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Railfan Technology > scanner app for Android

Date: 04/30/24 13:04
scanner app for Android
Author: halfmoonharold

Can anyone recommend a good scanner app to listen to railroads on my new Samsung S24? Hopefully not using too much storage, although I currently have plenty available.

Date: 04/30/24 19:13
Re: scanner app for Android
Author: radar

Keep in mind that a "scanner app" does not turn the phone into a scanner.  All it does is play web streams of selected radio channels.  Unless the railroad channel you want to listen to happens to be on a stream, you won't be able to hear it. 

Date: 05/04/24 07:00
Re: scanner app for Android
Author: WW

I consider scanner apps next to useless for railfanning.  First, they don't cover railroad radio in large swaths of the U.S., especially in rural areas.  Second, the listener has no control of what channels the scanner feed is monitoring.  Often, the scanner feed often monitors numerous channels of numerous railroads in an area.  So, if, for example, you are trying to monitor a Union Pacific mainline, you may be forced to monitor BNSF or other railroad radio channels in the area.  Scanner feeds also do not monitor the UHF train telemetry channels, which these days is often the only "warning" that you will get that there is a train in your vicinity.  Of course, if you are on a limited data plan on your phone, the scanner app is munching up data even when it is merely monitoring with no voice traffic.  Third, there are also numerous locales, especially in rural areas, where you may not have cell service.  No cell service, no scanner app.  One of the lesser mentioned "secrets" of railroad radio is that the railroad radio systems along the railroad lines are often the most robust radio communication systems in rural areas where those lines run.  One Class 1 railroad communications tech told me that the railroad's goal was to have a minimum of 80% coverage for portable radios communicating with remote bases or repeaters, and near 100% coverage for mobile radios communicating with remote bases or repeaters.  That is more robust than many public service agency radio systems.

Date: 05/04/24 19:15
Re: scanner app for Android
Author: DirtyShirt

I use the "Scanner Radio" app, by GordonEdwards.net LLC, for my Android phone to listen to railroad radio streams.  It accesses the railroad radio streams available on Broadcastify.com and Railroadradio.net.  It works well for me.

Date: 05/06/24 13:51
Re: scanner app for Android
Author: ironmtn

I understand and appreciate "WW's" thoughts on this question. But Broadcastify and other railroad radio feeds which can be accessed off a smartphone via the Web can in fact do the job. They are not always "next to useless".

I monitor several different ones on occasion when I am in their reception area in various Midwestern locales. Those sites monitor the correct frequencies, most with a good base station radio and high quality fixed antenna that has good range and reception qualities - at least as good as my Bearcat BC125AT portable radio and Laird Technologies A150 antenna and GB8BI magnet mount base. There is no reason for me when I am in those areas to monitor any other frequencies than the ones which the site monitors, so that is not a concern. And those areas have good cell phone service by my carrier, AT&T, and my mobile phone plan has a high enough data cap that using data to monitor is not an issue. The data use has usually turned out to be surprisingly small for several hours of use on my Android phone.

And since those areas are mainlines covered well by ATCS Monitor, and which is active for stations and control points nearby my usual railfanning locations, I use the visual display of ATCS Monitor for train locations. With that I generally have even better visibility to train movements (and at a greater distance) than by monitoring EOT chirps, which I usually do not do.

I'm sure there are circumstances where all of "WW's" comments apply. There are many areas not covered by any online monitoring resource. And I certainly have come across railroad radio monitoring sites that monitor frequencies I'm not interested in, or which monitor a puzzling mix of frequencies, or which don't have very good reception, for whatever reason. And ATCS Monitor is certainly not available everywhere, so EOT chirps can be useful for close train locations, as he states.

Bottom line: neither is a truly universal case. The streaming sites can be genuinely useful, and can work fine for your needs. Or they might only partially, or not at all. Probably the best policy is caveat emptor (let the user be aware). Take a hybrid approach, and go with the best option(s) depending on the situation. Either internet sites or pure radio can do the job depending on the circumstances. Go with what works best for the situation, and your needs at that time and in that location.


Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/06/24 19:57 by ironmtn.

Date: 05/07/24 05:33
Re: scanner app for Android
Author: WW

Admittedly, my railfanning is biased toward rural areas where internet railroad radio feeds are uncommon to nonexistent.  In areas where mountaintop railroad radio repeaters are common (the Rocky Mountain and West Coast states, for example), a well-located radio for an internet broadcast feed can cover a large area.  "Out on the flats", however, the only way to cover a lot of reception area is to have an antenna mounted high in the air--and the higher the better (like 100'-1,000 feet).   That is because the railroads use mostly remote bases rather than repeaters, and their coverage area is pretty small--about a 10-20 mile radius at most, at ground level.  Two or more radio conversations may be occurring on the channel concurrently, using two more remote bases that are separated by more than, say, 30 miles.  That high monitoring antenna may pick up both of them and the signals will "fight each other", resulting in garbled reception at the monitoring radio.  So, even a high-mounted antenna may not be ideal.

My bias against internet feeds goes to one basic principle:  I want to be able to decide what channels that I monitor at a given location for my specific purpose.  If you are using an internet feed, you are listening to what the designer of the feed has set the radio up to monitor.  One other note--something that didn't used to matter to me when railfanning: monitoring train telemetry on UHF.  Before PTC, there was a HUGE amount of Dispatcher-Train communication and a railfan could pretty much determine what was occurring on the railroad by monitoring the VHF radio channels.  Those days are pretty much over.  A lot of times, the "blurps" of the train telemetry devices on the UHF channels are the only notice that a railfan will get that there is a train nearby.  Internet feeds can't monitor that.  I live near a busy Class 1 mainline and monitor their radio communications almost continually.  Despite a couple of dozen trains running every day, I can go hours without hearing any voice communications on the VHF channels that will tell me that a train is approaching.  The only notice I often get are those UHF telemetry transmissions--and those are only audible from a train if it is relatively close by.

All of this lobbies for having good quality radio equipment.  My analogy is this:  if there are only going to be a few fish in the pond where you are fishing, you had better have the best equipment possible to catch a fish--otherwise you are going to come up empty-handed.

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