Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Abandoned & Out of Service Railroad Lines Map: Year Three

It's been three years since I began the insurmountable task of finding all the abandoned railroad corridors of the world. It actually began on 3/29/16, but I have another blog soon to be posted. On one hand, the map, with nearly 400,000 views (undoubtedly more once this post is published), is a complete and massive success.

On the other hand, after three years, there's still plenty more to discover!



What started as a simple thought while walking on an abandoned railroad corridor one day, "I wonder how many abandoned railroads there are?" took me further than I'd ever thought possible, and spawned this map, this blog, my photography, Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, and an interest in railroad art and memorabilia.

The bridge over US 45 along the Old Plank Rd Trail; among my favorite rail-trails in Chicago.
I summarized the background of the map and in last year's update, so this post is going to be mostly about the map's current status and where I intend to go from here. But, let's compare some static images of the map from two years ago to today, just to show progress. Below is what the map looked like in May of 2017.

After slightly over a year's work, I had covered the Midwest fairly well, but much of the rest of the US was severely lacking.
After working on this nearly everyday, most of the United States is well documented, as is a good chunk of Canada and the United Kingdom, and the rest of the world is starting to fill up as well.
Today, the map is much more full worldwide, but there's still a lot more to go.
With all this said, I still get emails every so often regarding corridors in places I thought were complete, so even in my home state of Illinois, I cannot say for certain that I've covered everything, but I can say I've certainly covered almost everything.

The map has also grown slightly in scale since last year's update. For one, the map has never differentiated between abandoned rights-of-way and lines that are simply out of service. As such, I renamed it from "Abandoned Railroad Rights of Way" to simply "Abandoned & Out of Service Railroad Lines". The point of the map has always been to show where railroads no longer run, whether it be through abandonment, rail banking, or simply disuse, but there are three layers which go somewhat beyond that scale.

The first is the unbuilt railroads layer, which currently has 47 railroad proposals, some of which were partially constructed, but which never ran a revenue train along the route.

In black, the unbuilt New Mexico Central Railway, between Moriarty and San Antonito, NM
These often have little to no information on them, and their existence is often only referenced in railroad manuals from the late 18th and early 19th century, but many also had some sort of construction associated with them, such as the Decatur & State Line Railway. In black, they are the hardest to spot, just like their real life counterparts.

There have been thousands of railroad proposals that never amounted to anything, and as such, I only add them to the map if their proposed right of way is easily traceable, or if they were historic in some way, or if their proposed existence made it onto maps. So far, I've found 47 worldwide.

The next is the reactivations layer. When a line goes out of service, or even abandoned, it isn't always the end of rail service, as abandonments are not necessarily a linear function of time. Sometimes if the demand is there, lines can come back into service, such as the old Southern Pacific line between Victoria and Rosenberg, TX, which was rebuilt by Kansas City Southern in 2009.

The Green Layer shows reactivated lines saved from abandonment.
When an abandoned corridor is taken over by a heritage operator, I don't consider it in revenue service, instead I add the line to the Tourist Trains, Amusement Park and Heritage Railway layer, in red. My rationale for the difference is that these are now museums and public attractions, as opposed to simply a business.

The ROW of the California Western Railroad, now a heritage line between Ft. Bragg and Willits, CA
In addition, two maps have spun off from this project; my Ghost Towns Map (which is much more a work in progress), and the Railroad Points of Interest Map, which shows the locations of historic railroad points of interests, museums, and other things that may or may not be affiliated with now abandoned railroads.

In my pursuit of abandoned rails, I have many of you to thank for your help, including the roughly 200 or so of you who have provided me with lines and information on the map! In addition, this map would also not be possible, or nearly as far along as it is, without the following resources;

Abandoned Rails and their Facebook Page
historicaerials.com and the USGS Historic Topo Map Explorer
Atlas Obscura, OnlyInYourState, and Harvard University
The individual contributors to OpenRailwayMap
Rail Map Online
Russ Nelson's list of Unbuilt Railroads
Historic Map Works

Thank you all!
Andrew

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