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Date: 09/03/19 11:53
Radio scanner recommendations
Author: superchief1944

Could I get recommendations for a decent, simple scanner for railfan use? Something simple and flexible would be great.



Date: 09/03/19 11:59
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: TCnR

Uniden BearCat 125AT.

Others say it's that old fashioned simple scanner, I don't have one but that's what it sounds like. The price varies quite a bit. Don't fall for the BC75 being almost the same as the BC125.

https://www.scannermaster.com/Uniden_Bearcat_BC125AT_Police_Scanner_p/10-501770.htm
 



Date: 09/03/19 12:05
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: superchief1944

Thank you. Simple is BIG for me, as long as it works and picks up transmissions well.



Date: 09/03/19 12:06
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: TCnR

Should have said there's a lot of discussion on here about the RR's changing their radio systems and the world ending as we know it. Hasn't happened yet.

https://www.amazon.com/Uniden-BC125AT-Alpha-Tagged-Emergency-Lightweight/dp/B00772MR0K



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/03/19 12:12 by TCnR.



Date: 09/03/19 12:48
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: RayH

superchief1944 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thank you. Simple is BIG for me, as long as it
> works and picks up transmissions well.

Upgrade the stock antenna that is provided. I use a Diamond Antenna RH77CA. Easy to find on the internet thing.



Date: 09/04/19 09:52
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: mojaveflyer

I would agree the BC125AT  is an excellent radio. They can be found on Amazon for under $100. I use Butel software to program it. Makes life much more simple... The BC125AT also does the civil and military aircraft bands as well to listen to air shows, too!

James Nelson
Thornton, CO



Date: 09/05/19 11:45
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: cchan006

RayH Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Upgrade the stock antenna that is provided. I use
> a Diamond Antenna RH77CA. Easy to find on the
> internet thing.

There have been discussions here on TO stating that RH77CA may not be the best choice. TO search for "Diamond Smiley" and "Diamond Comet" should point to discussions stating why the Diamond might not be the best choice. Note that the discussions are few months old (hint for TO search function newbies).

Having said that, I've been using the same Diamond RH77CA for 10 years so it's a durable antenna, and good enough for my railfan needs. I also carry around a magnetic roof mount antenna with me, as much of my railfanning is done driving rental cars these days.

RH77CA is excellent at picking up the "chirps" from EOT (or "FRED") and that's brought me lots of train catches in recent years.



Date: 09/05/19 18:23
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: TheNavigator

As others have said, the BC125AT is an excellent scanner for our purposes.  Highly recommended.  I've been using mine for years without a problem.

Also as mentioned above, do be sure to buy an antenna to replace the stock version that comes in the box.  I've tried the Diamond RH77CA, the MFJ-1717, and the Smiley "160 MHz Regular Duck."  All three easily out-perform the stock antenna but I also found that the Smiley receives better than the other two.  It's also shorter and less likely to get in the way or poke you, FWIW.

GK



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/05/19 18:25 by TheNavigator.



Date: 09/08/19 16:45
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: hotrail

That is a good looking little scanner.  I remember back in the 70's when i got one of the first Bearcat programmable base scanners for Christmas.  Hard to believe that was over 40 years ago.  That was exciting. Before that, we had to buy channel specific crystals for our scanners.  Mine was a 4-channel handheld made by Craig. Who else remembers those days?  Who remembers Craig as a consumer electronics brand?  I recall them doing a lot of car stereos.
 
Anyway, that Bearcat looks like its got a BNC connector for the antenna.  I used to have a handheld with a BNC and that made it easy to swap between a mag mount antenna i would keep on the roof of my truck, and the OEM antenna (or whatever) when yoiu are out of the car walking around.  Also used 12V power in the car so my batteries lasted a long time.  It was a sweet setup to just have one radio but get extra battery life and better antenna when in the car.  
 



Date: 09/10/19 05:55
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: Floridarailfan

Interesting discussion!  I replaced my old BC200XLT, which I had re-equipped with a Diamond antenna,  with a Uniden BC75XLT and was delighted with the improvement.  From comments in this thread, it looks like I should have purchased the BC125XLT instead.  Can anyone explain the added benefits that the BC125XLT provides?  Many thanks!



Date: 09/10/19 07:29
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: TCnR

My comment is having bought the BC75XLT and using it for a travel scanner and finding it to have poor intermod performance and poor sensitivity, also poor audio. Looking at the published info there seems to be little difference between the BC75XLT and the BC125 except for sensitivity, which is really a big deal. I don't have a BC125 but that wasn't the OP's question, a number of folks seem to be very happy with the BC125. It has good specs and some sensible features. The additional price is pretty minor, especially compared with the potential waste of gas and hotel money if you don't catch that train.

