• Scanner advice?

  • Discussion related to railroad radio frequencies, railroad communication practices, equipment, and more.
Discussion related to railroad radio frequencies, railroad communication practices, equipment, and more.

Moderator: Aa3rt

  by MikeF
I've never used a scanner before but I am planning to purchase one soon. I'd like to try to be an educated consumer, so can anyone offer me some advice? Brands, specs, what should I look for? I'll be using it while I'm out photographing trains, so I need a handheld unit. I'd appreciate any tips I can get. Thanks!
  by jmp883

As an emergency services dispatcher, scanner buff, and railfan I hope I can help.

There are many brands of scanners on the market, but the 2 major brands are Uniden/Bearcat and Radio Shack. Uniden/Bearcat and Radio Shack are the easiest to find in most areas. Since you plan to use the radio while railfanning I suggest getting a handheld model. All scanners made today cover the railroad radio band (160-162 MHz). You will also find that most radios come with features that, initially anyway, you may not need, use, or understand. If you live in an area with a lot of local rail activity you may also want to consider a base model scanner for your home and/or a mobile unit for your car (providing scanner use in vehicles is legal in your state).

In regard to railroad frequencies, Kalmback Publishing publishes a softcover book 'Railroad Frequencies'. I don't see it listed on the Kalmbach website anymore, but it still may be available in hobby shops. If you can't find it, there are numerous websites where you can find railroad frequencies as well as at your local Radio Shack store.

In regard to scanner accessories, there is a lot out there. Some of it is useful, some not.

Try these links and happy listening!


Joe P

  by Paul Fafrak
I have been a scanner user for over 20 years. If you only want to monitor rail action, choose the least expensive scanner on sale at Radio Shack (don't ever buy one that is not on sale as they always have handheld scanners on sale, closeout, etc.). Make sure to get a set of rechargeable batteries and perhaps a crrying case to protect the scanner.
Paul F.

  by videobruce
DON'T buy the least expensive scanner especially from Rat Shack! Their low end wonders are just that, low end. I admit more $$ doesn't ALWAYS buy a better RECEIVER, though it buys more features which is what manufactures try to sell their products on.

Uniden unfortunately has the market cornered when they bought out Bearcat (now only a name). Them, and what Radio Shack sells, though half of those radios are stripped down Uniden models. The others being the better GRE units. If you want a RS sold scanner (notice the terminology) look for a GRE made unit. If you want a Uniden made radio, EVERYONE sells them. The other major player is AOR.

Sensisitivity isn't everything! Doesn't do much good if you can hear 30 miles, but are bombarded by intermod the other 90% of the time!

I would look thru some of the Scanner magazines and maybe Amateur Radio magazines for tests on scanners.

Try here for starters, but these are older tests:


  by MP297W
Another way to go is to possibly think about getting a Ham handheld radio instead of a regular scanner. Most are better performers as far as sensitivity and intermod rejection (pagers and other unwanted signals mixed with what you are trying to hear is intermod), and scan ok, but not as fast as a regular scanner...

If you are wanting to listen to police or any other 800, than I can recommend the Radio Shack Pro-95. It works well for train listenting.

  by Ken W2KB
One consideration of the ham radio route is how sensitive it is at 160MHz rail freqs. The rigs are aligned for best sensitivity on the 144-148 MHz ham band. Most are still good up into the 160 range, but it's wise to consult specs before buying for that purpose. I do have some RR freqs in both my handheld and mobile ham rigs and they do seem OK.

The advantages of the tighter image and overload rejection may offset the lower sensitivity in many locations.

  by MP297W
A couple of mobiles that I know work great for railband, from owning them, and friends having them are the Yaesu Ft2400, 2500, and 2600. The Icom IC2100 is the equal of those three, the 2000 is to be avoided, it has problems with intermod, and Icoms "fix" was to make it deaf as a rock. Some of the other Kenwood and Yaesu single band mobiles are ok, but some are pretty bad, a good antenna and it's intermod city.

Handhelds that work well are Icom's dualbanders 24AT, W2AT, and a feew others I cant remember, all were made in the early 90's, the later ones have dissapointed me. A couple of Kenwood 2 meter radios are ok, but Ive never seen a Kenwood, Yaesu, or Alinco dualband radio be worth anything, as far as railband listening goes.

No handheld I have ever tried has equaled my Icom 24AT on a good antenna on top of the car, no intermod, and great sensitivity. The only negative was the slow scan speed. I really regretted having to retire it.

  by Ken W2KB
I use the Icom 2720 in the Tahoe and it's fine. I have a Kenwood D700 but that is essentially dedicated to APRS and I've never tried it on railroad RX. The 2720 works fine on aircraft frequencies, too.

  by oldrails
Mike, for casual use, the Pro 82 is fine. I see it's on sale for 80 bucks as I write this.

I have not tested it on a large outdoor antenna to see how it handles interference from strong signals but it works fine for close in stuff with the antenna supplied and performs well using a mobile antenna as well.

With 200 channels it's more than you'll ever need but the price is right and for taking with you while out railfanning it will do the trick.

Works with AA batteries. Get rechargable ones and you'll be all set.

I use my ham equipment for most of my railroad listening and it's great but your application doesn't require that kind of money.

You are interested in hearing what's around you and the 82 will be find for that. Add an extendable antenna or a mobile antenna for better performance.

80 bucks well spent.