Geographic Information Systems for Transportation (GIS-T)

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Geographic information systems for transportation, or GIS-T, encompasses how all forms of transportation make use of GIS. These systems can aid in planning, managing, evaluating, and maintaining various transportation organizations.



The aviation industry implements GIS in multiple ways, from air traffic management to the business side of an airport. GIS used in air traffic management is split between the pilots, as well as those on the ground. Navigation systems located in the flight instruments integrate route information that can be updated quickly and easily while in flight if necessary. Pilots and controllers also have real-time access to flight tracking of surrounding planes, giving them the ability to know where hazards might be. Mapping of terrain surrounding the airfield gives controllers and pilots a visual of the best approach and flight path as well as the best alternate landing in case of an emergency. [1]

On the ground, GIS helps in every part of business, from planning to maintenance to security. GIS can interweave digital photos and maps of the airport layout, facilities, infrastructure, and utilities to make geospatial visualizations of how all their assets work together.

When in the planning stages, whether building a new airport or expanding an existing one, it is important to have a clear picture of the end product. By inputting data from various sources (aerial photography, environmental data, design restrictions, etc.), airport planners can create a logical and lawful airport plan. Noise analysis is another big part of planning. Expected noise contours can be laid over an existing area map to determine what areas are most likely to be affected by airplane noise, as well as the extent of the noise in each area. [1][2]

Maintenance is a very important aspect of an airport’s day to day business. GIS gives airports a centralized location to track and visualize maintenance information, such as pavement condition, light outages, condition of signage, etc. These maintenance duties can then be ranked and assigned for repair based on priority. Larger maintenance issues can also be addressed using a GIS system. By including maps of valve and pipeline in the system, when a rupture occurs, it can easily be identified and fixed.[2][1]

Security is another area in which GIS can enhance an airport’s business. By integrating different technologies (closed circuit television, badge tracking, real-time asset monitoring, etc.) airport security can stay on top of every part of the security network and keep all the information in one location. GIS can provide the analytical ability to not only point out vulnerabilities, but also understand them.[2][1]


GIS can be integrated into highway systems in many ways. From the beginning planning stages, to the day-to-day maintenance, GIS can give states more options and better ability to keep highways running smoothly and efficiently.

During the earliest stages of planning and design, GIS can give transportation departments the upper hand. By comparing information they have stored in their database with real-world data, they can see where the two do not match up. The database information can then be updated to reflect the correct information. When planning, it is important to first have an accurate base from which to start. [3] Once the data is correct, the actual highway planning can begin. The analytical capabilities of a GIS can be useful in determining the impact of a new highway or expansion of an existing one. The system can help analyze the environmental impact, investment amount and time, and relocation studies. [4]GIS can also be used to help discover how widening a highway, or opening a new highway might impact traffic flow on surrounding highways.[5]

A successful GIS can have a large impact on day-to-day operations and maintenance. Photographic information about the condition of pavement, bridges, street signs, and sidewalks can be linked with their GPS location and stored in a database. Instead of traditional paper work orders, with just a general location of where the work is to be performed, with GIS, they can be directed to the exact coordinates of the desired repair. Photos and repair history can also be linked to the location for correct and current record keeping. [6]

Highway safety and security is also a big concern for transportation departments and safety engineers. Locations of accidents can be mapped and coded based on severity, participants, and other pertinent factors. By being able to see clusters of accidents, engineers can point out areas that need to be reviewed. [7] By knowing the areas with the highest concentration of pedestrian and bicycle accidents, safer routes can be mapped out for bike and pedestrian use. [8]

Public Transit

Map depicting the need for public transit in certain locations

Public transportation is a great concern in rapidly growing cities. Knowing which routes will be most beneficial to riders is a complicated task that is simplified with a successful GIS. By creating geospatial visualizations of both known ridership, predictive models of future ridership, and models of known commuters’ paths, the most cost efficient and helpful routes can be added to any public transit system.[9]


