I have a physical copy of a map with railways that I want to import directly into ArcGIS (the network of railways), but I have no data on coordinates of any kind (it's a really old map but the lines are clear to see).

What would be the best way to go about this?

I'm a beginner.

1 Answer 1


You have to scan your paper map and then georeference your file, so that the image is aligned correctly in space in your coordinate system: http://desktop.arcgis.com/en/arcmap/latest/manage-data/raster-and-images/fundamentals-for-georeferencing-a-raster-dataset.htm

Then you have to create a geodatabase or shapefile (or edit an existing geodatabase/shapefile) and digitize/edit the railways as line features manually.

If you have too many railways to digitize manually maybe ArcScan (an extension) is also useful, but I never tried that.: https://desktop.arcgis.com/en/arcmap/latest/extensions/arcscan/what-is-arcscan-.htm Digitizing one paper map should be fine manually.

  • 1
    GIS7 is correct. Make sure that what you use as your source to reference your scanned railway map to meets the accuracy that you need to achieve. Depending on how accurate you need the railway lines to be you can use satellite or aerial imagery as your reference source, that may make it easy to find common points on your railway map. Nov 29, 2018 at 14:12
  • Re: using aerial imagery to map historic rail lines--I recently found it most useful to use a terrain map (as opposed to a topo map) to identify areas where the land was graded for the track bed.
    – Lane
    Nov 29, 2018 at 15:20

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