Having been in the hobby for such a long time I went with Yeasu radios, there have good and bad comparisons but I was really impressed with the Intermod and sensitivity performance. btw 'Intermods' are ( very basically ) those situations where the radio begins to scream with tones and data noises that have nothing to do with what you want to listen to. Working your way through the published specs it's pretty easy to see the difference, mostly in the extra downconversion stage, battery performance, water resistant features, etc.

Floridarailfan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Interesting discussion!  I replaced my old
> BC200XLT, which I had re-equipped with a Diamond
> antenna,  with a Uniden BC75XLT and was delighted
> with the improvement.  From comments in this
> thread, it looks like I should have purchased the
> BC125XLT instead.  Can anyone explain the added
> benefits that the BC125XLT provides?  Many
> thanks!



Date: 09/10/19 13:36
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: TheNavigator

Floridarailfan Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Interesting discussion!  I replaced my old
> BC200XLT, which I had re-equipped with a Diamond
> antenna,  with a Uniden BC75XLT and was delighted
> with the improvement.  From comments in this
> thread, it looks like I should have purchased the
> BC125XLT instead.  Can anyone explain the added
> benefits that the BC125XLT provides?  Many
> thanks!

As posted above, the BC125AT has better sensitivity in the RR band than the BC75XLT (0.2uV vs. 0.3uV according to the respective manuals; a 50% improvement?).  The BC125AT also receives the military air band if that's of interest, and it has 500 channels vs. 300 for the BC75XLT.  There could also be other differences/improvements, but these were the items I first noticed.
GK



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/10/19 13:36 by TheNavigator.



Date: 09/10/19 16:32
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: bodkin6071

Uniden BC75XLT I found at Walmart of all places, already has the RR frequencies programmed in. Bought a Laird EXB-150 antenna for it.



Date: 09/11/19 06:21
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: Floridarailfan

I enjoy having the RR frequencies pre-programmed into my BC75XLT. While the Diamond antenna is an improvement over the stock equipment, we recently stayed at an Alexandria, Va. hotel overlooking the mainline tracks where there was constant radio chatter and I was amazed at how much better my Smiley Slim Duck antenna performed than the Diamond.

Posted from iPhone



Date: 09/12/19 07:27
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: WW

bodkin6071 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Uniden BC75XLT I found at Walmart of all places,
> already has the RR frequencies programmed in.
> Bought a Laird EXB-150 antenna for it.

For railfanning you bought the wrong antenna.  You should have purchased the EXB-160.  The 150 or 160 refers to the frequency that the antenna is cut to optimally receive.  Since railroads are in the 160-161.6 mHz range, the 160 model is best tuned for railfanning.  The 150 is somewhat out of range, so its reception capability is compromised.  The EXB-150 probably won't perform much better than the stock antenna on the railroad frequencies.

Please do a search on all of my various posts on radios for railfanning--I won't bore everyone with a repeat here.  Quickly, though, on the BC-125AT.  For what it is (an analog scanner), it's about the best scanner that I've found for railfanning.  On mine, I use a stubby commercial 160 mHz-tuned antenna of unknown pedigree (it was in a bunch of radio stuff that I "inherited" in a junk box of radio equipment that I was given) and the radio works quite well--much better than the stock antenna.  My only big beef with this radio is the charger--using rechargeable batteries and the factory USB charger it takes a ridiculous 14 hours to fully charge the radio.  So, be sure to carry extra regular batteries or another set or two of (charged) rechargeables with you for any long day of railfanning.  Also, as I've posted before, get the heavy duty carrying case for the radio.  The BC-125AT has a plastic case that likely won't be happy (and neither will the radio innards) if you happen to drop it on a hard surface.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/12/19 07:28 by WW.



Date: 09/12/19 12:48
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: Emmo213

I've been out of the game for a while but didn't the railroads switch over to the new digital bands? I put away my old scanner because I wasn't picking much up anymore, which I thought was because of the switch, but maybe I just had old frequencies.



Date: 09/12/19 12:56
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: TCnR

Rumor is that a few Commute operations use Digital. Haven't heard of anybody else, the California Northern,  BNSF and UPrr in northern california are old school analog.

One of my radios is an 30 year old BearCat 200XLT, works fine even with the new improved narrow-band channels. Because of it's sensitivity it's a great stand by radio, also gets tri-band, or maybe more than three so I can hear the local Hiway Patrol and Road crews. But when I'm out chasing I use the Yeasu radios, also analog.

