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Date: 08/06/20 09:49
Help with a scanner
Author: josephrusso3

Since I retired I picked up my old Radio Shack scanner and I am monitoring the Metrolink frequencies on the Antelope Valley and Ventura Sub lines.  I can hear the dispather clearly but I very rarely hear  the crew communication back.  Is this a common problem with a solution?  Any help is appreciated.  Joe Russo



Date: 08/06/20 10:53
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: WW

It's very likely this:  the Dispatcher is talking over a remote base or repeater (most likely the former, in this case) with a very efficient antenna.  The crew may be talking on the locomotive radio or even a portable.  The portable, in particular, is a low-wattage (5 watts of transmit power) through a relatively inefficient antenna.  So, the radio signal from the train crew will be noticeably weaker than that from the Dispatcher radio.  If you are listening from a less than optimum radio setup (portable scanner or radio, radio with inefficient antenna, etc.) your radio may not pick up the weaker signal reliably.  Solution: better radio, more efficient antenna, use a mobile radio whenever possible (with an external efficient antenna).  I've dispensed plenty of advice on this in other posts, please do a search.



Date: 08/06/20 13:57
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: josephrusso3

Thank I will do the search you suggested. I appreciate it

Joe



Date: 08/06/20 19:52
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: wa4umr

If you are in your car, an external antenna would help.  If you are at home, get your antenna up higher.  Even putting an antenna in the attic would improve your coverage.  The better the antenna, the better your reception.  Even a simple groundplane in the attic would probably help.  If you're not handy with soldering coax cables to connectors, there are places where you can order custom cables in the lengths yu need and with the connectors you need.

John



Date: 08/06/20 22:45
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: TCnR

Agree with the escalation in hardware but it would be wise to hop in the car and make find out how close you need to be to hear the crews, or what you want to hear.

There may be a hill in the way or simply just too far away to be able to improve the situation. Presume this is the standard RR band around 161 MHz? Let us know how it works out.



Date: 08/07/20 04:56
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: Arved

Locomotive radios are better than the hand helds the crew on the ground uses.

With my 2-meter Handy-Talkie, even on 5 watts, I have a range of about 5 miles to the local repeater. I can hear the repeater much farther, and base stations over 20 miles away reach the repeater with no problem. 2-meter is pretty close to the spectrum railroad frequencies operate.

None of these compare to the power and antennas of broadcast FM, which I think taints the expectations of many new to railscanning (and HAM radio).
 

Arved Grass
Fleming Island, FL
Arved Grass



Date: 08/07/20 08:00
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: WW

I've covered some of this before, but to respond to the above post:  how far a portable radio will "reach" is very much a function of the receiving radio.  On flat ground, 5-10 miles with a portable radio is about the limit to reach a repeater or remote base similarly located.  In the case of railroads operating in flat country, they typically use remote base radios located about 10 miles apart.  The remote bases are often deliberately "compromised" so that they won't reach farther than that, so that they don't interfere with remote bases located up and down the line.  When using mountaintop repeaters, just the opposite strategy is used.  The mountaintop repeater is designed to be as "efficient" as possible in both receive and transmit, so as to reach as far as possible--e.g., cover the largest territory.  I've been able to open an efficient mountaintop repeater and communicate over it with a 5 watt portable radio when I was 75 air miles away from it, but with line of sight.  

A key thing to remember here: any object that you put between the antenna of your radio and the transmitting radio's antenna--the inside of your car, walls, hills, even your body--will compromise your radio's ability to "hear" signals, especially weak ones.  Also, the less "efficient" the antenna on your radio--"rubber ducky" portable antennas, for example, are notoriously inefficient--will compromise reception.  So, for example, using a portable radio with a rubber ducky antenna in the inside of your car with the radio lying on the passenger seat (or on your belt) will probably degrade its receive ability by 85% or more.  Result?  The radio is "deaf" to all but the strongest signals.  My best advice here is that a portable radio using its rubber ducky antenna is best reserved for use when you are away from your vehicle.  Otherwise, a mobile radio with an efficient vehicle-mounted mobile antenna will improve the radio's reception multi-fold.  If you don't want to spring for a mobile radio, then use a vehicle-mounted external antenna that you can quickly connect your portable radio to when you are in your vehicle.



