[Tagging] railway=rail vs. railway=subway

Michael Tsang miklcct at gmail.com
Tue Nov 22 14:41:28 UTC 2016

On Tuesday 22 November 2016 11:28:00 jc86035 wrote:
> Should a commuter rail system with rapid transit frequency but main
> line-standard tracks be tagged as railway=subway or railway=rail?
> In Hong Kong, the MTR metro system has an "urban" set of DC 1432mm-gauge
> lines, and another set of AC standard gauge lines (East Rail Line, West
> Rail Line and Ma On Shan Line) connected to the Guangzhou–Shenzhen railway.

"Use railway=rail for full sized passenger or freight trains in the standard 
gauge for the country or state.
railway=rail is the largest railway classification, for full-blown full-sized 

My interpretation of the above rule is that, if the section of the railway is 
capable for running long distance trains, it should be tagged as railway=rail. 
Therefore, East Rail Line in Hong Kong is definitely railway=rail because long 
distance and freight trains also run on it. In my opinion, even the metro-only 
sections of East Rail Line where long distance trains do not run should be 
tagged as railway=rail because they belongs to the same railway with the same 

Normally I consider the nature of the train running on the railway to get the 
appropriate railway=* value.

- Railway with long distance and commuter trains: railway=rail
- Railway with metro services only: railway=subway
- Railway with street intersection: railway=light_rail
- Railway mainly with tracks embedded on the street: railway=tram

> One of the standard gauge lines (Ma On Shan Line: short distance between
> stations and low speed) was always tagged with railway=subway, but some
> time ago I retagged the West Rail Line (commuter rail with long distance
> between stations) with railway=subway, as well as the sections of the
> East Rail Line without intercity train service (without asking anyone).
> Should the lines be retagged as railway=rail, since they're not really
> subway/metro lines?

For Ma On Shan Line and West Rail Line, there is a bit ambiguity. The trains 
running on them are full sized passenger trains in the standard gauge, but 
they are metro trains in all aspects, even all the technical standards are 
comparable to main line standards. In fact, West Rail Line was planned to have 
long-distance trains and freight trains at the beginning, if this were to 
become true, it would be re-tagged as railway=rail. However, the plan was 
dropped and in the forseeable future only metro services would be run on West 
Rail Line so I prefer railway=subway in this case. Ma On Shan Line is designed 
to have only metro service so it is definitely railway=subway, but because it 
will be connected with West Rail Line so it was built to same full size 
technical standard.

Even the situation of East Rail Line is not completely clear. In 1983, East 
Rail Line was a relatively infrequent (20-minute headway in outer suburbs) 
commuter rail service using British national railway standard, comparable to 
S-Bahns in Germany. If OpenStreetMap existed at that time, the train service 
itself would be tagged as route=train. However, the frequency became metro 
standard in early 1990s, the trains renewed to metro standard between 1996 to 
2000, and joined the metro network in 2007, so it is tagged as route=subway 

In fact, the boundary between railway=rail, subway, and light_rail is not 
always clear. There exist some trains in elsewhere in the world which can run 
on mail line railways (railway=rail), inside metro network (railway=subway), 
and even on the road waiting red lights with motor vehicles 

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