Try RailroadRadio,net or   http://www.trainweb.org/dispatchoffice/roads.htm or Google for a RR database. Or load up all the AAR channels which are listed on the www somewhere try:  https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?coid=1  

Emmo213 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I've been out of the game for a while but didn't
> the railroads switch over to the new digital
> bands? I put away my old scanner because I wasn't
> picking much up anymore, which I thought was
> because of the switch, but maybe I just had old
> frequencies.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 09/12/19 13:04 by TCnR.



Date: 09/12/19 19:56
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: WW

Emmo213 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I've been out of the game for a while but didn't
> the railroads switch over to the new digital
> bands? I put away my old scanner because I wasn't
> picking much up anymore, which I thought was
> because of the switch, but maybe I just had old
> frequencies.

Please read my other posts on this.  NXDN digital is still on the horizon, but the original rumored widespread cutover date of sometime in 2022 will not likely be met.  My own theory is that PTC implementation has absorbed enough technical and financial resources of the railroads to have effectively lowered the priority of digital radio implementation.  The large railroads pretty much stopped buying any non-NXDN-capable radios about 8 years ago, so most of the equipment is already in place, so it is mostly an issue coordinating a cutover.  The railroads have also been modifying their FCC licensing for some years now  to facilitate the eventual cutover.  My theory is that, when the cutover occurs, it will be pretty much universal and accomplished over a pretty short period of time.  When that happens, non-NXDN railfan radios and scanners will, for railfanning purposes, pretty much become doorstops overnight.  In my opinion, I wouldn't be spending much money on analog scanners or amateur radios for railfanning at this point.  Their usable lifespan will not likely be more than a few years, at most.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/12/19 19:58 by WW.



Date: 09/18/19 15:13
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: CPRR

Just wondering, will they change to a UHF or stay on the 160 band?



Date: 09/18/19 17:26
Re: Radio scanner recommendations
Author: WW

CPRR Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Just wondering, will they change to a UHF or stay
> on the 160 band?

Stay within the 160 VHF slot that they now occupy.  Analog narrow-banding in 2013 effectively doubled the number of channels available in that chunk of spectrum to 180+.    In theory, though not part of the current AAR plan as far as I know, complete elimination of narrow-band analog would allow the railroad band to be "re-farmed" again when NXDN is fully deployed, which could effectively double the number of railroad channels available again.

The other reason is simple signal propagation.  UHF signals will travel through small spaces better than UHF--a car window for example, but don't bend very well.  That's why they are best suited for shorter distance environments (cell towers, use in buildings, etc.).  VHF signals don't easily travel through smaller spaces, but will bend some, so are better for traveling for some distance when antennas are outside (a big reason to get an external antenna for a scanner or VHF radio being used in an automobile).    That's why VHF works still fairly well for line-of-sight communications over up to 10 miles, which is really a misnomer because the signal has to actually "bend" enough to follow the curvature of the earth.   Of course, use a mountaintop repeater and communication distance for mobiles "pinging" the repeater line-of-sight can stretch to 100-150 air miles or more from mobile radio to the repeater.

Also, UHF and VHF have different absorption rates in the natural environment.  For example, cellular signals (in the high end of the UHF spectrum) have a signal width about the same as many tree leaves, thus can be significantly absorbed in a forested area.  A cellular engineer working in one forested area that I know about said their complaints from the area about weak or no signal, dropped calls, etc. increased markedly in the summer when the trees were leafed out, and dropped way off when the trees shed their leaves.  He confirmed his theory with a signal strength meter.

Railroad radio is configured in two basic ways most of the time, dependent on terrain.  In most flatland areas, remote bases (not repeaters) are set up along the ROW every 10-15 miles.  That remote base is connected to a dispatch center by land line, microwave, IP, etc.  10-15 mile spacing means that a train or personnel along the railroad are usually never more than about 5-8 miles from their radio to a remote base--which corresponds pretty closely to the reliable range of a portable radio trying to talk to the remote base.  In hilly or mountainous terrain, mountaintop repeaters may be used.  Radios can reach considerable distance as long as they are reasonably within line of sight of the repeater.  Of course, ridges, canyons, etc. can create a lot of "dead spots" with little or no reception and that can be problematic.  I've done potential repeater site "profiling"--it's tricky and sometimes places that would seem to work great on paper actually don't, and vice versa.  In some cases, railroads will use a combination of repeaters and remote bases in hilly or mountainous areas to "densify" the radio coverage to an acceptable level.

Just like cellular, the goal is to engineer the system to be as transparent and user-friendly to the user (railroaders, in this case) as possible.    As an aside, PTC radio technology takes the radio engineering issues of railroad radio and multiplies the complexity and cost by a factor that probably exceeds ten.   



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/18/19 17:28 by WW.



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