On December 26, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson nationalized the U.S railroads from 1917 – 1920 in response to the infrastructure demands of WWI. While it only lasted four years, the nationalization and standardization needed for the war effort led to innovations in railway infrastructure and planning. Railways have always been closely tied with advances in cartography, mapping, and infrastructure.
The Geography of Transport Systems, one of the most respected sites for geography transportation, has published it’s 3rd edition of “The Geography of Transport Systems” Routledge 2013. They provide an interactive Table of Contents including a Historical Geography of Transportation: The Emergence of Mechanized Systems chapter with a brief overview of transportation during the 1900 – 1920′s time period. The University of Connecticut Archives & Special Collections at the Dodd Research Center have an extensive Railroad History Archive for the United States including railroad maps and records from the Library of Congress.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, provides an interactive GIS Application for Railways. The USGS NationalAtlas.gov provides layers for major railroads at a scale of 1:1,000,000 as of 2012 and a North American railroads layer working with the national mapping programs for Canada and Mexico. An ESRI Media Paper, “GIS Solutions for Railroads” reviews the many uses of GIS by railway organizations. To keep professionals current, ESRI holds an International Rail GIS Summit providing information and practices in new GIS technologies in the rail industry.