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 Post subject: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2020 10:37 pm 

Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2012 11:22 pm
Posts: 66
Location: York, PA
All,

I understand that AAR serves as the frequency coordinator for narrowband channels. But when is the next standard coming and will it require upgrading to different radios at that point? I"m hearing everything must be all digital by 2025? What about those little tourist lines using radios?


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2020 11:40 pm 

Joined: Thu Aug 05, 2010 2:06 am
Posts: 229
The AAR is the frequency coordinator (traffic cop) but it is the FCC that is the regulator (lawmaker). To legally keep using radios you must keep doing what the FCC says when they say it. When will the next changes occur and what will they be? That, my friend, is up to a government agency................mld


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 7:51 am 

Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 1:37 pm
Posts: 1359
What has happened over the years, as more channels have become necessary and 'default' radio quality has increased, is that the bandwidth allocation per channel has become narrower and narrower. Up to 2013 the old analog FM bandwidth per channel (15kHz) was reduced to 'narrowband' 7.5kHz (two channels neatly fitting into the structure for one, assuming guardbands are reserved), and you're supposed to use an 'oh' or 'zero' before reading the channel number to confirm you understand this -- but I think few railroad people bother with that convention.

In the transition to digital mandated in 2013, AAR adopted very specific digital protocol and channel spacing; see for example here:

https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?aid=7747
https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?aid=1555

If I were adopting equipment 'from scratch' I'd buy digital equipment using the NXDN-VN format.

https://www.rrmediagroup.com/News/NewsDetails/NewsID/15362

That should be as reasonably 'future-proof' at reasonable expense as any current operator would need. I would note, however, that NXDN is now standardized around 6.25kHz and not "7.5" as the AAR adopted earlier; this is why channels 307-497 are reserved at the tighter new spacing. For operation 'outside the general system of transportation' I'd go directly to commercial equipment with 6.25kHz NXDN channel allocation... and perhaps adopt the higher-numbered channels in operation.

I do not think it is either cost-effective or user-supportable (at least at present) to adopt SDR (as used in PTC enablement) for digital narrowband communication, although that may in the indefinite future become more practical and even, ultimately, cost-effective and understood.

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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 8:09 am 

Joined: Thu May 24, 2012 1:37 pm
Posts: 1359
What has happened over the years, as more channels have become necessary and 'default' radio quality has increased, is that the bandwidth allocation per channel has become narrower and narrower. Up to 2013 the old analog FM bandwidth per channel (15kHz) was reduced to 'narrowband' 7.5kHz (two channels neatly fitting into the structure for one, assuming guardbands are reserved), and you're supposed to use an 'oh' or 'zero' before reading the channel number to confirm you understand this -- but I think few railroad people bother with that convention.

In the transition to digital mandated in 2013, AAR adopted very specific digital protocol and channel spacing; see for example here:

https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?aid=7747
https://www.radioreference.com/apps/db/?aid=1555

If I were adopting equipment 'from scratch' I'd buy digital equipment using the NXDN-VN format.

https://www.rrmediagroup.com/News/NewsDetails/NewsID/15362

That should be as reasonably 'future-proof' at reasonable expense as any current operator would need. I would note, however, that NXDN is now standardized around 6.25kHz and not "7.5" as the AAR adopted earlier; this is why channels 307-497 are reserved at the tighter new spacing. For operation 'outside the general system of transportation' I'd go directly to commercial equipment with 6.25kHz NXDN channel allocation... and adopt the higher-numbered channels in operation.

I do not think it is either cost-effective or user-supportable (at least at present) to adopt SDR (as used in PTC enablement) for digital narrowband communication, although that may in the indefinite future become more practical and even, ultimately, cost-effective and understood for private organizations.[/quote]

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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 1:12 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:05 pm
Posts: 880
Location: MA
dwa2503107 wrote:
All,

I understand that AAR serves as the frequency coordinator for narrowband channels. But when is the next standard coming and will it require upgrading to different radios at that point? I"m hearing everything must be all digital by 2025? What about those little tourist lines using radios?

