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Introducing... The Museum of Railway Timetables!


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#1 Anthony

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 09:52 PM

Dear friends,

I am proud to announce the public release of perhaps the single most ambitious online railroad effort in history. For the first time ever, a comprehensive digital archive of Amtrak schedules dating back to May 1, 1971 is open and ready for viewing at www.timetables.org.

This project has been in the works for over five years, and was a fully volunteer effort from start to finish.

I came up with the idea back in 2004 when complaints arose over the old MileTrak system's inability to account for trips taken on discontinued routes. It became clear to me very quickly that I would need to begin collecting old timetables in order to add this historical information to the system. In order for MileTrak to make use of schedule data for the calculation of mileage traveled, all of the stations and arrival times would have to be converted to text form. Of course, the imperfect nature of timetables produced before the digital era was such that accurate optical character recognition (OCR) is almost impossible. For that and other reasons, including a lack of time to keep developing the site, I shelved MileTrak – but I didn't stop collecting timetables.

After giving it some thought, I realized that the American passenger rail community – composed of travelers, advocates, researchers, historians, politicians and employees – would benefit much more from easy access to the timetable source materials, rather than just a niche application that made use of them. I decided that I would put together the resources to scan each and every page of the timetables, and host them for free on the Internet. It was a lofty and daunting goal!

My full-time career as a MIT student has left me with minimal free time to devote to the especially laborious task of flipping timetables page by page on a flatbed scanner. After a certain point, it became obvious that I would need some help if it was all to be finished in a reasonable time frame. What I really needed was a computer-savvy individual with the patience, skill, and attention to detail required to properly process and archive these delicate documents. I assure you that they cannot just be run through any ordinary document feeder!

About two years ago, I met my match right in my own backyard: Tom Bedwell, better known around here as MrFSS. Tom and I struck an arrangement whereby I would mail him packages of schedules, and he would then scan and upload them in digital form. Tom can give you a better idea of the time commitment on his part, but suffice it to say, it was substantial. Each national, northeast or system timetable took several hours to scan, correct, and organize. The end result is yours to behold.

We are just a few timetables away from a full digital set, and will finish scanning and processing them as we find the time. We are also aware that some adjustment is required with the interface and for certain images. But since we're so close, we figured it was ready to open up for everyone to enjoy. Tell all your friends, and share the link widely. All of the original ads, maps and photos are included in the timetables, which will make for hours of reading and entertainment. And finally, join us in our new Amtrak Timetable Discussion area to talk about the interesting things you find along the way.

#2 railiner

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 10:51 PM

Well done, and thankyou!
metroblue?

okay on the blue!

#3 Bill Haithcoat

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 10:59 PM

Anthony,

Many thanks to you and to Tom for this massive accomplishment. It is more than I can comprehend.

Again, thanks for all the massive commitments of time and effort and expense.


Bill

Edited by Bill Haithcoat, 12 March 2010 - 11:02 PM.


#4 Long Train Runnin'

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 11:07 PM

Amazing!


Thanks for all you hard work I am sure this will prove to be an amazing resource for folks in all walks of life!

:)
41,175 Miles on Amtrak in 43 states. 
Routes Traveled: Acela Express, Adirondack, Amtrak Cascades, California Zephyr, Capitol Limited, Cardinal, Carolinian, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Downeaster, Empire Builder, Empire Service, Ethan Allen Express, Hiawatha, Keystone Corridor, Lake Shore Limited, Northeast Regional, Maple Leaf, Missouri River Runner, Pacific Surfliner, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor, Southwest Chief, Springfield Shuttles, Texas Eagle, Vermonter.

#5 Bob Dylan

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 12:22 AM

Ditto! Awesome job guys! Thanks for all that yall do for we railfans,foamers and maybe even a few normal people, naw,
that doesnt compute! We appreciate such a labor of love mixed with hard work! ;)

Edited by jimhudson, 13 March 2010 - 12:23 AM.

 
"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 
".. I ride on a Mail Train Baby, can't buy a thrill.."--I said that!
 
"..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#6 MrFSS

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 06:18 AM

Tom can give you a better idea of the time commitment on his part, but suffice it to say, it was substantial. Each national, northeast or system timetable took several hours to scan, correct, and organize. The end result is yours to behold.


