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Date: 10/18/21 06:57
future of railroad radio
Author: colehour

Given PTC and other innovations in railroad communications, I wonder about the future of radio voice communications like we listen to on our scanners. I live in an area where there is little nearby train traffic, at least I can't pick up anything with my scanner. I have not taken it with me to see what might be happening in other areas.

I know that the radio signals from the EOT devices can be helpful, but what about other kinds of radio communication? 

It appears from posts on this board that there is still interest in scanners and other radios to monitor railroad traffic, but to what extent will these be helpful to railfans in the future?



Date: 10/18/21 08:02
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: WW

I have posted extensively on this.  Do a search, please.  Short answer:  there is a lot less voice radio communication now and that trend will likely continue.  Does that make monitoring voice communication useless?  Actually, just the opposite.  In what may seem, at first blush, to be obtuse reasoning, monitoring voice radio communications with good equipment is more important to railfans than ever because one needs to hear what little communication that there is.  Those rare "nuggets" of communications may provide key clues about what is happening that may not be obtainable from any other source.  Example:  a few weeks ago, I had set up to photograph a train that I had captured earlier in the day down the line.  It was long past due showing up at my location.  I could have tried to hunt it down, but there was considerable mileage between the train and me that was not road accessible or visible from the road.  I could have easily missed it.  The mystery was solved when I heard the train call the Dispatcher to inform him that they had mechanical issues with one of the locomotives and was stopped.  Shortly thereafter, after a radio discussion with the Mechanical Dept., it was determined that the crew would "go dead" at that location and was instructed to tie their train down right there on the main.  That "nugget" told me there would be no trains running on that line for several hours and I adjourned to another location on another railroad.  Had it not been for hearing those radio communications, I could have wasted a lot of time at that location waiting for a train that wasn't going to show up.  By the way, I only heard that communication, fairly distant from my location, because I was listening on my good quality mobile radio with vehicle mounted antenna tuned to the railroad band.  A portable radio wouldn't have even picked up the communication.



Date: 10/19/21 06:50
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: colehour

When I posted, I was aware of previous discussions of this topic, including material from WW, but was hoping for comments from others in various locations, because I get the impression that voice radio communications vary by railroad and by location. The nearest Class 1 railroad to me is about 20 miles away, and I don't hear any usable rail traffic from them, given that I only have a Uniden  BCD436 scanner with an RH771 antenna that I use in my apartment. I am not able to put up a rooftop antenna, which would surely improve reception. This is why I was looking for information from others -- I just don't have firsthand experience of voice communications on the RR frequencies.



 



Date: 10/21/21 13:10
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: Rick2582

WW is right on about the trend to fewer voice conversations on RRs.  In NorCal, we stil hear a fair amount of radio traffic even with use of PTC and TCS on the UPRR.
Switching areas are still about the same in amount of radio use.  That just makes sense due to comm between engineer and ground crew.
In outlying areas, there is still some radio chatter between train crews and MOW staff, but otherwise pretty quiet.  Train crew is all in the cab.
Otherwise, it is definitely quieter than 40 years ago when I first started listening, due to no caboose talk.  Even the draggers have largely switched to talk on defect only.
We started building large steerableYagi antennas and stacked dipoles for other railfans to increase the listening area when tuned in from home.  That helped fill the gap somewhat, but trains still sneak up on us out in the field due to mountainous terrain.
I'd say beef up your antenna on the car or home and get a very sensitive radio for listening.  Commercial sets as discussed on TO are a good choice.
KK6EL ham call



Date: 10/22/21 08:16
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: RFandPFan

Not much has changed in Georgia/Florida on CSX.  Crews still call all signals, defect detectors still broadcast train info and dispatchers still seem to talk to crews as often as before.  In fact it has actually increased since CSX requires trains to give dispatchers a "report" when leaving a yard or doing a re-crew.  The train report via radio includes; name of crew members, on-duty time, engine numbers and fuel readings, tonnage, number of empties/loads, train length and if they are doing any work enroute.  This comes in handy (especially when monitoring on-line scanners) as the report is done when the train is departing, so you know when to expect it.



Date: 10/22/21 08:34
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: colehour

Thanks for the information!



Date: 10/22/21 16:28
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: skyview

Far less radio traffic on Joint Line and Brush Subs in Colorado.