Hopefully the Chinese come up with something. I really hope this does not affect MURS, as better the great Radio Service for small "railroad yard museums" and larger organizations that need communication between car host without intrupting train operations.


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 1:20 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:48 am
Posts: 363
Location: Clayton NC
Depending how small you are, perhaps you aren't connected to the general system, maybe you don't need to use AAR frequencies. The museum I was with uses a UHF commercial band. Still needs an FCC license, but your radio dealer can help you with that.

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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 3:35 pm 
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Posts: 880
Location: MA
Evan wrote:
Depending how small you are, perhaps you aren't connected to the general system, maybe you don't need to use AAR frequencies. The museum I was with uses a UHF commercial band. Still needs an FCC license, but your radio dealer can help you with that.

Why not just GMRS/FRS? We were useing that for awhile at our museume but would get other users on the channeled every so often since we were not useing CTCSS or DTS. We have now switched over to MURS which has worked much better.


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 7:14 pm 

Joined: Sat Oct 17, 2015 5:55 pm
Posts: 1212
SP 9010/ Niles Canyon Ry. wanted to put an original Motorola radio similar to the radio it used in the 1960s in the cab, but when the rules changed in 2013 they had to retrofit it by hiding a newer radio in the case and rewiring the controls: http://sp9010.ncry.org/electrical1.htm It looks like they will need to redo it again by 2025. A lot of this can be traced to cell phone companies wanting more of the radio band, even emergency services such as fire departments are being squeezed out.


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2020 7:29 pm 

Joined: Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:29 pm
Posts: 1463
Location: Youngstown, OH
Personally I think the days of scratchy limited range radios should be over and replaced with technology such as push to talk cell phones.

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J&L Narrow Gauge Railroad
"The shortest and narrowest Railroad in Ohio"


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 1:29 am 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9736
Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
This is my recommendation:

If you are doing anything more than a small property where everything is in sight, like running excursions, find a commercial/industrial radio supplier in your area, discuss your specific needs with them, and take the solution(s) they propose. Even if it costs more.

Reasons:

1) they're pros. You are paying them in part to know the laws, know radio transmissions equipment, and know what works and what doesn't. They would know right off the bat what is legal and what isn't (you can't use FRS "talkabouts" for commercial use, and even if your organization is a non-profit that doesn't wash, as one big expo found out the hard way).

2) They will know the equipment, and most likely they're selling you stuff guaranteed to survive the occasional drop, fall, or misuse. The old Motorolas were universally called "bricks" for a reason--and not just the weight.
I know of one NRHS Chapter that had purchased a fleet of Motorola bricks for mainline excursions, back when they could run them. That fleet ended up at a trolley museum when the mainline excursions became impossible, and as I understand it some of those are still in service decades later, albeit with some maintenance/upgrades from the Motorola dealer.

3) They know the technology and standards, kind of like how a lot of us would be dealing with steam technology and scratching our heads trying to update the firmware in a modern AC diesel-electric.

Back in my old neck of the woods, CEI was the king of the hill:
https://ceiwireless.com/

From what I was told, CEI has done everything from selling a pack of four rechargeable "walkie-talkies" to renting 500 "bricks" plus ten base stations and a repeater to the largest conventions in the city. You can get whatever you want--lease, lease-to-purchase, long-term maintenance contracts, whatever.
A close friend and I took up the radio duties for one of those conventions after they almost self-imploded one year trying to use FRS talkabouts. The place was too big, the range too small, and the signals blocked every which way. We and CEI set up a six-channel radio network with a repeater nestled in a remote office to cover the entire downtown area around the convention center, with 400 HTs and eight base stations, and part of my job was monitoring the convention for dead spots and missed transmissions by roving about with a scanner and high-quality studio headphones. This made a night-and-day difference in communications and security, and helped allow said convention to expand exponentially.

You will pay. But what you get (assuming you've chosen the right company and products) will last for ages, and work. (If it doesn't, get a refund.)