GIS can impact railways in a few major ways: monitoring, prediction planning, and tracking and scheduling. Traditional systems use recorder train cars to gather information about the status of the tracks. This information is then processed to deliver different tables and reports that display data on the status of the track that is mostly text based. All of these various report then have to be cross-referenced to collect all of the information necessary. GIS gives operators the ability to put all of this information together into geospatial visualizations. These visualizations not only incorporate the faults of the tracks with their exact location but also photographs of the faults themselves. Using a GIS, maintenance of the tracks becomes quicker and easier. [10]

Prediction planning is an easy task with an integrated GIS. Non-railroad assets in the surrounding communities can be identified and risk planning within the system can be completed to show how different emergency situations would most likely play out. Once the likely situations are created, response plans can be put into place in the case such an emergency might arise. Weather data can also be incorporated into the system in real-time so that trains can be rerouted or speed can be adjusted in the case of inclement weather.[11]

Tracking and scheduling is important for both logistical and safety reasons. By integrating GIS and GPS, both riders and operators in the central control office can track the exact location of any particular train. This is good for passengers so they can plan for delays or early arrivals, however, the most benefits lie with the operators. In one visualization, platform operators can view other trains, routes, and speeds, so that collisions can be anticipated and avoided. Train operators can be alerted and change their route to reflect these adjustments and avoid disaster. [12][11]

Ports and Maritime

GIS can provide a total management system for ports, from daily operations to disaster planning. One interactive system can be used for all the day-to-day activities like ship traffic control, berth scheduling, ground-based utility provisioning, and container loading and tracking. Integration with railways also allows for the ability to effectively manage and coordinate the transfer of material between trains and ships, lowering the likelihood of bottle-necks and congestion at the port.[13] Security is another important function for port authorities. Being able to visualize all assets (facilities, meters, hydrants, electrics, security, etc.) leads to better understanding and better control of them. GIS can also help to discover the best locations to implement security measures, such as cameras, so authorities can get the best use out of them.[14]

Moving beyond daily port activities is situational planning and protection plans. Different emergency scenarios that are most likely to occur can be imagined the best response can be planned. These plans can include things like harbor booming plans, entrances and slipways that would allow the best entrance for dealing with a clean-up situation, and which agencies have authority in which types of situations. These protocols can be practiced so in the event of an actual emergency, there is less chaos.[14][15]

Out on the water, GIS affords authorities to track vessels in real-time. Knowing where vessels can help in the avoidance of collisions. It is also very important to know exactly where ships containing hazardous materials are so their course can be plotted appropriately as well as watched for signs that a spill could be eminent. Having the ability to watch for signs of distress may be most important for ships containing hazardous materials, however, it is also important for other ships so that rescue can be sent in a timely fashion.[13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 [1], On the Ground or in the Air: GIS for Aviation, Accessed 29 August 2011
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 [2], Airports Around the World Discover the Power of GIS, Accessed 29 August 2011
  3. [3], Seamless Imagery for Arizona Department of Transportation, Accessed 30 August 2011
  4. [4], Improving Highway Planning with the Help of GIS, Accessed 30 August 2011
  5. [5], Visualizing Freeway Traffic in the San Diego Region with GIS,Accessed 30 August 2011
  6. [6], Automating Street Sign Maintenance in St. Johns County, Accessed 30 August 2011
  7. Smith, Richard C[7], Implementing GIS-based highway Safety Analyses: Bridging the Gap, Accessed 30 August 2011
  8. [8], GIS Tools for Improving Pedestrian and Bike Safety, Accessed 30 August 2011
  9. [9], Putting Trains Back on Track, Accessed 30 August 2011
  10. [10], Integrating GPS and GIS Technologies for Effective Management of Railways, Accessed 31 August 2011
  11. 11.0 11.1 [11], GIS Solutions for Railroads, Accessed 31 August 2011
  12. [12],Railways' GIS-based System On Track, Accessed 31 August 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 [13], GIS Solutions for Ports and Maritime Transport, Accessed 31 August 2011
  14. 14.0 14.1 [14], GIS and Port Security Systems, Accessed 31 August 2011
  15. [15], Emerald Isle's Coastal Contingency Plan, Accessed 31 August 2011