I guess Anthony's comment here calls for my input.

At last count, but who is really keeping track, I think I have scanned between 80 and 90 tables.

Some were easier than others as they had less of a page count. But the closer and closer we came to the 2000's that page count for each table began to increase.

On average, it would take me between 2-4 hours for each table. In addition to scanning each page I also used Adobe Photoshop to straighten each page (Photoshop has a wonderful tool for doing this) and also cropped each page to the exact proportions of the original sheet.

I could also remove small imperfections that would detract, but Anthony decided at the beginning we would leave as much of that as we could so as to represent what they really looked like in the day. I didn't do any color corrections, either. Some covers had bleed through from the back side of the page and this could be dealt with as needed.

Now you may see why I was able to insert a page here or there over the last couple of years in a thread when a question was asked about old tables.

For the last two years I have almost memorized every table Amtrak has produced. But, as old as I am, I have to keep going back and looking at them over and over again. I especially find some of the covers to be almost worthy of being framed.

If anyone has a question about the process, let Anthony or me know.

We have a few more tables to get on the site and will add them as we can get our hands on them and get them scanned.

Tom

#7 JayPea

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 05:22 PM

I know now what I'm going to be doing for the next, oh, several weeks or so: reading old Amtrak timetables. What an awesome body of work, and what a labor of love!!!!!! Even beats another passion of mine: looking up baseball statistics in the various baseball reference websites. I know I'm going to thoroughly enjoy this!!!

Thanks so much, Anthony and Tom.

Amtrak Routes Traveled: City of New Orleans, State House/Lincoln Service, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Cascades, Crescent, Capitol Limited, Coast Starlight, Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited, Silver Meteor, Lake Shore Limited, Pacific Surfliner, Cardinal. 
Pre-Amtrak Routes Traveled: Empire Builder (Great Northern), North Coast Limited (Northern Pacific), Abraham Lincoln (Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio), City of Hinkle  (Union Pacific) Panama Limited (Illinois Central)
Bustitutions: Portland-Spokane (EB),Galesburg-Bloomington (CZ/Lincoln Service ) 
Amtrak Miles: 77509

Pre-Amtrak Miles: 8478
Bustitution Miles: 450
Excursion trains ridden:  Centralia and Chehalis Railroad, Mt. Hood Scenic Railroad, Alaska Railroad, 1880 Train (Black Hills Central RR) and trains at the Illinois Railway Museum, California Railway Museum, and the Monticello (IL) Railroad Museum.


#8 DowneasterPassenger

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 05:33 PM

I'm not able to view the images on your site. I don't know what the problem is, but for example if I navigate to

http://www.timetable...9710712&st=0001

I see 12 little icons where I think the images should be?

I'm using XP, Firefox 3.6

#9 Anthony

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 05:35 PM

I'm not able to view the images on your site. I don't know what the problem is, but for example if I navigate to

http://www.timetable...9710712&st=0001

I see 12 little icons where I think the images should be?

I'm using XP, Firefox 3.6


Do you have a referral blocker in your browser?

#10 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 08:43 PM

Might it be possible to generate a pdf (hopefully with a script that automates nearly all of the process) of each timetable? I find the zoom controls and page flipping in a pdf I have downloaded goes a bit more smoothly and quickly than the existing timetable navigation.

#11 Anthony

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 08:55 PM

Might it be possible to generate a pdf (hopefully with a script that automates nearly all of the process) of each timetable? I find the zoom controls and page flipping in a pdf I have downloaded goes a bit more smoothly and quickly than the existing timetable navigation.


The current interface could use some work... after all, I wrote it one evening about five years ago just to have a gallery interface during development. Not sure if PDF is the way to go (would prefer to keep it browser-based), but in the near future I'll look at more modern interface alternatives. :) I consider the site to be very much in "beta" form... the thumbnail situation for pages that aren't the standard width and length isn't quite right, for example.

#12 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 10:16 PM

Is there any reason not to offer both PDF and a browser based option?

Some particular things I found myself wishing for in the browser based context:

At least one size somewhere between the current highest resolution, and the current second highest resolution.

