Friday 25 December 2015

NZ Rail Maps 2015 Review

It seems like a good time to review what progress has been made with this project in 2015 so here we are.

The community of the NZ Rail Maps project changed during the year with a shift to a secret Facebook group to work with the small community of interest that is helping me to develop the project. The Yahoo group was closed down. We did consider a public or closed FB group but the administrative workload is considerable when working with any type of group that has open membership. The NZ Rail Maps FB page was renamed to EnzedTransport and whilst I perhaps should have kept the page with its previous name, this was done because of the change to a FB group instead of a page. 

Due to the change of the type of group from public/closed to secret, a new public interface for the project was needed and therefore this blog was set up, and a significant amount of content from Enzed Transport's blog was migrated to it. However the posts that were from the other blog are still present there, but new content on this blog is not duplicated on the old blog. Articles from both this blog and Enzed Transport are automatically republished to the Facebook page. 

The need for a separate group and other separate structures is largely driven around the fact that this project is considered to be outside the mainstream of the railfan community in NZ and consequently there have been doors closed to me. Nevertheless the FB group does have significant people in it who were chosen due to the contributions they have made to the project and these people have been willing to go outside of their community to make their contributions, which are most appreciated.

Another major change was in the way data is structured in the project and where it is stored online. The data structure has been changed so that all of the Linz Data Service layers are incorporated into the online storage, whereas previously only the layers I had created were online. This means it is easy to make an archive that anyone else can access should that happen in the future. Because Microsoft has made yet another excuse for slashing the amount of OneDrive storage to a measly 5 GB, the online storage has been changed to Google Drive which supports 15 GB. At this stage I do not have a new bitly short URL for the new storage location, but some of the old ones will not work anymore, so older maps URLs at the bottom of each published map will be incorrect.

The main internal change in data structure was made possible because Qgis supports rule-based styles. What is a style you may ask? A style is simply the visual representation of the stored map data on a map. For example a railway station location in the system I use is shown as a number of different square or circular symbols. The exact symbols used are styles. When you create a shapefile to hold data then you have to have a way of structuring the data so that the correct style is displayed for each item in the file. The easiest way to do this when I first started the project was to have a separate data layer for each style, for example if there were six types of station there would be six different layers. Having a rule based style means I have an extra column of data in the table that stores the style code for each item. This means there are now far fewer data layers in each project but it has meant a lot of work to migrate the data from the old layers to new and in a number of projects this is still ongoing.

For the projects, the major works being done this year have revolved around the relatively cheaply available Archives New Zealand collection of contact prints of the NZ Aerial Mapping overhead coverage that was used by Lands and Survey to create their older map series. Having discovered this I have used it in several applications, most notably for the Otago Central Railway, especially the Cromwell Gorge. Although ANZ increased their prices at the middle of the year it is still a good resource and I am continuing with the rest of the line back towards Wingatui. In the fourth quarter of the year work had to stop due to other commitments but it will be resumed towards the end of January.

The idea of publishing volumes of maps online has also been canvassed and if this goes ahead then the Otago Central Railway volume (Volume 18) of the maps project will be the first such volume produced. Since the maps themselves will not be finished until sometime in 2016 at the earliest, producing the volume (via CreateSpace) could possibly happen towards the end of the year and would mark the official public launch of the project. The Cromwell Gorge subject in particular would likely be attended by publication in NZ Railfan magazine as part of that official launch. In saying that there will be an official launch, it is expected like most aspects of this project to be low-key and mainly an online event as our community is small and scattered. 

In recent weeks the main focus has been with the Canterbury-Westland and Nelson-Marlborough maps, mainly to get the Main North Line maps which were one of the oldest series published, up to date with the current styles used and bridge and km post numberings have been added from a new source, the Kiwirail ALCAM GIS maps. The CW project is still being migrated to the new layer structure mentioned above. During the year I also switched computers at home to have a computer with three screens available for the work and in the process reorganised the disk storage so that has also disrupted the migration but everything is coming together pretty well now.

In 2016 therefore work will continue in the foreground on the Otago Central project in particular and there will be some smaller scale work in other areas as time permits.