I'm writing a paper for an undergraduate economic history class and I'm interested in North American railways in the 1800's. I've found historical GIS data for the period here. The railroad data are KML files.

My idea is to analyze the railways using network/graph theory. Each station would be a node/vertex, and the edges would be the rail lines between each station. I could then use measures like closeness centrality to analyze the network structure.

To do so I would need to convert the KML files to basically a spreadsheet (i.e .csv) format giving the distance between each connected station, with row x column y giving the length of the rail line between station x and station x (an adjacency matrix).

Is it feasible to perform such a conversion?

My undergraduate degree is in economics and mathematics but I have experience with Python from data analysis and computer science courses. I don't have any direct GIS experience.

  • Would you be using any GIS software (or would be able to) such as ArcGIS at all? If yes, there could be a possible solution which could involve using python to manipulate some Arc tools to get that spreadsheet you're looking for.
    – gistech007
    Feb 6, 2015 at 18:11
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    Yes it's feasible. gis.stackexchange.com/questions/27926 and some other questions talk about getting KML into useable GIS data. The question then is what software you want to use or have access to in order to perform the analysis. ArcGIS with the Network Analyst extension using a tool called OD Cost Matrix would make short work of this. Your university may have it, or you might get a free trial to use. QGIS is free and can do it, but in a much more intensive process with a lot of steps.
    – Chris W
    Feb 6, 2015 at 21:59
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    GDAL/OGR could convert the KML to a csv. github.com/dwtkns/gdal-cheat-sheet#other
    – Lafleur
    Feb 6, 2015 at 23:42

1 Answer 1


One of the download links offers shapefile data. This can be used directly by any GIS software, including free software like QGIS and OpenJump.

From that point, there are numerous ways to turn shapefiles into a routable network database.

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