Sunday, March 1, 2020

RailROWMap: The Future of Mapping Abandoned Railroad Lines (Available March 29th)

It's been awhile since I've sat down and blogged, but it hasn't been because I've stopped wanting to, or had writer's block, but rather, over the last few months, I've been working to fully realize the ultimate goal of the abandoned and out-of-service railroad lines map since its inception.

And that is to create a platform which allows you, yes you, to contribute your knowledge of railroad history and mapping to the project. The vastness of the abandoned railroad network is such that the only way it can be fully realized is with the magic of crowdsourcing.

I'm pleased to announce RailROWMap will be available by the end of March, 2020.
I started mapping abandoned railroad lines as a side project on March 29th, 2016. Exactly four years to the day, I am beyond excited that the next step toward creating an accurate, crowsourced map of abandoned railroad lines is will be a reality! Both iOS and Android users will each have their own apps available in the App Store and Google Play, respectively. A desktop app to update the interface of the current map is in development as well, and will release on the same day as the iOS and Android apps.


The Google My Maps application has been amazing to this end, but a new system is needed.

In the few years that I've been active in the railroad history community, I've come to realize that no one is a complete railroad expert, but each of us has our own unique knowledge, that as a whole, is far more valuable than the sum of its parts. Human-Computer chess matches, for example, have resulted in humans learning things about the from computers, and as large a dataset as exists in the abandoned railroad network, I see the applications for such data, and how it can be useful to society as a whole, as limitless and beyond my imagination.

A perfect example would be a conversation I had with an esteemed railroad historian, who did not realize that Bolingbrook, IL had (an albeit very small) bit of railroad trackage and history, despite living just a few miles away. "Bolingbrook is a relatively new suburb, and as such, has no railroad history", he said incorrectly.

But just as relevant, there are numerous parts of our railroad I can't fathom myself, which is why the knowledge of the crowd is so necessary.

In my current system, users must email me information about railroad lines, which is cumbersome for both myself and them; but the app will allow users to create their own railroad lines on the map, and then immediately send them on the map screen, where a file will be generated, allowing me to simply add the line onto the existing data.

While the map in its current for has been available for viewing and disseminating online for the last four years, the app will be available by the end of March. Like everything on this website, it will be available free of charge, supported by ads, affiliates.

Some may argue that I'm simply "reinventing the wheel", as many other mapping alternatives are available, for instance OpenRailwayMap. However, OpenRailwayMap is cumbersome to use, and more importantly, has a steep learning curve when it comes to plotting the tracks of old rights of way. One of the goals of the app is to allow users much easier access to sending lines, as many people who may have extensive railroad history knowledge may lack the IT skills necessary to make accurate, clean maps.

For those who wish to keep using the old map, I do not envision the old map going away, however both app and web interfaces will be updated.

I say this many times, and I mean it, without you I would not be doing this, so I greatly appreciate your contributions and activity! Feel free to comment on any features you would find helpful in the app, and I will try to make it feasible, either in the first iteration of the app or an update.

Thanks as always!

2 comments:

  1. I am glad to see that you are showing active tourist railroads on the map. If I can help, I would like to call your attention to two lines that are not yet shown on the map. The Grapevine Railroad runs from Grapevine, Texas to the old Fort Worth stockyards. Also the Hill country Flyer is run by the Austin Steam Train Association From Cedar Park, Texas to Burnet, Texas. You may be able to contact some of the active tourist railroads and they may be willing to help support your project.

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    1. Thanks for the comment and information! We have added both to the Railroad Points of Interest Map. https://www.abandonedraillines.com/p/map-of-railroad-points-of-interest.html

      Active tourist railroads appear on the Abandoned Railroads map if they own/occupy otherwise abandoned rights of way, or are the exclusive operator of the route. But all tourist operations are added to the Points of Interest map. Once again thanks for your help!

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