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Global Positioning System Train Tracking

Special to On Track On Line by

Using a GPS on the train:

The objective of using a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver on a train is so that you can find out where you are and when you are going to get to a certain point. I use mine all the time to track the trains progress. I believe that using my GPS is more accurate then the Amtrak 1-800-USA-RAIL system. Using a GPS, you can notify people when you are going to arrive and be very accurate.

Items needed:

First of course a GPS receiver (the smaller the better). Garmin Venture/Etrex work best. They are the size of a cell phone and are easy to work with. Garmin Street Pilot and the kind you use that have the built in mapping programs such as Garmin GPS V+ can be harder to set up on the train and find a place to position it.

Optional: Laptop/Palm computer. You will need a power source for this to work properly. Most lap top batteries only work for a maximum of about 3 hours. Most of the trains do however have AC plugs that you can utilize. This is especially true in Superliner II sleeper rooms. You will need a laptop to achieve Real Time Mapping.


For a portable GPS without a laptop/Palm:

  • Find a window seat on the train. Turn on your GPS and point the antenna towards the sky. This is a little difficult to do but if you have a newer model GPS it will work.

  • After you receive a satellite signal you can then put the GPS by the window and it should be fine. I use a 3/4 full water bottle and station that bottle by a window laying it on its side and I put the GPS on top of the water bottle. This will keep the GPS facing towards the sky. The GPS will not receive a signal if you do not have it by the window. I have attempted to use several GPS receivers and have found none that will receive from the interior of the train without being by a window.

For real-time mapping:

  • Set up your GPS as explained above. Make sure you have a good signal. You might have to change your interface settings; check your owners manual for this. Example: Street Finder by Rand McNally works with the GPS set on NMEA In/NMEA Out @ 4800 baud rate. National Geographic Mapping programs work with the interface set at the manufactures default settings. If you have any questions or just can't get it set right email me for more information on interface settings.

  • Plug in the GPS cable into the back of your laptop. Turn on the laptop and make sure the laptop accepts the new plug-in device (consult your owners manual for this).

  • Start the mapping program you are using. I use Rand McNally's Street Finder Deluxe.

  • Click on the GPS option and you should start to receive images that show your trains current location. This location is refreshed by the second. If you are using the National Geographic program it refreshes every 5 seconds.


You can track your trains progress and see on a map your current location down to the street address! I like to set up the station locations using the Amtrak station guides in their timetables. You can obtain these prior to boarding the train at most stations. It gives the Amtrak station address which you can input into your computer or Palm device.

Have fun with your system. I like to use a scanner also and can sit on the train for hours tracking its progress. If you have any questions e-mail me:

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