Date: 10/22/21 20:41
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: cchan006

colehour Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I am not able to put up a rooftop antenna,
> which would surely improve reception.
> This is why I was looking for information
> from others -- I just don't have firsthand
> experience of voice communications on
> the RR frequencies.

We can get caught up on radio reception geekness, but don't forget that geography is a major factor in getting good reception. I remember a TO member with a rooftop directional antenna getting radio conversation about 100 miles away from west side of Donner Pass. Well, I was briefly able to do the same driving through Altamont Pass, too, on a $25 magnetic mount antenna with my cheap Uniden handheld scanner - I must have been at high enough elevation to get "line of sight" radio reception, too.

I've gotten reception from extended distances with the same setup, or even with Diamond RH77CA antenna when I'm away from the car, in the desert, and in canyons, like Stevens Pass in Washington. Seems radio signals can bounce around for quite some distance in canyons.

There's a hotbox detector less than 2 miles away from Hwy 99 just south of Sacramento that I rarely pick up when I'm in my car - sound barriers on the freeway. Radio signals tend not to "bend around" obstacles. In a taller vehicle (SUV), I can usually pick it up. Another example of "geography."



Date: 10/23/21 09:25
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: WW

The key to good railfan radio reception is not about how well the radio receives strong signals, no matter the reason that the signal is strong, but rather the radio's ability to receive weak signals, no matter the reason that the signal is weak. So, the "geekiness" factor is determining the best, radio, antenna, and location combination to achieve that goal.



Date: 10/24/21 10:31
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: cchan006

WW Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The key to good railfan radio reception is not
> about how well the radio receives strong signals,
> no matter the reason that the signal is strong,
> but rather the radio's ability to receive weak
> signals, no matter the reason that the signal is
> weak. So, the "geekiness" factor is determining
> the best, radio, antenna, and location combination
> to achieve that goal.

My field experience says just go out and do it. Got countless reports posted here on TO, and many of those reports describe how I went about hunting and catching trains. Some may find my reports wordy and boring, but lots of scanner-related info in the reports that's very relevant to this thread.

When I bought my cheap Uniden 72XLT about 13 years ago, my original intent was to see if it was a useful railfan tool. If not, then very little time and money wasted. I already did some reserach beforehand, and I was ready to upgrade to a more expensive scanner (like a Yaesu), if the tool was useful. I did 2 "upgrades" within a year, a Diamond RH77CA antenna to replace the rubber ducky, and a magnetic mount. Still using the same scanner 13 years later, and the same setup.

I've done side-by-side comparisons with newer Uniden, GRE, Yaesu, and done "unplanned" comparisons with radios carried by Amtrak crews when joyriding, so I'm well aware of 72XLT's inferiority. Yet the tool is good enough for me to yield consistent results, so I'm still using it.

Colehour (OP) has good enough tool already, so my advice is to not worry about getting a better equipment for the time being. And to answer the title of the thread, future of railroad radio in the near term is good. Some are catching trains WITHOUT a scanner, by listening to radio feeds on their Smartphones, and I've run into quite a few railfans doing that. That's one nifty way to solve the radio reception problems, thanks to the guys who set them up.



Date: 10/25/21 08:27
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: colehour

While I appreciate all the responses my post has received, my intent was simply to find out how much railroad radio traffic exists around the country. I have a basic knowledge of scanning radio and antennas and am content with my equipment. I suppose my question was more or less "academic" rather than asking for practical advice to improve my reception.

Perhaps I should not have mentioned my equipment in a subsequent post, which I did just to put my question in some sort of context. 

In any case, it appears that radio traffic on the railroads is stil alive and well, although it varies by railroad and location. 










 



Date: 10/25/21 10:12
Re: future of railroad radio
Author: RFandPFan

colehour Wrote:

> In any case, it appears that radio traffic on the
> railroads is stil alive and well, although it
> varies by railroad and location. 

That is definitely the case.  While CSX in Georgia and Florida still use the radio as I described above, Norfolk Southern down here (Valdosta District) has defect detectors that only say "Norfolk Southern Milepost 242, no defects" and provide no other information.  Also, since PTC they don't issue tack warrants for this line via radio any more.  The GS&F Dispatcher will simply tell the train crews the number of the warrant and it is transmitted via the PTC computer.



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