple railway station".

Much more work needs doing. This includes yards and reducing or eliminating tracks=# tags by entering each distinct track element. (Note that a tracks=1 tag is superfluous, as 1 is the default). Eventually, all named rail should be in route=railway relations, whether active, disused or abandoned. USA railroads are not 100% there yet, but continue to approach this subgoal. Another goal is for all train routes (passenger rail) to contain accurate relation memberships of (named) track infrastructure, largely done but not complete — another frontier. Other frontiers are maxspeed=* and railway=signal tags, barely extant now. Seriously: should you take a look and decide to do so, everything here can use review and/or improvement, especially improving tagging, adding stations/stops/platforms and creating route_master relations to upgrade passenger rail from public_transport:version=1 (v1) to v2. Thank you!

OSM Rail Structure in the USA

ORM documents tagging rail with three "levels" of relations:

Railway Line Railway Route Train Route (Passenger Rail)
route=tracks route=railway route=train or route=light_rail or route=subway or route=tram

However, in the USA, largely because of how our TIGER import entered rail, we skip collecting members into route=tracks relations and collect "physical railroad" elements (track members of railway=rail, railway=disused or railway=abandoned as infrastructure) directly into route=railway relations. These route=railway relations have become equated with our familiar named Subdivisions, Branches, Industrial Lines and railway=abandoned: contiguous rail segments with identical railway=*, name=*, operator=* and usage=* tags. ORM tagging suggests these be tagged with route=tracks rather than route=railway. The distinction seems like a small extra syntax wrapper we dismiss, however wider impact of not using route=tracks relations (on rendering, routing engines...) is unknown. So far, many years of not using route=tracks seems to have had no ill effect in the USA.

Collections of rail segments (tracks) into route=railway relations continues at another "level" as these route=railway relations are themselves collected into super-relations. For example, the USA has a "Transcontinental" route=railway super-relation from Los Angeles to Chicago named Southern Transcon containing the eleven member route=railway relations that make up this route. We call this a "Major Mainline Rail," and there are others like it, such as Northern Transcon. Newer "regional corridor" projects like Crescent Corridor and MidAmerica Corridor are also being included in OSM with this scheme.

So, in the USA, we largely express rail with these three kinds of route relations:

Railway Route "Aggregated" Railway Route (Major Mainline Rail) Train Route (Passenger Rail)
route=railway Several contiguous route=railway relations in a super-relation route=train or route=light_rail or route=subway or route=tram

This diverges from tagging as is done in Europe (especially Germany), since in the USA route=tracks relations are omitted, being conflated into a route=railway relation. For important further discussion, see the Discussion page.

Train Routes

A train route is a route=train relation that describes the route of a train in regular passenger service. Its members include the stations/stops/platforms served by the train (where it stops to pick up and/or drop off passengers) as well as the railways (ways also part of railway route relations) on which the train travels. A train route relation can be described as "higher level," implying a "lower level" infrastructure of rail segments underlying the passenger train route, which should be well-complemented with properly tagged infrastructure (railway route) relations. Omit route=tracks relations in the USA. Some train route networks which are both in OSM and are wiki-documented include:

There are other State project /Railroads wikis with comprehensive train route sections, usually with a Level 2 header titled "Passenger trains," see State projects below. These two wiki sections (Train Routes and State projects) are under construction, "trading places," as better State project /Railroads wikis develop to include a state's freight/industrial rail along with comprehensive Passenger train routes. Additional State (or Regional or Municipal transit authority) train routes should be entered here and migrate/trade places to prospective new State project wikis as they are created and added to that section below. The bulleted list in this section is not comprehensive, rather it's a start at nationwide passenger train routes not yet in State project /Railroads wikis. The trend is towards these wikis rather than this nationwide list. Many USA train routes are omitted here, entered already into their State project /Railroads wiki's Passenger trains section, so check there first. For example, both Los Angeles County Metro Rail and San Francisco's BART are found in California/Railroads. Eventually (as present trends continue) the bulleted list of train routes here will diminish to zero as each gets incorporated into a State project /Railroads wiki, its Level 2 Passenger trains section.

In the USA, Amtrak™ operates (inter)national, most passenger=regional (usually intrastate, sometimes interstate), highspeed=yes and all overnight trains, though its shortest "commuter" train routes (Shuttle) are properly tagged passenger=suburban. Many state Departments of Transportation (DOTs), Regional Transportation Authorities (RTAs) and Municipal Transportation Districts operate light_rail or tram lines, perhaps suburban/commuter trains, too. Sometimes these include passenger=regional trains as a DOT or RTA "partnership" with Amtrak™ though semantics/authorities/branding/ownership/funding between Amtrak™, state DOTs/RTAs and boundaries between regional and commuter can blur, depending on the state. (For example, a trend in California is "towards more-local multiple-county joint powers authorities" for regional rail). Tag train routes 150 km to 1000 km in length passenger=regional, while passenger=suburban is for "full-size" ("commuter" or "heavy rail") rail shorter than 150 km (not light_rail or trams). Tag "light_rail" as passenger=urban. Street-running route=tram lines often get passenger=local, though if a tram is a significant part of a wider-area transport network (especially as one or more of its stations serve as a hub to other passenger routes, like a bus network), consider tagging it at least passenger=local, if not passenger=urban. If a tram or train is more tourism/excursion-oriented (where usage=tourism is often found on underlying infrastructure), consider tagging it passenger=local, though if it isn't a significant part of the local transportation network, you may omit a passenger=* tag altogether. Short-distance rail transit found at larger airports, (frequently automated/driverless, sometimes monorail) linking rental car areas, long-term parking and especially wider-area transit networks is often tagged passenger=local. A transit network may have only a single railway=light_rail, railway=tram or railway=monorail line, especially when complemented with bus routes.

