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Railfan Technology > Anyone noticing - Radio usage down


Date: 10/17/20 10:08
Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: skyview

So I have been using scanners and listening to railroads since 1972 or so, when I found the transmission on a channel master tuneable radio.  I progressed through crystal scanners to programmable scanners, even having NXDN radio now.  Thus, Ive spent many years listening and still do.

That said, over the last decade radio communications are decreasing, and was totally accented a several weeks ago while spending an afternoon near North Platte then 2 1/2 days on BNSF coal lines.  In those areas, detectors have been (assumption since never heard a peep) have been silenced to defect only, much slow order/instructions was being sent via computer (heard the dispatcher refer to it, do you see "x" on your screens) and traffic to and form M of W was minimal.  About all that was left was some sort of problem or exception that was communicated.  Thus, far less traffic on the radio than a decade ago, heck even a couple of yeras ago even.  Was the radio helpful, sure  a little, but no where near what  it was in the past. 

Here on the Joint Line in Colorado the detectors still talk, and trains do chat more to the dispatcher than what I observed in NE, but it probably wont be long before the detectors are defect only.  Overall, radio traffic is down here to, with less on the radio than years past.

I guess that my title is wrong, RF usage is up, way more communications going on, just the traditional chat on the 160-161MHz freqs is down!



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 10/17/20 13:21 by skyview.



Date: 10/17/20 10:13
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: dan

A lot of modern changes augment the radio



Date: 10/17/20 13:04
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: TCnR

Similar posts on the Eastern and Western boards in the past few months. Agree the level of data by radio has gone up, ATCS being a big element but also DPU and EOT, there's also MoW track warrants by Laptop using a WiFi network of some sort, also the ubiquitous GPS. Some of the RR's also download data from Locomotives by Radio Network, also load S/W patches. Amazing times.



Date: 10/17/20 13:38
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: dcfbalcoS1

        Some railroads are sending information to tablets held by the crew. Expect to get less and less from now on until you hear hardly anything.



Date: 10/17/20 17:47
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: RayH

Detectors still talking here in the Charleston area, thankfully.

The NS line from CHS to Columbia (and beyond) is dark territory and all TA. Until a few months ago, the DS would dictate the TA, and the crew would repeat it back. Not anymore. Now the DS tells the train "I'm sending you TA #4567" and the train will acknowledge receipt. These TA's are on the locomotive PTC screen. We no longer know the TA limits, so it's tougher to figure out if there's a meet or not. Makes you use your railfan intuition a lot more now.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 10/19/20 17:37 by RayH.



Date: 10/18/20 06:48
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: skyview

Yes RayH, thats exactly it.  I beleive PTC rollout has greatly accelerated this decline in usage though I dont know that for certain.  What struck me was that I was on the main BNSF coal lines, with trains relatively close, and just so little information on the radio.  The radio was of benefit, but only slightly,  Of course the ATCS freqs were chirping away, since I have a laptop and radios for ATCS, they were my info source, but not all areas have that as a resource.



Date: 10/18/20 06:54
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: WW

No surprise.  The NTSB has identified "excess radio traffic" as a contributing factor in several incidents where train crews lost situational awareness that resulted in serious consequences.  The FRA has been "jawboning" railroads to figure out ways to lessen radio traffic and they have.  The eventual push to NXDN digital will accelerate this process.  One of the handy features of digital radio is "selective calling"--where the caller can initiate a radio call that only the intended recipient will be able to hear.  Digital opens up a whole plethora of options that are not available on analog.

One option that I don't think that we will see for awhile, but could come later, is encryption.  Encryption would essentially make radios useless for railfans unless the railfan had obtained the encryption key.  Of course, there would be railfans who might obtain an encryption key surreptitiously, but the other encryption feature is the radio system logs who "signs in" to the system.  A person with authority (say, a Dispatcher, for example), seeing an unauthorized log in can then send a signal that "stuns" or "kills" the offending radio.  

Digital may still be a few years off, but the most of the building blocks to implement it are already in place on most of the major railroads.  Once the cutover begins, I believe it will proceed rapidly.



Date: 10/18/20 09:09
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: TAW

WW Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> No surprise.  The NTSB has identified "excess
> radio traffic" as a contributing factor in several
> incidents where train crews lost situational
> awareness that resulted in serious consequences. 

I crusaded over the excess use and reliance on radio for over a decade, a really scary decade. Imagine sitting down to this for eight hours every day https://cdn.trainorders.com/attachments/videos/504000/504069.webm

Imagine that your job and the health and safety of everyone at the other end of the conversation depends upon what you are hearing on the recording.

We had no radio on B&OCT. SP had radio on the mountain part of the Fresno-Mojave position. I used it once in a year. At BN, by the late 70s, radio was becoming an annoyance. Management told us that the solution was don't answer crews if they are going to complain about a yellow signal. By the mid-80s, it was intolerable.

Along came the talking detector. Unlike us human types, the robots were not required to listen for a clear channel before blithering on and on through whatever we were trying to do.Management saw no problem with that. It was their idea to implement it. FRA saw no problem with it; the rules didn't apply to robots.

