NZ Rail Maps Project Development Report [2020J]: New Production Options

In Project’s last PDR, [2020I], published in August, the development of the nzrailmaps website that had been started at www.nzrailmaps.nz was discussed. The site development discussed there is for a static website where the maps are manually generated from the GIS and then uploaded as images to a photo gallery type of site. Project chose SmugMug to host this because of previous experience using the Flickr platform to host photo galleries, which has been taken over by SmugMug. Currently a SmugMug commercial hosting package is being used on a monthly basis, equating to around NZ$19 each month, plus domain hosting of around $30 a year. The site blog appears separately as a free WordPress site.

In recent reflection of some issues and challenges associated with SmugMug, Project undertook further investigation with alternative considerations, which has been generally rewarding. Firstly in hosting cost, an example being GoDaddy NZ coming down to $11/mth. Secondly in what can be hosted. The option exists to either continue with a photo gallery format or tile based maps that can be zoomed and dragged just like Google Maps, which is pretty well supported using the WMTS or XYZ standards. Thirdly, in charging for printed volumes.

There is a lot more work to do on looking at all of these options, but so far, testing with XYZ tiling is proving very rewarding. If this option was pursued, a new website would be developed to replace the current one, which would remain as is. It would then be a question of what ended up being hosted on a web site. Currently, the online maps are being generated using aerial photo backgrounds. It does not make sense to replicate the Linz aerial photo layers that can be dynamically added into a map. Hence, Project would seek through a web site to make it possible for the maps to be overlaid directly onto the Linz Basemap aerial layer. It would also very likely look to generate tiles for the historical aerial mosaic layers and make them able to be displayed as backgrounds as well.

Project would also aim to create printed volumes for those who prefer an offline format, an important consideration with a change in online format from static images to tiles, since it is no longer feasible to download a set of static images that can be browsed on a device offline. There would be a charge for hardcopies.

There are many considerations, but a new web server could be running early next year (with a realistic timeframe for implementation) and host Volume 1, which would not be produced in the current format. In other words, apart from the samples of Volume 1 which have been produced to date, static images are not going to be made available. Project would aim to migrate all existing volumes (1, 5 and 6) and cut over to the new website at that time. Existing content would be shifted to Google Photos until such time as the web site option is fully implemented.

There is a lot of info there. For now, Project will continue to work on completion of Volume 1 as before, but Volume 1 will not produce a static map set the same as existing Volumes 5 and 6 which are currently hosted on the SmugMug site. It is expected that Volume 1 will become the first to move to tile based on a new web server regardless of the completion timeframe. There are a lot of steps to be completed and these will be part of Volume 1 publication once the actual mapping is completed in the GIS. Hence, Project does not now undertake a specific timeframe for publication of Volume 1 before the end of 2020.

What is relevant is that development levels (Basic / Intermediate / Comprehensive) will still be important as the initial state of web based development will be the Basic level for all volumes and assuming the new web hosting format is implemented, all volumes will be implemented there as the most important priority for the maps. As previously stated, Volume 1 will be completed at its current level, however the extent of publication of historical aerial map mosaics depends on the ability to implement them in the proposed new web tile formats. This is yet to be determined.

Project will continue development of Volume 1 as existing, with regular updates on the the groups.io development list, and progress summaries as as present; these are likely to include further information on the topics raised in this post as the ideas are explored further and tested. Project looks forward to ongoing support from the existing community, and continues to explore setting up a formal entity to oversee and finance development.