WikiProject United States railways

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Flag of United States Part of WikiProject United States.

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 goverment level Department of Transportation rail document and/or a state Public Utilities Commission road/rail crossing spreadsheet. Another source is and various rail layers, which link to ArcGIS servers that OSM can use; these often authoritatively yield subdivision name, owner and operator data. Such review might include following an entire rail "line" 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 should eventually be collected into a named route=railway relation. However, before doing so, given the abundance of 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, public works entity...) 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 (for example, comparing against Bing imagery and correcting where necessary), delete this tag (don't change it to the superfluous tiger:reviewed=yes).

Now you might gather identically named rail segments into a named relation with type=route, route=railway and name=Name of Subdivision or Line. Key values of railway and name should be identical, though minor name tag differences like suffixed with MT1 and MT2 to denote two main tracks is sorting itself out through name tags right now. Be aware of private/corporate rail map data being copyrighted; don't copy these into OSM. Some good news, (links to arcgis) offers searches of rail layer data which display owner, trackage rights (sometimes shared among a surprisingly large number of operators) and subdivision names, these geo data are both public (freely available, in the public domain, provided by the federal government) and which rail professionals consider authoritative. In 2018, better operator and owner tags (absent from TIGER import) are in earlier stages of improvement. Slight/minor variations in name tags can be a vehicle to buffer edits among multiple OSM volunteers as we more properly tag and organize (especially with the addition of accurate operator=* and owner=* tags).

These steps (review, proper alignment and tagging, creating a named 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.

These are only brief, "local" (to the USA) summary guidelines for rail tagging. Also, these are additional useful North American conventions which are helpful to know.

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 essentially skip collecting members into route=tracks relations and collect "physical railroad" elements (track members 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 largely dismiss, however wider impact of not using route=tracks relations (on rendering, routing engines...) is unknown. (There are fewer than a dozen route=tracks relations on Long Island, New York, but they are exceptions in North American rail).

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.

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 nearly always 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. Again, 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 Passenger train route sections, usually starting with a Level 2 header titled "Passenger trains." See the State projects section below. These sections in this wiki (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. "More harmony" (via better wiki) is ahead for USA 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, too, are added to that section below. The bulleted list in this section is not comprehensive, rather it's a start at a nationwide passenger rail authorities and location inventory: the trend is towards State project rail wikis rather than this (partial) nationwide list (many USA train routes are omitted here, having been already entered 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 list of Train Routes below will diminish to zero as each gets incorporated into its State project /Railroads wiki, its Level 2 Passenger trains section.

Sometimes this is a transit network of only a single railway=light_rail or railway=tram line. It has emerged in OSM in the USA that route=light_rail lines are tagged passenger=urban and route=tram lines are sometimes tagged passenger=local. If a tram is a significant part of a wider transport network (especially as one or more of its stations serves as a hub to other passenger routes, like a wider-area bus network), consider tagging it at least local, if not urban. If a tram (or train, where usage=tourism is often found on underlying infrastructure) is more tourism/excursion, consider tagging it local, or leave off a passenger=* tag altogether. Airport-style, (often automated/driverless, sometimes monorail) short-distance rail transit linking rental car areas, long-term parking and especially wider-area transit networks is frequently tagged passenger=local.

In short, tag "full-size" passenger train routes ("commuter" or "heavy rail") with passenger=suburban and "light_rail" as passenger=urban. Even "lighter" rail, especially street-running trams/streetcars, get passenger=local most of the time, unless they are longer, significant (arterial) lines, then they might get passenger=urban. Amtrak™ operates (inter)national, most passenger=regional (usually intrastate, sometimes intrastate), all overnight and highspeed=yes trains, though its shortest "commuter" train routes (Shuttle) are properly tagged passenger=suburban. State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and Regional Transportation Authorities (RTAs) often 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 these semantics/authorities/branding/ownership between Amtrak™, state DOTs/RTAs and boundaries between regional and commuter do blur. (Current trends include a "towards more-local multiple-county joint powers authority" direction for regional rail in California). In general, train routes 150 km to 1000 km in length are characterized as passenger=regional, while passenger=suburban is for full-size rail (not light_rail or trams) shorter than 150 km.

As there are >20 train routes (or networks of them) below in many states, to reduce this list rapidly, start by building new state /Railroads wiki in states with the most systems/networks. As of now (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, the recently created wikis for Florida/Railroads, New York/Railroads and Texas/Railroads exist now (though are early stub versions, especially New York) needing much additional data, research, wiki-updating, TIGER Review and mapping, especially with several (five in New York!) suburban/urban/local passenger rail networks simply in those three states. Especially as "full-size" trains, tag these passenger=suburban, unless they qualify as even longer (multiple-county, intrastate or even interstate) passenger rail: tag passenger=regional on such longer routes, though much regional rail are included in Amtrak™. Emerging are newer (high-speed, especially) trains which will be tagged passenger=regional (e.g. RMRA, California's High Speed Rail, Texas Central Railway, others), but these are longer-term-future oriented, 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 (needing to be created) state /Railroads wikis' Passenger train route sections.

Rail Renderers

In addition to OpenRailwayMap (ORM) displaying rail infrastructure, OpenPublicTransportMap (OPTM) displays passenger rail in route=train relations. At closer zooms, OPTM also displays route=light_rail, route=subway, route=tram, route=monorail, route=funicular, route=bus, route=trolleybus, route=aerialway and route=ferry with colors similar to ORM. Please compare and contrast ORM (rail infrastructure) and OPTM (passenger rail, bus and ferry routes) with OSM's Transport layer which rather simply displays "any and all rail" (railway=*, excluding railway=disused and railway=abandoned) and at closer zooms, route=bus.

Here was another rail renderer which displayed rail-based passenger routes with their colour=* or color=* tag. (No longer operational).


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, 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. 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!


  • Here is a 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 rail 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, phases of "alpha" and "beta" are used here to describe the state of statewide railroad data in OSM and completeness of their wiki in documenting those data. When a state's OSM rail data have been checked multiple times by many OSM and/or wiki editors as being comprehensively complete rail data for that state, the phase can go from "beta" to "final."

  • 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, perhaps not yet quite alpha, needs Saint Louis Metrolink, for example)
  • Montana/Railroads (a good start, not yet alpha, but not a huge amount to get there, either. BTW alpha might be "sensible full structure established in the wiki" and at least a start at TIGER Review of the data)
  • 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 fully being documented in the wiki. And, as always, yards need help.
  • Texas/Railroads (an early stub, especially needing mainline/branch/industrial attention)
  • Utah/Railroads (an early 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!)