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NZ Rail Maps Project Development Report [2020K]: Web Development Trial

The above is the home page you will see when you put the address

http://live.nzrailmaps.nz

into your web browser. It is starting as a default WordPress site and as Project spends time customising it, will change in appearance to resemble this blog.

As of today, Project has signed with GoDaddy NZ for 1 year for a special discount price of $20.56. This gives a Linux hosted site with plenty of space for hosting both this blog and web tile maps. The site will thus have two parts:

  • Documentation, using the included WordPress blog. This includes all existing blog posts on nzrailmaps.wordpress.com that will be migrated to the new site.
  • Web tile maps: a website to provide online viewing of NZ Rail Maps content. This is a new development of NZ Rail Maps Project that has been discussed in recent posts.

The site URL shown above is a temporary URL used for development purposes to allow the existing website at www.nzrailmaps.nz (hosted on SmugMug) to continue operating as it is at present alongside this website. Project will allow SmugMug site to stay up as long as necessary (not more than 3 months) enabling the new site to be developed alongside it. However, further development of the existing site will essentially be frozen from this point going forward.

The new site will become the default web site for www.nzrailmaps.nz as soon as it is developed enough to replace the existing SmugMug site. Project does not know when this will take place since it is necessary to replace all of the existing content on SmugMug. It is possible as an interim step the existing maps map be migrated back to Google photo albums whilst the web tile maps are developed so that SmugMug site can be shut down soon.

Project has a test version of web tile maps for Northland ready to go onto the demo site within the next few weeks for further testing. In fact this could be up within days. This is where Volume 1 content will appear going forward. The site will go through various stages of development as there is a lot of work to get something that looks like the type of content currently hosted with SmugMug, especially with aerial photos. It is likely the site will incorporate historical mosaic photos as part of the included web tile maps, but the best way of serving current aerial photos is probably by bringing them in live from the Linz Basemaps site rather than by including them in the web tiles hosted on the nzrailmaps site.

Stay tuned for further updates on development of the new web site for NZ Rail Maps Project. This will be staged as a lot of work is needed and probably the focus over the rest of this year is going to prioritise migrating some form of the existing content from SmugMug to enable it to be shut down soon. Some of the SmugMug functionality may be lost in the short term and reinstated later. Project does not undertake to give a particular timeframe for development. There are many steps of development that will take a lot of time to implement alongside the task of progressing with Volume 1 itself. There is still a goal of completing Volume 1 which has been shifted to the end of 2020 to allow the web site to be developed to host it when it is ready for production. The alternate to that is that Volume 1 might actually be ready a lot sooner but only be hosted in a more basic form.

Printable content is going to be the only truly offline form of content for the site since it will not be straightforward to download static images for the site in the way that can now be done with the photo album format on www.nzrailmaps.nz . Project will make a decision soon about format of these whether Kindle, printed or both.

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.

North Auckland Line [0W]: Weekly Progress Report – Week 39, 2020

Project recently has completed some mapping of Okaihau / Rangiahua sections, Dargaville / Kaihu sections and North Auckland Line main route.

However due to other life priorities work has slowed during the past week and Project does not expect the present very slow progress to show much increase during the current week. Work has started on basemaps of the Dargaville Branch which is very hard work because of very poor quality aerial photography of the area. The Northland Regional Council does not appear to greatly value good quality aerial photography and now has the fuzziest in NZ despite it being flown only about five years ago. As the historical aerials of this area have been completed, they are ready to be introduced into the GIS and copied.

Project is looking at hard copy publication formats and costs and it cannot be ruled out that small run publishing might result in hard copies of volumes being available for sale in future. Project believes cost is about the same whether using Amazon CreateSpace per-copy printing or local printers in runs of 10. However, Project would have to be set up as a formal entity and this has been considered for some time and remains under consideration.

Project’s overall schedule remains important and with the expectation being changed lately that Project will be wound up or completed within two or three years, into more of a long term activity, it is likely Project will shift focus going forward into producing Basic level online maps in every volume as the priority as well as hard copies (which are also Basic level), in order to allow more time to complete the much more intensive intermediate / comprehensive levels. The drawn out process to complete Volume 1 has made this reconsideration necessary.

