I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

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I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby WSH » Thu Mar 03, 2011 3:07 pm

I've had a hand held FM Tranciever for a while. I just recently got a list of frequencies that local railroads (CSX/NS) use. As soon as I get a new battery I'm eager to tune into the railroad frequencies. I have a few questions:

-What type of stuff would I expect to hear?
-How often would I expect to hear stuff, would it be directly related to current rail traffic or would I expect to hear stuff throughout the day.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby Gadfly » Sat Mar 05, 2011 7:41 pm

Whatever you do, do NOT be tempted to TRANSMIT on railroad frequencies. I am not assuming you would, but it would get you into bunch of doo doo! It is fine to listen, but transmitting on your handheld radio TO the trains is a major No no! Just friendly advice.

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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby Ken W2KB » Sun Mar 06, 2011 7:02 pm

To answer the question, generally transmissions relate to current rail traffic. So if there is train traffic throughout the day, radio traffic can be expected.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby WSH » Mon Mar 07, 2011 2:31 pm

Don't worry guys I'm new at this in terms of listening to railroad radio. I know enought about radio to know not to transmit!
I'm still not clear on what type of "transmissions related to current traffic" I would hear. Would they be relaying their current position? Is it all business or do the train crews use these frequencies to "shoot the breeze" too?

Two curious questions I've come up with:
-Has a train crew ever spied a scanner trackside and said "hey" to them?
-If there were a legit emergency (person/car on tracks) would it be acceptable to contact a train crew via radio?
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby JLJ061 » Mon Mar 07, 2011 4:52 pm

WSH wrote:Don't worry guys I'm new at this in terms of listening to railroad radio. I know enought about radio to know not to transmit!
I'm still not clear on what type of "transmissions related to current traffic" I would hear. Would they be relaying their current position? Is it all business or do the train crews use these frequencies to "shoot the breeze" too?

Two curious questions I've come up with:
-Has a train crew ever spied a scanner trackside and said "hey" to them?
-If there were a legit emergency (person/car on tracks) would it be acceptable to contact a train crew via radio?


To repeat what was said before, NEVER, EVER, NEVER transmit on a railroad radio, even if it is a legit emergency. While you may have good intentions, it still can come back to bite you in the rear, it's just not worth it. Better to call 911 and let the professionals who get paid to notify the railroad.

As far as other radio traffic you might hear, it depends on the railroad close to you....
Some railroads require train crews to call out signal indications on the air as they pass them.
If you are near a busy yard you can hear crews as they switch cars.
If you are near an automatic defect detector you can hear its announcement as a train passes over it.
You can also hear the railroad dispatcher communicate with its trains near your vicinity.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby 3rdrail » Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:10 pm

WSH wrote:If there were a legit emergency (person/car on tracks) would it be acceptable to contact a train crew via radio?


Ohoh, battle of the Joyce's comin' up ! I have to disagree with you there Jaime. This question is not a legal one. It is a moral one. In any life threatening situation, particularly if there is an almost certain way to avoid a death or injury and the action required does not in any way expose the "rescuer" to death or injury, it is a moral necessity to act. If WSH knows that his radio frequency would reach a locomotive which was about to strike a car or person (and not obviously in emergency), there would be no decision to be made. A situation like that requires action without regard for consequences-especially legal. I don't know this jurisdiction and I am not a lawyer, but there might even be a case, be it civil or criminal, where such a non-action might expose the individual to liability or criminal prosecution. (Interesting question - any lawyers want to chime in ?) Personally, my amateur armchair lawyer suspicion is that there would be no penalty, only praise, if it went down as hoped for. I can speak with authority that as depicted, I'd be amazed if local law enforcement made it an issue. If, on the other hand, the train was fifteen minutes away and the reporter was radioing a tower 1/2 mile away...different story. Use your cellphone. Don't take this personally WSH, but to be honest, the question does scare me a little bit as it suggests that perhaps such a scenario is anticipated with bated breath, sort of the fire buff who can't wait to pull the fire box alarm. If it ain't a clear cut case of life or death, you're going to be in serious gimsheen.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby EdM » Tue Mar 08, 2011 7:53 am

don't even think about xmtg.. Use celphone. Aside from the fact that is only semi-legal, you are treading on someone elses' turf Remember that no good deed goes unpunished.. If you stay on the scene you will probably get your radio confiscated and may get arrested..