Several of us in the Seattle office complained to management to no avail. I made a recording of me trying to send a Track Warrant to a guy at Sumas. I spent about 15 minutes trying to send without somebody breaking and hear the repeat all the way through while everything else on the territory was at a stop and they were all screaming at me on the radio, preventing me from sticking out the TW. The Supt of Transportation told me I was wasting his time; he was well aware of what radio sounded like. We called FRA because every day was a day of terror on several of the jobs. We complained to FRA. FRA sent an auditor to see what we were complaining about. After a week in the office, they reported that the problem was that dispatchers weren't saying over and out at the right times.


> The FRA has been "jawboning" railroads to figure
> out ways to lessen radio traffic and they have. 

...after years of encouraging railroads to increase the use of radio. It's about time.

TAW


 



Date: 10/18/20 09:15
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: BAB

dcfbalcoS1 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>         Some railroads are sending information
> to tablets held by the crew. Expect to get less
> and less from now on until you hear hardly
> anything.

Yes  a friend carries his Ipad with him at all times that has the app on it so can see where he is on the call sheet and train line up.



Date: 10/18/20 11:53
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: robj

This is on coal lines and main lines, where I often found radio not as useful. 

I was at Marquette, IA  and there was radio talk between crew in yard,  and yard master and crew, and between crew and dispatcher.  I also heard detector on BNSF side..  I was not there primarily for railfanning so not listening over long time..  talk was maybe more curt than in past.  The CP line is not that intense where there is likely to be talk over. 

I don''t do it but on the mainlines it seems railfan monitoring has gone to the atcs. 

On the BNSF side in PDC near the bar we ate, you could watch the signals.  Dark, nothing too near, red to yellow to flashing yellow to green, usually a train in 5 minutes.
Also talking detector.

Bob



Date: 10/18/20 18:40
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: MP683

I’ve gone 300+ miles on two main CTC and not once hear a peep on the radio.

Rare, but does happen.

Other days you can’t get a word in within 5 miles.

On my RR there was a push (so to say) that everything was to be done on the radio, essentially so that field managers knew what was going on (for testing or other).

Now there is a push for hand signals, on/off moving equipment and the such.

Just depends on system testing, work production and injury numbers I suppose.

Posted from iPhone



Date: 10/19/20 16:45
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: Rick2582

On the UP Valley Sub in Calif, there's still a fair amount of FM analog audio talk going on VHF.  Just in the last week, I've heard a track foreman giving permission to trains to pass thru work limits, DS talk to a train with flat wheel probs, and plenty of local job and mainline pickup switching talk.  Plus the usual  HOT/EOT/DPU transmissions on UHF.  So the radio can still be quite busy at train time.  And a fair amount of VHF analog verification of slow orders, XH notices, and the recent "tag" and TCS type comms.  Why do they repeat this data so often ?  I don't know, seems they are checking the PTC frequently to make sure the trains are getting the messages.
But yes, the FM chit chat is reduced on the mainline from earlier days, as you say.  Caboose to head end used to a lot of fun to listen to.  Still have some friendly roll-by talk in the Canyon that is more than needed, that adds to the fun and nobody seems to get in trouble for it.
Have yet to hear any NXDN transmissions on VHF on the Valley.



Date: 10/19/20 17:53
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: YoungOldHead

Rick2582 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
  And a fair amount of
> VHF analog verification of slow orders, XH
> notices, and the recent "tag" and TCS type
> comms.  Why do they repeat this data so often ? 
> I don't know, seems they are checking the PTC
> frequently to make sure the trains are getting the
> messages.

The requirement to have a "hard copy" in writing for "unforseens" i.e. crossing orders, temporary speed restrictions etc has not gone away. That's why you're hearing them repeated. I don't know about other roads. Can only speak from my own experience. PTC will not provide any form of notification when you're sent an unforseen or authority. The only way you would know is if you go into the "mandatory directives" on the screen or the dispatcher asks if you have PTT Tag # etc. 



Date: 10/20/20 06:30
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: RFandPFan

YoungOldHead Wrote:

> The requirement to have a "hard copy" in writing
> for "unforseens" i.e. crossing orders, temporary
> speed restrictions etc has not gone away. That's
> why you're hearing them repeated. I don't know
> about other roads. Can only speak from my own
> experience. PTC will not provide any form of
> notification when you're sent an unforseen or
> authority. The only way you would know is if you
> go into the "mandatory directives" on the screen
> or the dispatcher asks if you have PTT Tag #
> etc. 

Norfolk Southern recently changed their track warrant procedure on the Valdosta District.  They send the warrant to the crew on the PTC screen and the conductor only repeats the number once received.  No more reading back the entire warrant, just the number.



Date: 10/20/20 09:22
Re: Anyone noticing - Radio usage down
Author: MattW

Out here on CSX's Georgia road, the radio is still very much alive. The only issue for us railfans has been combining dispatch desks so between Atlanta and ~Conyers, you don't know what DS frequency the train will use since the same desk now controls Atlanta Terminal and the Georgia Sub. EC1s are still read out over the radio, trains still call signals.



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