• Scanners-what do you use when railfanning?

  • 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

  • 117 posts
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  by jmp883
Trackside I use a Sony Wavehawk handheld. In the car I have a Bearcat BC-780. In the house I have a listening post comprised of another BC-780, 2 BC-895's, and a BC-890 that are run through an antenna amplifier to a roof-mounted antenna. All of the radios are programmed identically and cover emergency services, railroads, and aviation.

The railroad programming scans all 4 former Conrail frequencies, the NYS&W Southern Division, the NJT Hoboken Division, and the E.O.T. frequency.

Joe P
Emergency Services Dispatcher
Railfan (EL Forever)

  by MBTA F40PH-2C 1050
i am using a Radio Shack Pro 95 1000-Channel Dual-Trunking Handheld Scanner.

i can pick 30 + miles with my scanner
Last edited by MBTA F40PH-2C 1050 on Mon Mar 29, 2004 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

  by brunswickrailfan
Beat-up-like-it-fell-off-of-a-car-at-sixty-while-entering-a-freeway Uniden SC180B bought used but still pulls in from 30 miles away! (oh, wait...that happened!)

I use a "chopped" Radio Shack MagMount Antenna than cost $30 for da car. As fro portable, I use a Diamond RH-205 144Mhz telescopic antanna (collapse the top 2.5 sections to get 160-161MHz)

  by MC8000
I use a Icom 2100 H with a 5/8 wave Cushcraft antenna on my pickup. The 2100H is a straight 2 meter ham rig (144-148 Mhz) that also receives the VHF high band that the railroads operate on. I also carry a Vertex VX 150 ( 2 meter ham+)for use as a hand held while I'm away from the vehicle. I use the out of the box antenna from Vertex since it is quite adequate and also very durable. In general, ham radios are the way to go as the typical receive everything scanner is too broad banded for the railroads, causing many of the weaker transmissions to be missed.

  by bnsfmn933
I use a Pro 82 I just picked up for 80 bucks and it works great for rail fanning.I also use a Pro-94 but not as often as it has to many priority channels and get's me confused at times :(

  by Engineer
Before I worked for the RR, I had(and still do) a Motorola 16ch MT1000. Now I also have my HT1000, but it doesn't compare to the MT1000 as far as RX goes. I also have a Sony ICF-SC1, Icom R2, and a Uniden BC250D w/ card.

  by BN7151
I also use the Pro-79 from RadioShack. Best scanner I've ever owned. I can pick up almost anything within 50 miles (although not always clearly) with the extended-range antenna I recently bought.
Although Chicago Metra has issued Nextel cellphones also, on the BN, the road channel 161.100 is the only way to talk to the BN dispatcher, so I get a good mix of freight, Amtrak, and commuter.

  by MP297W
videobruce wrote:I swear bt my Regency HX-1000 that is almost 20 years old.
Doesn't have all the bells and whistles that new ones have (nor the problems), but it will blow away any other scanner around because it is more narrow band that all these dc to light toys Uniden (and others) has dumped upon us.

I have tried scanners that you couldn't use because of the 'intermod' problem where the HX-1000 shined. Not to say it is immune, but very little gets through compared to most!

Too bad Bearcat and Regency had to sucumb to Uniden!
I loved my HX1000! It was the best Railband radio I had ever used until I got my Icom 24AT handheld, and it blew it away. I used it for 10 years until it got senile from old age, and I use a Pro-93 for handheld use, but most of the time I use an ICOM IC2001 Ham mobile with a largish dual band "through the glass" antenna. I got tired of the problems I had going into the garage and stopped using the Larson 2 Meter antenna, even though it worked a little (not a lot) better than the antenna I am using now.

  by videobruce
With it being a wide band receiver, just how does it "blow it away"?

  by MP297W
There was no contest, the 24AT was better in everyway than the Hx1000 or Hx1200 I had later, except for the slow scanning speed. It had great RF performance everywhere except from the bottom of the aircraft band to about 135 mhz.

The main drawbacks were very unuserfriendly operation, a really lousy manual, and poor audio. One huge positive though, on a big battery, it would run over 24 hours straight. The drop in charger was nice too.

  by oldrails
I am in N. East Massachusetts and primarily listen to Guilford. They use remote bases on top of mountains, they're relatively easy to pick up but the trains are not, unless you're close.

In the house I use an IC-706 MKII with the preamp and a home made antenna up in the tree for 160 mHz and it is excellent. In the car I use an Icom 208h which is also very good, the antenna is a dual band vhf/uhf.

This equipment runs circles around scanners as would be expected and makes for some enjoyable listening. I just wish the railroad would use PL so I don't have to listen to computer interference when I drive by a bank.

A friend of mine uses a Radio Shack Pro-82 handheld. It's 200 channels and with an external antenna on the car it works reasonably well. It was $99 on sale and I think she got her money's worth.

