Best antenna for railfanning in your opinion?

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Mprosser81996

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Hi railfans what's up? I am not as much of a amateur at using a scanner for railfanning like I used to but I have been railfanning the old fashioned way for a while. timetables, listening out for horns and keeping an eye out on signals or headlight to ideally know when a train would show up.

I bought the BC125AT a great scanner as recommended by the youtuber Distant Signal. I bought it since it can receive the EOT and HOT devices on the trains so if you are railfanning in dark territory I.E. in an area where they don't talk much on the radio, the EOT and HOT IIRC can be heard as far as 5 miles away or so. As soon as you hear it chirping, you know a train is nearby. Before I knew about the EOT and HOT frequencies I would listen for train crews "Toning" up dispatch, meaning you pick up the sound of them dialing in the channel followed by a tone meaning they have successfully changed channels and boy is it a sound I can listen to over and over.

The dark territory I'm talking about and not sure how many Wisconsin folks are on here, but I railfan a section of track at MP 190.27 on the UP Adams/Altoona Subdivision, the Former C&NW from Altoona to St Paul. MP 190.27 is two miles east of Necedah, a village town in Wisconsin. 10 miles east of that is Adams Yard where alot of the operations in that area start and end. But I digress, I know the channel they use out there, AAR 52, 160.890Mhz, It's both a road channel and dispatch channel for the Union Pacific trains that run on the route

And I was wondering if in your experience of railfanning, what antenna suits the hobby best?

I got 3 currently, the standard uniden rubber duck which we all know how mediocre it is, I also have the Diamond 77 which to alot of railfans say it picks up the railroad frequencies really well despite it being a general purpose antenna. I also bought a TW-999. It's a telescopic antenna and imo has done a great job with gain.


For an example, from where I was at home, I had the antenna that was 127cm in length fully extended. I am 2 miles away from my train station at MP 48.5. there's a detector at MP 44.6 in Grayslake on the CN Waukesha sub. I'm about a good 5-7 miles away from that detector and heard it almost clear. you heard some static but it was quite clear.

I haven't tested the TW999 bnc in Necedah yet, but the Diamond and rubber duck did okay but now it's the 999's time to shine.

I'm thinking about buying an antenna soon and I was wondering if you know some good antennas that are at least 18 inches or so that has a BNC male connector.

Thank you for your time and hopefully you enjoyed reading this.

For the railfans out there who are looking for some new fans out there. Allow me to give you some samples. Not trying to like grow my channel or anything like that but figured I'd show you who I am in terms of a railfan.

You also get to hear soundbytes of the scanner I have used previously, the BC75XLT



1st link, Reviewing it amateur.
2nd link Railfanning finally got to catch some railroad transmissions, hear the excitement I had
3rd link Railfanning in dark territory in Necedah with some scanner activity Union Pacific #5439 Necedah Wi
 

JoshuaHufford

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Are you in a vehicle while railfanning? If so your best bet is to install an NMO mount and get a dual band that will cover 160-162 and 450-460.

If you are out of the vehicle you probably won't do much better than the antennas you already have. Myself I use 2 radios, one in the vehicle with a rooftop antenna, then a handheld with this antenna for when I get out,


It is the best rubber duck style antenna that I've tried for the railband, and it actually does pretty well on the EOT and DPU stuff as well. However if my vehicle is nearby I usually roll down the windows and crank the volume on the radio inside because the rooftop antenna will always pick up more.
 

Mprosser81996

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Are you in a vehicle while railfanning? If so your best bet is to install an NMO mount and get a dual band that will cover 160-162 and 450-460.

If you are out of the vehicle you probably won't do much better than the antennas you already have. Myself I use 2 radios, one in the vehicle with a rooftop antenna, then a handheld with this antenna for when I get out,


It is the best rubber duck style antenna that I've tried for the railband, and it actually does pretty well on the EOT and DPU stuff as well. However if my vehicle is nearby I usually roll down the windows and crank the volume on the radio inside because the rooftop antenna will always pick up more.
I'm not in the car while railfanning, I do keep the scanner outside plugged into computer speakers so I could hear comms from inside my summer place or out on the property but away from the scanner. your suggestion for a antenna looks really nice, could you get an antenna like that off of Amazon or do you have to get the order it from the link you gave me.

