Abandoned railway - how to code for cycle track?

Hi all

There’s a track I know that follows the path of a disused railway.


Is it possible to code this so that a small section of it is also marked as a track, with right of way for walkers and permissive for cycles? Or do I need a new Way that runs over the top of this one?



In most regions the convention has been to keep ‘railway=abandoned’ and just add highway=* and all associated attributes. Adding as a separate way would make things tricky for editors to select the desired feature to edit.

As I’ll quote from the many state-level /Railroads wikis we have in the USA (the entry point to how we map rail here is https://wiki.osm.org/wiki/WikiProject_United_States_railways ), click on one of the many states at the bottom and find a “Railtrails” section:

“A railtrail uses a former railroad right-of-way (ROW) for equestrian, bicycle or hiking paths, preserving the ROW for possible future re-use as a railway while providing a useful service in the meantime. These are often tagged highway=cycleway or highway=footway depending on whether they prefer or allow bicycle or pedestrian traffic. It is OK to tag both railway=abandoned and highway=cycleway if it is the case that an abandoned railway became a railtrail (for bicycle use, for example). Where a (multi-use) pathway is designated for pedestrians but also allows bicycles, tag highway=footway and bicycle=yes.”

USA rail and bicycle mapper in OSM

Great stuff, thanks both!

I realise that prompts a follow-up question from me:

How do I deal with the fact that only a small portion of the railway is suitable for pedestrians? I know how to snip a line in two and change the tags - but will this cause the snipped-out part to appear non-contiguous with the rest of the railway line (even though it’s still tagged ‘railway=abandoned’ along the relevant section)?

Snipping is the right way. You do this also for each bridge or tunnel.

Thanks. I’ve snipped and put new tags in which I hope are complete. (See here: https://www.openstreetmap.org/way/637492882))

As I feared, the abandoned railway is no longer a single way, so you can’t follow its full extent by selecting it.
[EDIT: what I mean here is that before my OSM edits, it was possible to use the map to select the way called ‘abandoned railway’ and - for historical interest only I guess - you could see the whole course of the railway as it was. This is consistent with UK Ordnance Survey government mapping practice, which marks the course of a ‘disused railway’ where this is visible on the ground, even if it runs through private land and even if it isn’t a usable track: perhaps a hedge-line shows it, for instance. (‘Disused railway’ is the OrdSurv term for a visible path a railway once took, but the rails are now removed) ]

I’ve tried merging the now-track with the abandoned railway I snipped it from, but the result is that it all becomes ‘track’.

Can I restore the abandoned railway as a single long feature, with just one portion of it as a track with access?

I think you are trying to tag for the renderer, which is one of the key things you should not do. If a router failing to route correctly, you should submit a bug report to its developers, not fudge the map to get the result you want.

Are you sure the track is still present? It is not an abandoned railway unless that is true.

Also, I find bicycle=permissive, foot=yes a strange combination.

foot=yes because there is a public right of way for pedestrians along it (very strictly, according to the legally definitive maps, the right of way runs alongside the former railway, but nobody uses the legal option since the track is there, and there’s a good case for changing the legal maps)
cycle=permissive because there is no legal right of way for cycles. However, it’s fairly regularly used by bikes, and certainly passable to a tourer all year round.

Any thoughts?

The track I’ve tagged is there on the ground and I’ve cycled along it. The longer way ‘abandoned railway’ (source=NPE) seems from aerial imagery to be visible through field boundaries, etc, but isn’t necessarily accessible as a track along its whole length.

I’ve edited my earlier post to make it clearer what I meant.

I wouldn’t advise cycling along a railway track. the sleepers will be very bumpy and it will be very difficult to balance on the rails. If this is just where the track was, that is historical, and belongs on OHM, not the main map.

A public right of way on foot should be foot=designated=public_footpath

permissive is where the landowner gives permission. The fact that it may be used, unchallenged, by cycles is not sufficient evidence of actual permission. I know several designated footpaths that have explicit no cycling signs, but are still, more often than not, used by mounted cyclists.

I mean a mud track, not a railway track, which I thought the context would make clear. (highway=track?)

Taking you to mean a railway track (railway=track?) - would your view be that Way: 637492881 should be deleted altogether? (Until I snipped and edited as suggested by contributors here, this Way included the section of cyclable mud track that this post centres on.)

That’s what I’d understood from the documentation, and it’s also how the word is used officially in the UK. But elsewhere, other long-standing contributors have suggested that wasn’t giving enough latitude to the definition, and that it should include ‘no one makes a fuss’. Suggestions for an approved means of capturing a cycle route, de factobut not de jure, would be welcome.

I started to map train lines that were dismanteled in OpenHistoricalMap. This is alas a very sad thing to do, but it’s still better than having those lines being forgotten. It would be cool if other people contributed to the project.

As for the current state (back in OSM), you could tag them “railway=abandonned”, this is not mandatory but the information that a way was a train line is interesting, especially if this is visible in many ways (usually it is), such as how bridges or tunnels and landscaping built, typically not something done for a “normal” track.

