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The Train Campaign team contacted GISCorps in the spring of 2018 and requested help with online map creation. Two volunteers, Ellen Phillips and Linda Colin, were selected. The following story was written by Ellen Phillips.

Screenshot of Train Campaign map
Population and commuting statistics are embedded in each online map and viewed in pop-ups.

Karen Christensen of the Barrington Institute started the Train Campaign five years ago with a mission to bring back the trains. Headquartered in Great Barrington, MA, the nonprofit organization is focused on improving passenger rail transportation in Berkshire County (MA), Litchfield County (CT), and the surrounding area. Christensen and her team educate government officials, residents, business leaders, and others on the importance of an efficient, robust rail network. To add more information resources to their website, the Campaign partnered with GISCorps to create online maps of the existing rail network and proposed projects.

As GISCorps volunteers, we collected GIS data from federal, state, and local online governmental sources and synthesized a patchwork of layers into one complete existing rail network for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. We also digitized the lines for new projects, working with the Campaign to identify their potential routes. All these layers were then uploaded to ArcGIS Online.

The team decided that an Esri story map would be the best way to organize multiple online maps with the same extent. We chose the map series template, with tabs for the existing rail network map, each project, and a view of OpenRailwayMap (based on the crowdsourced OpenStreetMap). To enrich the maps with contextual information, we gathered demographic and commuting data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey and added the attributes to pop-up windows.

For my part, I’d say wrangling and formatting the Census data was the most difficult and rewarding task. The breadth of information is fantastic, but the enormity of available data can make it difficult to pick out the desired statistics and join them to TIGER shapefiles. I enjoyed the challenge and also learned a bit of Arcade (ArcGIS’ expression language) to format the numbers for the pop-ups.

Train Campaign Story Map on the Train Campaign's website.
The final story map, as seen on the Train Campaign’s website.

The Train Campaign requested that the story map’s colors match their website theme. Since none of the template options matched exactly, we dove into the JSON, with this helpful guide from Esri leading the way. With that and few more tweaks, our story map was ready to go live on the Campaign’s site.

This project’s mission may seem quite different from other GISCorps causes. Promoting alternative transportation does not require the same rapid, extensive response as a natural disaster or other crises in which lives are in immediate danger. Passenger rail—and, generally, the objective of decreasing car-dependence—offers many environmental, social, public health, and economic benefits, but communities gain from this progress at a much slower pace. It takes years and even decades of educating the public and officials, identifying funding sources, planning, building, and maintaining the infrastructure, and much more. The good folks at the Train Campaign are in it for the long haul, and GISCorps is happy to contribute quality mapping and spatial information to this cause.

Check out the story map at

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