Earlier in the year, Project made good progress with Volumes 5 and 6, but as the year has worn on, the advent of the global pandemic has had sufficient impact to slow the schedule on multiple occasions. This has nothing to do with any economic situation. Project is receiving more funding than ever before and recent expansion of community support has given assurance that other sources of funding may be tapped into in future. What essentially the Covid-19 impact has caused this year is to personal schedules and time available to complete Project’s work. There have been more than a few weeks lately when only small amounts of work were completed and expectations were not met. This is unlikely to change in the forseeable future and the only reasonable outcome going forward is to revert to the earlier idea of staged completion through the use of variable levels of development for each volume. Project still desires to get content out into the community and increase knowledge of the work being done and this can really only be achievable by completing every volume as quickly as possible, which most likely means at Basic Level only except for those volumes already completed at Intermediate / Comprehensive Level.

Once Project as a whole is back to a higher rate of production, maybe later this week but it could take longer, Project will continue to review options for greater community support, scheduling and stages of development for the entire work. The current level of development of Volume 1 will continue as the majority of historical aerial photography for the planned intermediate / comprehensive levels has now been completed. It is however uncertain when this volume will actually be finished. It could take until the end of October or it could take until the end of the year. At this time, Project has no desire to be bound to an absolute deadline at what is traditionally a busier time of year for most people. Furthermore, Project will probably by the end of October only have completed research and map design. Actually producing the thousands of individual maps in Volume 1 could take another month as it often shows up more work that is needed.

North Auckland Line [0V]: Weekly Progress Report – Week 38, 2020

Apologies for failing to produce these posts for the previous two weeks. Since the last update the following has been completed:

  • Maps drawn of Portland Station, the site of the Wilson Portland Cement Company, now the only cement manufacturer in NZ, which once had its own private railway network and numerous locomotives it owned to work on the tracks over almost a century.
  • Complete the next section of mainline corridor from Waotira to Portland. This means it is almost up to Whangarei, the next station further north.
  • Taken a side trip to Whanganui to draw a revised set of maps of the old Taupo Quay station and the Castlecliff Branch having discovered a NZR corridor survey from Aramoho to Castlecliff.
  • Completed a set of mosaics for stations on the Dargaville and Kaihu branches. Full maps of these routes will be drawn in the coming week.
  • Created a set of historical mosaics for the Okaihau extension. Okaihau is sometimes touted as NZ’s most northerly railway station – however Opua is actually slightly further north. The extension to Rangiahua via Puketi and Okoro was constructed in 1926 following completion of the Otiria-Okaihau railway and was intended to reach Kaitaia. It was never formally handed over to NZR and was closed in the late 1930s with the rails lifted around 1940 to be used elsewhere. Having found 1942 and 1953 old coverage, 1961 and 1986 also being included for reference, the latter being highway surveys, it is expected to produce really good maps of this section. The line from Otiria to Okaihau was closed in 1987 and the track lifted, the corridor is now being used as a cycleway.
  • Started editing the existing set of mosaics for Otiria-Kaitoke and Otiria-Opua. It needs to have Opua and Kaitoke added back in, as the layers have either been lost from the file due to corruption, or were in a separate file that doesn’t exist any more.

With the progress over the past week the mosaics for the rest of the North Auckland rail corridor are nearly all complete or should be completed this week enabling mapping to push ahead. The remaining areas to be mapped are:

  • Main line from Portland to Otiria, 78 km
  • Branch from Waiotira to Dargaville, 47 km
  • Branch from Dargaville to Donnellys Crossing, 34 km
  • Branch from Otiria to Opua, 17 km
  • Branch from Otiria to Okaihau, 39 km (plus unknown extension length)

Therefore maps required to cover about 220 km. This is quite a lot considering the main line corridor has a total length of 281 km and 203 km of that has already been completed. It means that the total length of railway network in the NAL corridor and Volume 1 of these maps is about 420 km, so actual mapping is only a little past half way. However, mapping is the quick part of the process – the historical mosaic work is the slow time-consuming part. The previous deadline for completing the project was the end of September. At the moment it is unclear how much progress towards that can be made, but a month is a more realistic expectation.

North Auckland Line [0U]: Weekly Progress Report – Week 35, 2020

Well last week we took things a bit more slowly and so we got only a little bit of maps work done. Whilst we are still just as busy with other stuff this week, better use of our time means a lot more mapping will be completed over the coming days. Currently, mosaics are being put together for Dargaville/Kaihu branches and we are also creating them for the section of the main line from Oakleigh through to Waro (specific stations, not continuous). We have more or less completed the additional maps for Auckland and this will produce the first post this week. So expect to see more maps completed in the coming week and posts to groups.io coming up.