Date: 08/07/20 08:33
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: TCnR

Not sure of the OP's geographic location and frankly I don't know much about Metrolink but a good resource would be the RR Radio Metrolink feed. Either for comparison, trying to find out what you haven't heard or simply to monitor full time. The downside may be too much coverage or coverage of the wrong area. Or perhaps a poor DSL, which is very common and not an obvious fix without putting down some bucks.

http://railroadradio.net/

Use the pull down menu on the left, download the feed info to the computer, open in your default audio driver or find a bettr one, I use an older version of WinAmp and have it set to not update. Another favorite Audio Feed is Broadcastify, amazing number of feeds all across the US. But I'm not finding a Google Link to anything useful.

 



Date: 08/08/20 05:36
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: josephrusso3

Thank to everyone who replied and provided help.  You have reassured me its not an uncommon problem but with your help I have optimized my mobile radio with an external ground pole antenna while in my vehicle and I also am picking up the Lancaster/Tehacaphi communictions on railroadradio.net on my cell.  Thanks again.  Joe



Date: 08/08/20 08:11
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: WW

Just a couple of notes about railroad radio communications, in general.  It is more important than ever for railfans monitoring railroad radio communications to use equipment that can best receive even the weakest and most distant signals.  Here's why:  railroads are increasingly moving away from using radio for their communications.  For railfans, that means that receiving what radio communications that do occur is even more important.  "Excess" radio traffic, sufficient to cause loss of situational awareness by train crews and MOW workers has been cited by the NTSB as a contributing cause to several serious railroad incidents, so there is now even regulatory prodding being done to reduce unneeded railroad radio communications.  The days, for example, of trains calling on radio when they pass signals, etc. are waning.

As an example of the railfan challenge, one day I was out railfanning on a pretty sparsely used railroad branch.  Using my mobile commercial radio to monitor the railroad's road channel, I was able to hear a distant communication from the Dispatcher giving a train a Track Warrant for a train heading my direction.  Using that information, I set up to photograph at my chosen location and waited.  I got my photos when the train passed.  About a minute after that, another railfan came roaring up in his car.  He lamented that he had wanted to photograph a train at that location for years, and that he just missed likely his only opportunity.  He asked me how I knew what time to be there to photograph the train.  I told him that I heard the train get its track warrant on my radio in ample time for me to get there.  He looked glumly at his poor receiving portable scanner and said that he had never heard a thing on it, even though he had been closer to the train than I was when the train got its warrant.  I wasn't surprised.  I was about 20 miles away from the train and the remote base talking to it when I heard the track warrant issued.  The other railfan was about 10-15 miles away from the train, but his portable scanner was not "efficient" enough to hear the transmission.  In this case, neither of us could "eyeball" the train in advance because the tracks were away from the highway and only accessed periodically from side roads branching off of that highway.  Now, admittedly, high quality radios are not inexpensive.  However, if one factors in the cost of engaging in wild goose chases with a lot of driving trying to find trains, time wasted, missed photographic opportunities, etc., the cost of good radio equipment seems justified to me. 



Date: 08/08/20 09:40
Re: Help with a scanner
Author: TCnR

Interesting story. With the reduced or short discussions on the radio I've been monitoring the EOT and DPU frequencies, which would be useless for Metrolink as far as I know and in the general LA area I would think. It works out really well for branchlines and places like Wyoming. In the more dense terminal areas it's pretty useless as there's all sorts of equipment being tested, or left operating or DPU's repeating another trains EOT and so on. But in the right place it works out really well. I have them in a sperate bank on the radio so I can turn them off and on as needed.

Those channels work out well in a Tri-band hobby radio, I'm using an FT-60r.



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