As there are >20 train routes (or networks) below in many states, to reduce this list rapidly, build new state /Railroads wiki in states with the most routes/networks. As of 2018, these are New Jersey (3), Pennsylvania (2 or 3, not sure), Massachusetts (2), Arizona (2), Illinois (2) (see Illinois/Railway_Relations below), Maryland (2) and the District of Columbia (2). However, recent wikis for Florida/Railroads, New York/Railroads and Texas/Railroads (early stubs, especially New York) need much additional data, research, wiki-updating, TIGER Review and mapping, especially with several (five in New York!) suburban/urban/local passenger rail networks in each of those three states alone. Tag these "full-size" trains passenger=suburban, unless they are longer (multiple-county, intrastate or even interstate) passenger rail, tag passenger=regional on those routes, though most regional rail are now part of Amtrak™. Emerging are newer (often high-speed) trains to be tagged passenger=regional (e.g. RMRA, California's High Speed Rail, Texas Central Railway, others) — these are longer-term-future oriented, as they either remain in planning or are in only the earliest phases of construction.

Some of the following entries have links to their own OSM wiki, some don't. Again, the idea here is to "move" these to their (need to be created) state /Railroads wikis' Passenger trains section. Once that's done, delete its entry below and add one to the State projects section.

Rail Renderers

Main article: Railways section 'Rendering'


  • Here is an incomplete list of US railroad subdivisions. Try clicking the "State1" column header to sort the table by State, then use the list of subdivisions to start a state /Railroads wiki for your state. There are at least a dozen to choose from as "seeds," see below.

State projects

Often used to describe stages of software development, "alpha" and "beta" here describe a quality assurance phase of statewide railroad data in OSM and completeness of their wiki in documenting those data. Alpha might be "sensible full structure established in the wiki" and at least a start at TIGER Review of the data. Beta can be declared when there are no major errors or omissions in a rail wiki which comprehensively documents a state's railway infrastructure. When a state's OSM rail data have been checked multiple times by many OSM and/or wiki editors as being complete and correct rail data for that state, the phase can go from "beta" to "final." For now, "complete and correct" includes freight/industrial infrastructure (railway=rail as route=railways) and passenger rail (route=trains), not necessarily signals, milestones, switches, maxspeeds and other similar "minor" infrastructure/data. OSM is only in the very earliest phases of mapping these, progress continues slowly. State rail wiki sections documenting the inclusion of such minor infrastructure is welcome, though virtually non-existent presently.

  • Alaska/Railroads (early beta)
  • California/Railroads (middle beta) <--- This can be used as a rich, comprehensive seed/template if you wish to fully wiki-organize rail mapping in your state. Simply copy, then delete and modify its structure until you have the rail wiki page you want.
  • Colorado/Railroads (early alpha). Denver-area OSM volunteers, please step right up! RTD's multibillion dollar mass transit with lots of light_rail and new commuter train lines under construction grows faster than our mapping speed!
  • Florida/Railroads (an early stub, needs a lot of mainline/branch/industrial attention)
  • Illinois/Railway_Relations (early and several years old, relations and nice OT links for CTA's Chicago_'L' and Metra suburban trains — a great start!)
  • Missouri/Railroads (a good start, not quite yet alpha, needs Saint Louis Metrolink, for example)
  • Minnesota/Railroads (now getting started). Includes METRO trains (Minneapolis-Saint Paul).
  • Montana/Railroads (a good start, not yet alpha, but not a huge amount to get there, either).
  • New Mexico/Railroads <--- This can be used as a simple seed/template if you wish quickly to wiki-organize rail mapping in your state. Simply copy, then modify its structure until you have the rail wiki page you want.
  • New York/Railroads (the earliest of very early stubs). Really needs some mapper love (and wiki-writing love!) to enter numerous passenger rail networks as well as mainline/branch/industrial rail. Careful mapping of abandoned and disused railway exists, let's document the state of that.
  • Oregon/Railroads (alpha). Includes TriMet (Portland, Oregon).
  • South Carolina/Railroads (alpha)
  • South Dakota/Railroads (early/stubby, but with only a modest amount of rail in the state, not a huge effort to complete). The focus now is on TIGER Review and abandoned and disused rail being fully documented in the wiki. And, as always, yards need help.
  • Texas/Railroads (an early stub, especially needing mainline/branch/industrial attention)
  • Utah/Railroads (a nearing-alpha wiki ready for much more research, growth and mapping; lots of history and rail activity in Utah right now!)
  • Virginia/Railroads (several years old, mentions a state-generated shapefile of railroads that might be used to harmonize TIGER rail data; very early)
  • Washington State/Railroads (alpha). Includes Sound Transit (Seattle).
  • Wisconsin/Railway_Relations (early, relations only — a start!)