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 2:38 am 

Joined: Wed Jul 26, 2017 4:24 pm
Posts: 36
Mr. Mitchell makes an excellent point.

Licensing is key, reliability, mission critical, interoperability and cost.

So consider do you really and I mean really need to communicate with infrastructure or crews on a common carrier? If so how often, larger regionals like the G&W are using MotoTRBO and not NXDN on there network. Do you need infrastructure, how large is your line, can you just do engine radio to base, need a repeater or remote DTMF consoles? DTMF crossings or switches?
How many subscribers, who needs one, will you allow personally owned radios.

Do you have cell coverage on your line can you use PTT over cellular? This is a cheaper option and can just be using a free app on people's phones.

I'm a former class 1 Senior Engineer, Communications Dept employee, now working for the world's largest Land Mobile Radio company. I have advised several groups in radios.


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 10:39 am 

Joined: Thu Aug 26, 2004 4:59 pm
Posts: 349
Location: western Maryland
My short line has used the Motorola Mag 1 handheld since day one.

When the new digital narrowband standard was implemented, i shipped our Mag 1s to the dealer, who upgraded them and sent them back.

Same with the locomotive cab radios: my Motorola Spectras were upgraded.

I do not know how the new rules coming will affect us, but I would bet money that my Motorola guy knows what I'm going to need.

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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 12:19 pm 

Joined: Mon Aug 23, 2004 9:48 am
Posts: 363
Location: Clayton NC
Further echoing Mr. Mitchell, having support you can rely on for something as important as the radios will save you in the long run, if not cost, minimizing down time and hassle. The UHF commercial band radios I mentioned earlier were purchased from a local Motorola dealer. When the narrow band requirement came out, we took all the radios to the dealer and they did the firmware update for free. I guess we were lucky in that all our radios, even some several years old at the time, supported the narrow band change. And I can vouch for the durability of the Motorola handy-talkies. Pretty much every radio has had its antennas and belt clips replaced more than once, but the radio itself endures.

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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 2:31 pm 

Joined: Sun Aug 22, 2004 1:51 pm
Posts: 9736
Location: Somewhere east of Prescott, AZ along the old Santa Fe "Prescott & Eastern"
One other point someone made to me off-channel:

Trying to run things with a "toy-like" radio like a FRS "talkabout" or pocket programmable HT (handheld transciever, a.k.a. two-way radio), such as the cheapo Baofengs or better Yaesus, no matter how good the technology may actually be, runs into the problem that untrained users tend to regard the radios in question as just that: "Cheap toys."

The substantial heft and bulk and "bullet-proof" cases of the Motorolas and other such industrial grade products psychologically forces people to think of them as "valuable" not just in cost but in duty. I saw this repeatedly during the conventions I worked with in Baltimore--inexperienced radio users on our staff felt compelled to treat them more seriously, and they added an air of professionalism to their duty. Further, your "customers" or patrons or whoever needs your help tends to take you more seriously when you're using a leather-cased "brick" than a tiny HT, again no matter how much better the tech may actually be in the HT.

CEI reported to us that we had an unparalleled track record with the massive radio rentals, one of the largest they dealt with annually. For all the years I worked with them, we had every last "brick" radio returned to them out of hundreds, no loss or damage (I even repaired one antenna mount during the gig with my tool kit--and, yes, I did even have one shipped express back to us from someone's suitcase when they got home!). They said they had instances where they rented as few as ten "bricks" to a customer and one was lost, and the sticker shock of the replacement is a sight to see.


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 Post subject: Re: Two Way Radios for Small Railroads
PostPosted: Wed Oct 14, 2020 4:27 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 24, 2008 9:05 pm
Posts: 880
Location: MA
All right how many of you guys giving advice are actually licensed radio operators? Paying somebody hundreds or thousands of dollars for radios for your small railroad if it's all line of sight is a really stupid idea. There are channels on FRS gmrs that you can use for commercial operation what would be a better thing would just to get MURS radios for $25 a pop.

-KC1ICC


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