Next page and previous page buttons on the highest resolution pages. (It does seem that editing the URL to pick a page number works, as long as you keep enough leading zeros in place for the page number to be four digits.)

I'm also curious what happens when the Google search ``view as text'' option is used on these pages. It seems to me that if you had PDFs up, Google would probably automatically try to OCR them. Even if the results are less than satisfying, it's possible that you might be able to find someone who works for Google and has some spare time who could work on improving their OCR software to the point where maybe we could get good machine generated CSV files if we're really lucky.

#13 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 10:28 PM

I am proud to announce the public release of perhaps the single most ambitious online railroad effort in history. For the first time ever, a comprehensive digital archive of Amtrak schedules dating back to May 1, 1971 is open and ready for viewing at www.timetables.org.


If someone can find the time to scan them, might it be possible to start adding pre-Amtrak timetables from Bill Haithcoat's collection as well? (I suppose one issue is getting permission from the copyright holders, if they are copyrighted. However, I believe there was a time when publications lacking a copyright notice were not copyrighted by default, and it is possible that some of those timetables may be old enough to fall into that category.)

#14 Anthony

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 10:49 PM

Some particular things I found myself wishing for in the browser based context:

At least one size somewhere between the current highest resolution, and the current second highest resolution.

Next page and previous page buttons on the highest resolution pages. (It does seem that editing the URL to pick a page number works, as long as you keep enough leading zeros in place for the page number to be four digits.)


I'll start with these ones -- the next/previous buttons on the full-size pages should be pretty easy to implement. Let me take a crack at that. Yes, you can edit the page numbers in the URL, but it's not ideal.

An additional thumbnail size is possible -- definitely something to consider when I rework the whole thumbnail system. I agree that there is a gap between medium and full size currently, and that there is likely a middle ground where stuff is mostly readable, but when detailed inspection at high res is not necessary.

Thanks for the suggestions.

#15 Guest_brez1_*

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 10:59 PM

Might it be possible to generate a pdf (hopefully with a script that automates nearly all of the process) of each timetable? I find the zoom controls and page flipping in a pdf I have downloaded goes a bit more smoothly and quickly than the existing timetable navigation.


I would love to see a pdf version also!!

#16 Trogdor

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 01:22 AM

The current timetable is available in PDF form on Amtrak's website, though I don't know what kind of issues might arise from using that file on this site.
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#17 DowneasterPassenger

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 01:32 AM

I'm not able to view the images on your site. I don't know what the problem is, but for example if I navigate to

http://www.timetable...9710712&st=0001

I see 12 little icons where I think the images should be?

I'm using XP, Firefox 3.6


Do you have a referral blocker in your browser?



I do have Firebug and Web Developer plug-ins installed. It wasn't set to block referrals, but maybe those plug ins are doing something.

I was able to view the site on IE.

Looks great!

#18 Anthony

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 02:10 AM

The current timetable is available in PDF form on Amtrak's website, though I don't know what kind of issues might arise from using that file on this site.



The PDFs produced for Amtrak.com are rasterized and set to a fairly low resolution. The source files I have for the 2003-2009 timetables have raster images in them for the cover and ads, but the timetable text is in vector form, which means you can zoom indefinitely without pixelation. I'd prefer not to use the files from Amtrak.com as they can't be scaled to the same resolution as the other timetables on our site.

You'll no doubt notice the 2003-2009 timetables on the site are of a different resolution than the earlier ones, and also that the cover images and others look bad at the maximum size. Unfortunately, they didn't use a very high-resolution cover image in the first place. In the future, I'll probably scale them to a smaller size so that the pixelation isn't there, but it would have required tweaking my thumbnailing script... hence the "beta" nature of the site in its current form. :) (The alternative is to manually scan them like we did with the earlier ones, but in the presence of digital copies, the prospect of scanning 130+ page timetables becomes much less attractive...)

#19 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 03:42 PM

Historic editions of Amtrak America might also be worth including if time allows.

#20 jphjaxfl

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Posted 16 March 2010 - 03:49 AM

Thanks for all the excellent work that went into devloping the Museum of Railway Timetables. I have many of the old timetables in a filing cabinet, but it is so nice to view them online. You all do great work!




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