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Railfan Technology > Hand held GPS for train watching


Date: 07/28/21 19:38
Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: RSD5

Years ago, I had a hand held Garmin GPS that I used on a lot of train watching trips.  Back then you had to download areas of the country onto SD cards and carry the cards with you if you were traveling through several states.   My question is, does anyone have recommendations for a new hand held Garmin GPS.  I have been looking at the Montana 750I specifically.    Thoughts or suggestions? 

Dave



Date: 07/29/21 09:41
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: jtwlunch

I use a tablet with Google Earth/Maps and the FRA GIS Safety Map that has a lot of railroad detail and information you can use.



Date: 07/29/21 13:57
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: jst3751

I have never had a problem locating railroad related infrastructure using Google Maps on a smart phone.



Date: 07/29/21 18:48
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: ShoreLineRoute

If you have an iOS device with cellular (iPad or iPhone), the iHikeGPS app is excellent, it costs a few dollars.  You can quickly download any USGS topo map down to 1:24000 scale (1:50000 for Canada) for free (over either cellular or WiFi) ahead of time, and the device will show your location in the field with no WiFi or cellular available.  Stitching of adjacent maps is seamless.  Most of the USGS maps still show a lot of the abandoned lines and railroad grades.  I've used this frequently on long Amtrak trips, it's easy to download maps for a whole route and then just delete them from your device when you're done.

Oliver Barrett



Date: 08/01/21 09:02
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: DivergingClear

It's telling that all the responses refer you to smartphone GPS devices.  Are you tied to a non-smartphone device?  If not, a smartphone device has a lot of benefits.  Including the ability for you to chose your own mapping app.  They do -not- generally need cellular signals or a cellular plan simply to operate as a GPS device.  (Though having cellular towers in view will result in a faster initial fix.)



Date: 08/01/21 11:14
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: colehour

I have not used Waze specifically for train watching purposes, but it is a good free app that does show railroads. I believe it is available for both Android and IOS.

Another suggestion: you might consider downloading the railroad maps issued by states. I know that Ohio and Indiana have those maps, and I suspect other states do too. They are not necessarily very detailed, however, but they can offer some valuable information. 



Date: 08/02/21 19:23
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: NDHolmes

I had the same thought - an old cheap smartphone would do pretty well.  It doesn't even need to have an active cell connection.  I use an app called Maps.me and have all the maps for the area I'm visiting already downloaded to the phone so I'm not tied to having a cell signal.  Just download it to the phone over wifi and download the appropriate maps as well.

Now if you want something with better battery life, or more rugged, then there's probably a place for dedicated Garmin gear.  But when most of us have a couple old phones laying around in drawers, it might be a much cheaper option.



Date: 08/03/21 08:56
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: DivergingClear

NDHolmes Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I had the same thought - an old cheap smartphone
> would do pretty well.  It doesn't even need to
> have an active cell connection.  I use an app
> called Maps.me and have all the maps for the area
> I'm visiting already downloaded to the phone so
> I'm not tied to having a cell signal.  Just
> download it to the phone over wifi and download
> the appropriate maps as well.

Maps.me is a good one (and free).  I've recently started using Pocket Earth on iOS for railfanning - the railroads really stand out in high contrast, and are visible even when zoomed far out.  Plus they import and display subdivision names when available; I can't remember if that's the case in Maps.me.  Both these apps use the same information (OpenStreetMaps), but they display the information very differently.  Google Maps uses its own proprietary data and displays railroads reasonably well; but it only supports limited offline downloads, and doesn't have labels for most freight railroads.



Date: 08/03/21 17:32
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: crr200

It was fun watching the speedometer in the Waze app on my last Amtrak ride. The Lakeshore was clicking them off across Indiana.

Posted from iPhone



Date: 08/04/21 04:30
Re: Hand held GPS for train watching
Author: cchan006

RSD5 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thoughts or suggestions? 
>
> Dave

No suggestions, but I have thoughts.

I've been a user of GPS technology for about 2 decades. My first one was a DeLorme Earthmate hooked up to a Windows 95 laptop via RS-232 (serial port, remember that?). I eventually hooked up a Garmin Gekko, a "featureless" basic GPS, but that didn't matter because I let the laptop do all the mapping. That's when I found out the speed and accuracy of Garmin products.

We got tech geeks here on TO (radio scanners, for example) and for "GPS geeks," I can understand why you want to continue using Garmin products. Their electronics (processor, firmware, antenna) are hard to beat, even under cover of forests and indoors. I've watched how Smartphone's GPS coordinates wander around in less than ideal conditions.



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