US: A Topeka company has been hired to convert 32,000 miles of railroad maps — some drawn by hand in the 1800s — into a computerised system that will bring BNSF Railway Co. information into the modern era.
Bartlett & West of Topeka will use 100 temporary employees, working double shifts, to convert the maps to a system of interactive images that workers can use to easily obtain directions or look up information about the railroad’s properties, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Some of the maps were created in the mid-1800s, when government land grants allowed railroads to connect what then was the frontier to the rest of the country. Some are more than 20 feet long and roll up like scrolls, said Mike Flynn, a supervisor at Bartlett & West.
Doug Morrison, Bartlett & West’s railroad division director, said such a large project usually would take three to five years, but BNSF wants the maps done in a year.
Some of the current maps are a logistical nightmare.
In some cases, several maps of the same BNSF section were altered through the years as pieces were bought, sold or changed, said senior project manager Ron Skinner.
“In 1998, they were still physically drawing on these maps,” he said.
That made it time-consuming to look up information for sales, legal disputes or tax questions, Skinner said. The new system will allow anyone in the railroad to access information easily from a computer.
It also should stop duplicate work, such as when a maintenance department mows a parcel that had been sold, but still was listed as railroad property on the maps, Skinner said.
Changes in the landscape along the tracks also makes verifying the maps more challenging, Flynn said.
After the maps are created, the company will begin interpreting all the contracts, deeds and other documents related to land owned by BNSF, Flynn said. That’s about 300,000 documents, and some of the older ones weren’t written in precise language, he said, so all they will be able to say is that a certain type of utility line is buried somewhere within a given parcel.