Making railroad maps that make a difference

North Carolina company specializes in making short line and regional railroad maps for governments, fire departments
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A sample Clear Track Ahead map with detailed railroad information for tracks near Shannon, N.C.
Clear Track Ahead
WILMINGTON, N.C. — A North Carolina tech company is using the latest in map-making software to help police and fire departments know where they’re going if they have to go near a railroad right-of-way.

John Cease, president of Clear Track Ahead tells Trains News Wire that the idea behind Clear Track Ahead is to provide first responders with important information related to a railroad route particularly in rural, obscure areas where road access and up-to-date location information can be limited.

Cease, a former Morgantown, W.Va., police chief and his wife, Susan, took their idea to the West Virginia Rail Authority in 2005 and offered to map the authority’s South Branch Valley Railroad as a prototype for their business.

“All we wanted was track time and an experienced employee,” Cease says.

After gathering coordinates along the line form Petersburg, W.Va., to Green Springs, W.Va., the couple presented their report to the State Rail Authority and local emergency management offices. Afterward, Cease says the authority asked them to map all railroads in the state governed by the authority.

“The idea was to know where the nearest roads were in case of an emergency,” says Cindy Butler, the Executive Director of the West Virginia State Rail Authority. “We worked with [Clear Track Ahead] in order to be proactive with as much information on our properties as possible in case of an emergency.”

Since then, Clear Track Ahead has worked with the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Rail Division, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, an agency in Columbus, Ohio, and private railroads in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.

In addition to GPS coordinates, the company gathers information on railroads by using employee timetables, track charts, and other resources provided by a cooperating railroad. The company then builds that information into computerized mapping extensions that policemen and firemen can see digitally or as a hard copy. All of the criteria is built into local area maps that displays the adjoining roads, allowing first responders to pinpoint the exact location of an incident, as well as the best ways to access it.

Cease says the railroad mapping isn’t just for emergency response in the event of an emergency, but it also aids in rail emergency response planning. Using Delorme mapping software and GPS receivers, Clear Track Ahead verifies wayside points and mileposts through visual hands-on rail inspections. The company then compiles that data into “shape files” so that emergency management officials can view the information.

Cease says that they mainly work with Class II and Class III railroads as well as terminal and industrial railroads, citing that “Class I railroads have their own [mapping] services.” The company deals exclusively in mapping as opposed to engineering, allowing them to keep their service efficient.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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