I've had it in the car with an external antenna, not as good as the 208h, but not bad either. Just get an external antenna.

Someone in this forum mentioned a two meter extendable for portable use. Those antennas are excellent and provide quite a bit of gain over the duck. Just don't extend it fully for 160 mHz use. I am not overly impressed with the radio shack extendable antenna for handhelds. It uses a trap and is only an electrical quarterwave, which really should have a ground plane underneath it.

The two meter half wave antennas need no groundplane.

For the car, a half wave or 5/8 wave tuned for 160 mHz would work quite well.

Good luck.


  by w2dsx
Hello David, and welcome...

What a trunk scanner is one that follows various government agencies and businesses on a "trunked system", which in short makes use of a few frequencies by many users. If all you want to do is casual monitoring of railroad operations, then you do NOT need a trunk scanner.

Look around besides Radio Shack, and don't spend alot of money. You want a handheld scanner (something like a handy-talkie) that monitors 160-161 MHz in the FM mode. That's it. You should be able to dig one up for less than a $100 that can continuously tune that frequency (as opposed to a radio with a few channels). Marine frequencies are just below that and aviation freqs are AM mode 118 - 136 MHz. Ask around other lists for someone looking to part with a used one. It should have a good battery (or take regular batteries), a charger and an antenna. A car power cord is handy, as is a magnetic mount antenna with coaxial cable to connect to your radio.

I have an Icom radio that is the size of a pack of cigarettes, tunes 30-1300 MHz and takes AA batteries. It wasn't much and works great for me. You can program your favorite frequencies and it will scan for them. A place to look for frequencies is www.fordyce.org and click on the CT tab.

A word to the wise - some states it is not permissible to monitor communications and you can get your chops busted by the police. This is true in this day and age, and if they see a railfan with a scanner near a crossing, they can give you hell for it even if you're on public property. While this may seem harsh and big brotherish, they can do it LEGALLY. The one exception is if you hold a ham radio license (at least in NY) and if you want more info look at www.arrl.org - one of the folks that work for the ARRL is a regular on the NHRHTA list, so ask there...

Best regards and good luck,
Jim (former NHRHTA'er)

  by kr4bd

Buying a scanner used to be a piece-of-cake! Today, many agencies are converting to digital modulation as opposed to the age-old and familiar analog FM (Frequency Modulation). Within 10 years, the FCC wants everything converted to digital to conserve spectrum space. There are now scanners that will decode digital modulation (very expensive, right now!) as well as analog reception. In some major cities (Philadelphia, for instance), most public service communications has gone "digital" and you won't hear them on a conventional scanner. Don't necessarily disregard a trunked scanner because many agencies are converting to trunked systems (analog and digital) which means many agencies share a specified number of assigned frequencies. In my area, our fire department joined a trunked system a few years ago which is shared with many other government agencies. If I want to hear the fire department, I have to have a trunking type scanner to follow the traffic. All trunking scanners (whether analog or digital) will also scan conventional signals, which is what most railroads are still using. However, some railroads (CSX and NS to name two) have begun applying for trunked systems in some areas. They have licenses to do this in my area, buy I don't think they are using them yet. Analog Trunking scanners have become very reasonably priced in recent months, so take a second look at them if the price is right. They will work on railroad frequencies. Radio Shack frequently puts one of their models on sale for a greatly reduced price ($100-200).

I have several scanners that I use in my ham radio hobby as well as for railroad and general listening. I have been happy with my Radio Shack scanners which are all trunking types (Pro-92, Pro-94, Pro-2050 & Pro-2052). The first two are handhelds while the others are desktop type scanners. All work well with the 160-161 rail frequencies. I also have an older Uniden (Model BC-200) which is strictly a conventional scanner that works well on rail monitoring. I have some of these radios in my cars, but you better be careful as scanners are forbidden by law in some states unless you are a licensed amateur (ham--not CB) operator, news reporter or law enforcement official. Check your state laws on this for details on this.

When I got my first scanner 33 years ago, all one had to do was find out what frequencies you needed; order some crystals and just plug them in. I still have that old scanner and it still works (A Regency TMR-8H).

Hope I haven't confused the issue too much.

  by Stevescan
I use my PRO-95 Radio Shack when traveling around the Valley. Normally Lehigh Line dispatcher comes in pretty clear!! Plus the ALPA Tag helps you remember what channel is what.. Always get Ch.1 & Ch.3 mixed up anyway I also have a BC890xlt base with outdoor antenna at a high spot so most of the trains come in real clear espically Mile post 18.8 detector.

I live North of Fogeslville so with the high point Chapmans comes in clear too. Even Blue Mountain & Readin 160.770R.


  by ATF1224
I use a Motorola GP68, a good scanning radio although it only supports 20 channels...
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