Thanks, Jonathan.

Do you have time to to look at the two ways at issue here?
Way: 637492882
Way: 637492881

Before my recent edits these were just one Way, with no indication of any present-day traffic across it (indeed on the rendering I get on osm.org, the ‘railway=abandoned’ Way doesn’t appear at all - you dig into the map data to see it).

My original question was how to show that just part of this Way is navigable by foot and by bike. I was advised to snip the navigable section out and code it accordingly, which I’ve now done.

A side effect, though, is that it’s no longer easy to see the whole route of the railway, as it’s been snipped into bits.


  • Do you think I’ve made the map less useful for people who are interested in the non-mandatory ‘this was once a railway’ information?
  • If so, Do you have a suggestion for how to show the whole length of the former railway while at the same time snipping the longer Way so that I can show different access types for different sections of it?

I don’t think the “this was once a railway information” belongs on OSM at all, except possibly in a description field. It is historical information that belongs on OHM. If the rails had still been there, it would have been an abandoned railway.

At least in some cases, the whole corridor will actually be a public park or nature reserve, and that would be the way to code it.

This is true in terms of normal OSM conventions, but there is a strong historical precedent to tag current greenways as railway=abandoned. Modifying the many greenways by removing this tag will likely trigger an edit war.

One way to do this is to create a relation that includes both of the ways. The relation would be of type railway=abandoned (or whatever state matches the Wiki). Selecting the relation would include all the ways, including any bridges / tunnels etc.

If the railway has a distinct identity (i.e. the Bourne & Essendine Railway) you could create a route relation to group the constituent ways: https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Relation:route

The relation should probably have these tags: type=route, route=historic, historic=railway, name=Bourne & Essendine Railway.

As for the access tagging, bicycle=permissive would seem fine to me, but I have on occasion seen bicycle=tolerated for situations like that.

Great to see this being mapped, in any case. I used to visit Bourne frequently many years ago…

I disagree entirely, for reasons set out in https://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk/2015-August/073804.html . I would encourage people to read the eight gazillion-message thread around then before opening up this topic yet again.

Hello again guys,
Before this afternoon after seeing the discussion in Richard’s post, I had no idea abandonned railways on OSM was such a hot and controversial topic. It’s sad it’s such a huge mess and that the community can’t decide a coherent politic that would be a good compromise for everyone, that would be a real progress. Since I am also very interested in abandonned railways, I can see why people are getting so passionate for that.

Becuse former railways mapping is controversial, you know you encounter the risk that anyone will want to delete it in the future if you put efforts into mapping it. (Deleted items on OSM are actually not deleted, they’re just marked deleted and can be restored if you have their ID, but that’s not an easy operation to do). For that reason, in order to avoid having your work (marked) deleted in the future by another mapper who thinks razed/abandonned railways should not figure in OSM, I’d recommand against putting majors efforts to map it on OSM. Neededless to says if they’re still usable as path or cycleway (or highway) they should be tagged as so; and the railway=abandonned or historic=railway tag should be added in top of that. Especially if there is, on the ground, explicative sign explaining the history of the railway or something similar. I do not think this should be any controversial.

I’d recommand putting major effort to map this on OHM, where such work is not controverial, and will definitely be kept in the future. Sure, let’s be honest OHM completely suck right now, but that’s because nobody contributes to it. If people start contributing seriously it’ll become great someday. Imagine how OSM should have been poor back in the very begining and how great it is today.

Looks fine to me.

It is normal that just “railway=abandonned” does not render in mapnik, and who cares ? Despite it’s name OSM is a database, not a map. Mapnik for example creates the actual map, and had made a choice not to render “railway=abandonned”, so that they don’t get in the way, and this makes sense. That does not mean mapping ways just “railway=abandonned” is worthless, you should use it, and let the render do their work.

A great example is that bridge I’ve mapped the other day. It’s really a coincidence. The bridge is still there and up, but it’s unused since ~1940, as a new bridge has been built with a better curve. That bridge is not a footpath nor a cycleway, it’s just a bridge in the middlle of nowhere with vegetation in it. The train are gone but the bridge is still there so I mapped it, and it does not render in mapnik, which is not a problem, as very few people will care about this bridge. The former railway path arround the bridge is not visible anymore (forest had grown over it) so I did not map it on OSM. On OHM however I mapped not only that bridge, but also two rail slopes leading to it from the still existing rail. Unfortunately I cannot reuse the bridge so it is a different object entered twice in two databases. That’s a pity but you can’t do much better, as mapping anything historical in OSM is dangerous as it’s very likely to be marked deleted in the future (no matter if you agree with the idea or not - there is no clear consensus so there will be people willing to delete this).

Just to be clear, the “Standard” map rendered by Mapnik is only one map among many that use the OSM data. While that one map has chosen not to render railway=abandoned objects, others do render them. The best example would be https://www.openrailwaymap.org/, which shows the abandoned railway in question (among many others).