GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

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GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by MoonMix »

Hello again...

[not sure if this is the correct forum, but...)...

In hiking local abandoned RR lines (e.g., Delaware & Atlantic RR, Pemberton & Hightstown RR, Tuckerton RR, etc.)...I would like to pinpoint the exact location of the railbed ROW, so as to then be able to transfer that GPS data to a GPS data-friendly draft my own maps of these RR lines by drawing them in on the map. As some of you may well know...many of these railbed locations are becoming increasing overgrown, only barely noticeable on satellite/terrain mapping. In a few cases, Google Maps themselves have incorrectly placed old rail lines. In any event, I would like to create accurate maps myself.

So...(& this may sound like a dumb question, but...) manufacturers make hand-held GPS devices, that give precise coordinates at any given location on the planet (or at least North America) ???

What I would like to do is: Hike along the old railbeds & pinpoint coordinates every 100 to 250 feet...& then upload that GPS data to, say for example, Microsoft Streets & Trips.

Are such devices available ? [Does MS S&T actually allow for GPS data upload ?] Is there a way to upload such data to Google Maps ? Are there any other applications on the market that are better suited to what I would like to do (upload GPS data > create map lines) ???

Thanks very much,

Mark Forman

Ken W2KB
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Re: GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by Ken W2KB »

By precise if you mean within several feet, yes. Locations in latitude and longitude. The map datum used by the GPS may vary a bit. You would want a GPS that utilizes WAAS data for better precision.
~Ken :: Fairmont ex-UP/MP C436 MT-14M1 ::
Black River Railroad Historical Trust :: [/url]

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Re: GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by MoonMix »


Thanks much.

Are you familiar w/ such units...from a technical perspective ?

If so...I'm wondering how precise they are...based on cost differences.

For example, a Magellan Triton 200 is $129. It has the WAAS system you spoke of, which is accuracy to 3 meters. A Garmin eTrex legend H is $149...also w/ WAAS, but is a "Mapping" type handheld unit (whereas the Magellan Triton 200 is not, I don't believe). Mapping give the user what, exactly?

Thanks again,

Mark Forman

Plate F
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Re: GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by Plate F »

You don't necessarily need a mapping unit to do this. you hike along and leave way points on a cheaper GPS, say the Garmin eTrex. Get home and upload it to your mapping software. Garmin has one and there others that will read the eTrex data. So the GPS doesn't need to display a map, it simply needs to store a given set of coordinates. Which pretty much any GPS will do for you.

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Re: GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by B&Mguy »

I have actually been looking for something like this myself, although I want a handheld unit that would show the abandoned rail lines in it's software. I found out recently that such an item probably doesn't exist, so I'll probably just get a portable Garmin unit and do something similar to what you're doing. I like to know where old rail lines are in relation to modern roads and structures,

Check stores like EMS and REI. They sell portable GPS units for hikers, and you could probably find something there that would suit your needs.

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Re: GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by RussNelson »

Hmmm.... I've not spent much time in this section of even though I do take photos of railroads (see my Flickr link at the bottom). I've been doing EXACTLY this for several years now. I use my Nokia n800 with a bluetooth GPS receiver, and download GPX routes into the 'maemo-mapper' application. It then shows the route of the railbed on the map.

But it sounds like MoonMix really wants to start using OpenStreetMap ( In spite of the name, it's not just for streets anymore. Anything, and everything, including abandoned or dismantled railways, is fertile ground for addition to the database. From this database you can make pretty thematic maps, such as railroad trackage.

There are two common ways of editing OSM: using Potlatch (the Edit tab on and tracing aerial photos or by the method MoonMix describes: travelling along the railbed with your GPS receiver set to record your track once per second (more data is always better). Then you can use the GPSBabel ( program to download the recorded track into a GPX file. You can load that GPX file into the JOSM ( program (written in Java, I've seen it run on the three major platforms). You can then download the existing data from OpenStreetMap, and if the railway isn't present, trace that set of dots into a railway, tag it as such (railway=dismantled), add the name (name=Delaware & Atlantic Railroad), and upload the data.

You can also perform the reverse process using JOSM: locate the railway in the downloaded data, save it to a GPX file, use GPSbabel to download it as a route to your GPS receiver, and follow it out in the field (note: I haven't done all of these steps together although I've done each separately).

OpenStreetMap is a great resource for railroaders. I'm working on adding my New York State railroad dataset ( to OpenStreetMap. If you have any questions about this process, want to know more about OpenStreetMap, or want to know more about why OpenStreetMap is a good and necessary thing, please ask here, send me a PM, or send me email: or Or chat me up: russnelson via Google Talk, or russnelso on AIM, or nelsonrn2 on Yahoo chat. Or call me: russ.cloudmade on Skype or my cellphone +1-315-323-1241. (but note that I'm in Brussels, Belgium for a computer conference until Sunday). Hmmm.... maybe there are too many ways of contacting me?!??

I really REALLY want to get each and every piece of railroad grade across the entire USA entered into OpenStreetMap, so that when I'm travelling, and I see a linear lump, I can just consult OpenStreetMap to see if it was really a railbed or if it was just my overactive sense of ferroequinology. (Yes, I know it's a big dream; why dream small?)

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Re: GPS Pinpointing of Abandoned RR Lines

Post by MoonMix »

Russ...(& anyone)...

[yes...there are in fact too many ways to contact you (just kiddin')]

1) On OpenStreets...if you find Chatsworth, NJ...there's a dotted line running through it bearing WSW...which very much looks to be the exact line of the NJSouthern. Yesterday, I turned off 563 S of Chatsworth into Speedwell...hung a right at the triple fork there (Speedwell-Pine Crest Rd.)...proceeded NW & ran right into (what must have surely been) Pine Crest Station...where crazy folks (such as myself, for example, who drive all over west jersey searching for abandoned RR ROWs) would have departed the train for Dr. White's Sanitarium there (my apologies to the truly troubled, everywhere). question is...on OpenStreets...where is the doggone legend ?? Another reason I ask is...the different types of dashed lines...look to be pretty accurate if they represent how navigable a road actually is.

2) wound up w/ a Garmin eTrex legend...beginning to enjoy it very much.

1A) I'll more than likely learn how to use OpenStreets...but what I'd really like to do is the following:
On my web site I would like to eventually publish my own map of every railroad featured there. I'm pretty well versed in Adobe Illustrator, which functions soley based on Path coordinates. GPS aside, it's really easy to draw a RR path into google earth, 'cause the topography shows the old ROWs very accurately. (I was only going to use GPS to supplement my discoveries...where I actually have to hike to find the roadbed). But if there were a way to transfer a Path in google earth to Adobe Illustrator...that would be something. Because would have complete control over the path...straightening straightaways...rounding radius'; & the like. Then I could position a RR path over a layer representing the outline of NJ...add my towns...& have a 100% accurate (& custom) map of where the RR existed. Looking into this at present.


Mark Forman
Bordentown, NJ

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