Standing by tracks with camera now and then I get a short "toot"... lotsa fun
de k2lck..spinner of antennas,tall tales and some outright lies...
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby WSH » Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:04 am

Let me make this very clear. I have no intention, anticipation, etc. to transmit to a train crew. Never did. My question was just me being curious and wondering.

That being said, thanks for all the helpful advice guys. I have long been a photographer of trains and only recently have I put two and two together and realized that maybe I should bring along my radio (to listen).

I've very excited because I'm in Charleston WV and we do have a small CSX yard for the chemical plants close by and a fair amount of trains on the main line through town on a daily basis. I'm sure what I will hear probably won't be as exciting as I'm thinking it will be but either way it will help to increase my knowledge or how the train business works and I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully it will also help with my photography as now I pretty much just look for green lights and then wait trackside for something to show up. Maybe if I can listen on the radio I can get some better indication of where the trains are and what the wait time will be.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby EdM » Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:35 am

might want to listen to the nearest dragging equipment detectors, sometimes on someof them you even get train speed and most will give you the number of axles... ask locally for the frequencies, usually the local road freq..
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby justalurker66 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 6:27 am

WSH wrote:-If there were a legit emergency (person/car on tracks) would it be acceptable to contact a train crew via radio?

NEVER. Don't plan on it. Get it out of your mind. There is a number you should call: 9-1-1 (or the emergency number on the crossing gate).

I believe it was in Chicago where the police department got the bright idea to program railroad frequencies into their radios so they could directly contact trains. They were asked by the railroads not to do that. You're not licensed to transmit on those frequencies (violation of federal law). You have no clue how to address or what to say to the trains and your illegal communication is likely to take more time to get past the "who the hell is on our frequency" stage of the conversation than using 9-1-1 to properly report a problem. Get transmitting out of your mind. Please.

WSH wrote:-How often would I expect to hear stuff, would it be directly related to current rail traffic or would I expect to hear stuff throughout the day.

As note by others, expect communications directly related to current rail traffic. Don't expect a lot of breeze shooting. Think of the train radio as a professional conduit for communications. One level shy of being emergency communications only (although some railroads may be looser).

Depending on the road and the what the crew is doing you may hear communication between the conductor and engineer when switching cars. You may hear the conductor and the dispatcher exchanging instructions in precise detail. You may hear the engineer reporting location to the dispatcher. You may hear a crew call the dispatcher or railroad police to complain about trespassing. You may hear next to nothing - if nothing is going on. I listen to a railroad from home and I've heard all of the above.

You may also wish to check the laws of the state where you will be listening. Some places don't like radios capable of receiving police bands and officers don't always know the difference. Not to mention that it is one more red flag for the bulls that wonder why you want to listen. Especially if you have a radio that is or appears capable of broadcasting on their frequencies.

EdM wrote:Standing by tracks with camera now and then I get a short "toot"... lotsa fun

I'm still not used to that. Most of my photos are taken where trains are required to "toot" (grade crossings) but the sound still makes me jiggle the camera.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby JLJ061 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 2:49 pm

justalurker66 wrote:Don't expect a lot of breeze shooting. Think of the train radio as a professional conduit for communications. One level shy of being emergency communications only (although some railroads may be looser).


Back when I started monitoring a little over 20 years ago I used to hear a LOT of breeze shooting (mostly in the late hours) between Grand Trunk trains meeting each other. At times it would get very witty!

justalurker66 wrote:
EdM wrote:Standing by tracks with camera now and then I get a short "toot"... lotsa fun

I'm still not used to that. Most of my photos are taken where trains are required to "toot" (grade crossings) but the sound still makes me jiggle the camera.


Does anybody ever really get used to that? Most times it's expected but still catches ya off guard. lol
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby justalurker66 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 4:12 pm

JLJ061 wrote:Back when I started monitoring a little over 20 years ago I used to hear a LOT of breeze shooting (mostly in the late hours) between Grand Trunk trains meeting each other. At times it would get very witty!

