• Track Chart database

  • General discussion related to all railroad clubs, museums, tourist and scenic lines. Generally this covers museums with static displays, museums that operate excursions, scenic lines that have museums, and so on. Check out the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN) for more information.
General discussion related to all railroad clubs, museums, tourist and scenic lines. Generally this covers museums with static displays, museums that operate excursions, scenic lines that have museums, and so on. Check out the Tourist Railway Association (TRAIN) for more information.

Moderators: Miketherailfan, rob216

  by RedLantern
I'm currently working on a piece of software that will allow users to trace things out on historic track profile charts and other maps. The software will then automatically take the data from tracing the charts and add it to a database. Once in the database, a script will go through a kml file of the path of the line drawn in Google Earth and will add every milepost, switch, signal, etc. to the Google Earth maps.

This is obviously going to be a big project, my collection of Boston & Maine charts is going to take me a while to trace, so this will have to be a combined effort. My plan is to make this chart tracing software run embedded in a web page so that it will run on pretty much any computer, and make it simple enough that anybody can get the hang of using it. All you have to do is upload a scan of a chart, trace out every milepost, track, siding, crossing, etc. and as you go it will automatically calculate the mileage and ask you for any other details.

Eventually my goal is to both create the most comprehensive railroad track atlas, as well as a mobile phone app that would help railfans identify any railroad line they happen to come across instantly. This December I'm taking a trip from Boston to Omaha via the Lake Shore Limited and the California Zephyr. and my return trip will be via the Zephyr then the Cardinal to DC and then back to Boston on the Northeast Regional. I've already begun plotting out every inch of this journey so that I'll know every spot to have my camera ready as well as to know if any other lines I see are active or not. This is my test, but eventually I'd like to have every line past or present active or abandoned, in a database with geographic coordinates.

Using this system in some of my tests I was able to trace out an abandoned branch line that was pulled in the 1930s, after uploading this to my Android phone (fairly simple process I could explain for anyone interested) I was able to find the line and walk it, as I walked, I would see on my map where every milepost was and in a few places I actually found the posts themselves, they had pulled most of them, but in some areas they fell off the embankment. There was also the foundations of stations and slabs for crossing tender shanties.

This data could also be really useful for modellers who want to build prototypical layouts, all the curve, elevation and grade data would be right there too, and a scale calculator probably wouldn't be too hard to make. The data can also easily be used in some railroad simulators.

So the reason I'm posting this is that I'm wondering if there's any interest in this? Just to set the record straight, this will be a free site, advertisements will support hosting fees, but since I would be relying on users to provide most of the information I really can't charge for that. Some people who sell copies of charts may find their business drying up, but everyone else will find the data for any line all in one place.
  by The EGE
That would be incredibly cool. I wish you best of luck, and keep us updated!
Hi Red Lantern,

Please contact me directly re your track chart database project at [email protected]

Be careful what you wish for;>) I started a similar project that will document the life and operating specs of every steam locomotive in N America. I am now scanning my second literal room full of information. I also support the alltimeinterlockingtowerlist yahoogroup.


Allen Stanley
Railroad Data Exchange
Greer, SC
  by RussNelson
Red Lantern, why not just edit http://OpenStreetMap.org? That's why it exists -- and there are already excellent tools for adding to it. I've gone the route you're contemplating (for New York State), and eventually decided that the OSM tools were better than the tools I wrote. My database is still published (http://rutlandtrail.org/list.cgi or http://russnelson.com/nyrr/ for the shapefile version of it.) but I've already imported it all, and made it about four times better in OSM.
  by RussNelson
Also, I just found out that OSMAnd will let you download vector maps (which give you higher resolution maps than Google has) AND they include historic railroads! So if you're in New York State, you can find abandoned railroad beds just by looking at your phone. I can't say anything about other states. Some of them have had railfans editing OSM, so the railroad data is better than elsewhere. And, all you need is an Android phone with wifi -- you don't need a cellphone data plan. So if you know someone with an older Android phone that they're not using, you can use it to find railbeds.

I've got pretty much EVERY abandoned railroad bed in NY added to http://openstreetmap.org/
  by RedLantern
I'll admit I haven't been spending much time on this site lately, and my project has had to take a back burner multiple times in favor of other stuff in my life, but I never stopped working on it entirelyy and have learned a lot since starting on this. I now know a lot more about PHP and JavaScript programming as well as tile servers, spatial database systems, and much more.

The basic idea I'm working on is to have an iinteractive map where someone can click along the route creating "points" which the software draws straight lines between, which is how mapping software like Google Earth works. I figure that once the length of a line is traced on the map, there should be a way to stretch that line straight and put it along an existing profile chart. One could then add everything on the chart to the line and everything on the chart would now show on the map.

Software can also take the data from a traced map and create a profile chart based on calculated curves, crossings from existing map data, and digital elevation models for grades and elevation data. This way even lines that have no known charts suddenly would.

Anywhere elevation data is available on a chart, it can be compared with digital elevation models to automatically determine where the tracks are/were on embankments or in cuts.

The first part however is finding a way to easily take data from paper charts and put it in a database.