I'm not saying one still won't get a laugh out of some of the radio communications. Hog heads and dispatchers are people too!
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby frank754 » Wed Mar 16, 2011 7:09 pm

It's a $10,000 fine per day if you are caught by the FCC. But in the event of an emergency to prevent death, they will allow for that. I'm an FCC licensed extra class radio amateur, and many of our radios will tune outside the bands we are permitted to transmit on, but they are "programmed" not to allow us to transmit out of band. On my 130-170 MHz radios, we can transmit on 144-148 only. I can listen to the police in the 150 area, but the radios won't transmit there due to programming. Of course, with the proper software, that can be changed to open up the entire range, but that's usually only provided to members of M.A.R.S. (military affiliate radio system). The same is true on all other bands. We'd lose our license if caught outside our band permissions, and are not even allowed to operate on the CB band (27 Mhz) with ham radios. Most dealers won't even sell radios capable of transmitting if you don't have a license, but if you find one on ebay or at a flea market "just don't do it": considering transmitting without a proper license for a particular frequency.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby Ken W2KB » Thu Mar 17, 2011 9:58 am

frank754 wrote:It's a $10,000 fine per day if you are caught by the FCC. But in the event of an emergency to prevent death, they will allow for that. I'm an FCC licensed extra class radio amateur, and many of our radios will tune outside the bands we are permitted to transmit on, but they are "programmed" not to allow us to transmit out of band. On my 130-170 MHz radios, we can transmit on 144-148 only. I can listen to the police in the 150 area, but the radios won't transmit there due to programming. Of course, with the proper software, that can be changed to open up the entire range, but that's usually only provided to members of M.A.R.S. (military affiliate radio system). The same is true on all other bands. We'd lose our license if caught outside our band permissions, and are not even allowed to operate on the CB band (27 Mhz) with ham radios. Most dealers won't even sell radios capable of transmitting if you don't have a license, but if you find one on ebay or at a flea market "just don't do it": considering transmitting without a proper license for a particular frequency.


The emergency exception for licensed amateur operators is the following FCC rule:
"§97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.-
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radio communication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available."

The above would allow a licensed amateur operator to transmit on any frequency for immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property -- but only when normal communications systems are not available. So if the danger is not "immediate" (and the meaning is subject to interpretation) and there is no normal means, such as calling the police, emergency railroad number, etc. available (again subject to interpretation as to what is meant by '"available'). So there is a risk of enforcement action and civil penalty for out of band transmissions, with the risk of interpretation by the FCC being part of the mix.
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Re: I'm New at This, What can I expect.......

Postby Ken W2KB » Thu Mar 17, 2011 10:13 am

EdM wrote:don't even think about xmtg.. Use celphone. Aside from the fact that is only semi-legal, you are treading on someone elses' turf Remember that no good deed goes unpunished.. If you stay on the scene you will probably get your radio confiscated and may get arrested..

Standing by tracks with camera now and then I get a short "toot"... lotsa fun


Neither the railroad nor the police have jurisdiction over radio transmissions. Such is exclusively under Federal Communication Commission jurisdiction (in the USA of course). So an "arrest" for the radio transmission as such would be illegal. There may be a state law along the lines of interfering with police business, transportation, etc. which would be under police jurisdiction but that is distinct from the radio transmission itself. So the act of interfering with operations (not radio interference, operating interference) is the proscribed conduct under state law, not the use of a radio transmitter. Radios are not contraband so they cannot be confiscated (like illegal drugs), but might be seized as evidence for the state interference law potential prosecution.

That said, the police would likely be within their jurisdiction to obtain identity information and possibly detain the individual for a reasonable time to contact a FCC hot line number to see if there was FCC interest in pursuing the matter. The FCC would likely be interested. Note that even the FCC is not authorized to arrest or prosecute for radio crimes. That duty resides with the US Marshall and the US Justice Department respectively. FCC staff would function as witnesses in any such prosecution.
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