As I said in my introduction I do know my uniden rubber duck is not pretty good, my diamond is okay but its not great. im testing the tw999 bnc to see if I can hear farther away since there were times where you hear dispatch but you never hear the other end of the communications because he was not in range of my reception.

I've thought about getting an NMO mount with a 1/4 wave or 5/8th wave antenna with a bnc connector to hear from ranges I never thought I hear from. but who knows how far that is.
 

JoshuaHufford

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I doubt the antenna I linked is going to do much better than what you have if any, but if you want to give it a try, the website is the only place I know to order.

I'm a bit confused as to where you railfan. Is it always in the same place?

Another option is to install a base antenna at your home and do your own online feed. A good base antenna high up in the air is going to cover a lot of range. Then you just listen with your cell phone/tablet whatever, as long as you have cell data.
 

Mprosser81996

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I doubt the antenna I linked is going to do much better than what you have if any, but if you want to give it a try, the website is the only place I know to order.

I'm a bit confused as to where you railfan. Is it always in the same place?

Another option is to install a base antenna at your home and do your own online feed. A good base antenna high up in the air is going to cover a lot of range. Then you just listen with your cell phone/tablet whatever, as long as you have cell data.
About where I railfan? In Necedah Wi or Round Lake Beach in IL.

Necedah is dark territory There were times you did not hear a train crew or dispatch for 4-6 hrs, Round Lake Beach, is a busy stretch of track. you'll always hear comms every half an hour or so.

Here's some links I hope this helps you have an idea of where I am. Necedah Wi on the UP Adams sub, and Round Lake Beach on the CN Waukesha sub.

UP Adams Sub > RAILROAD OPERATING INFORMATION

CN Waukesha Sub > RAILROAD OPERATING INFORMATION
 

JoshuaHufford

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No, I'm just trying to understand how you do it.

Are you always on foot? Do you drive somewhere then park and walk?

Need more info to help you more.
 

W5lz

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Very basically, if an antenna is resonant (or close) to the frequencies you want to hear, then it will be better than one that isn't resonant (the right length). The next best thing is to get that antenna as high as is possible. More higher is more better. How about feed line? Unless the length of that feed line is really long, the losses are not that big-a-deal. There will be losses no matter what feed line you use. How long is long? I figure it's getting long when you get to something like 100 feet, give or take. If you are talking about UHF then 'long' is shorter than that. And when it starts looking like hard-line is called for, and if you aren't doing this professionally, then you need to re-think the thing. At least to me, $3 - 4 dollars per foot just ain't worth the effort, you know?
 

wcsd45

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I do a lot of railfan listening. I use the following:
Handheld BC125AT, I also rise in support of the Smiley Slim Duck noted earlier.
In the car, Yaesu FTM400 or VX-8R (love the channel tagging) or Uniden BC125AT, I use roof mounted Comet CA-2X4SR antenna, CP-5NMO mount: railfan, airband, scan, amateur 2M plus
At home, I use Comet DS-150S antenna: railfan, airband, scan, amateur 2M plus fed with LMR-400UF coax in attic due to HOA

Overall not perfect, but very happy. Good luck.
 

mrkelso

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I live 60 yards from a very busy Railroad crossing. Many days the train blocks access to the batting cages we have here in Bogota NJ. I hear all sorts of traffic from crews, engineers switch men all sort of automated voices detailing "No Defects" Axels and a whole host of stuff. Some days its none stop. all i am using for all this action is the SDS100 and one of these Strung across a couple of windows something i had laying around in my junk box from my old car scanning days. Works like a charm for me.
 

W5lz

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Almost any antenna will hear at least some of the signals you want to hear. The closer that antenna is to being resonant on some particular frequency in use near/around you, the better you will hear stuff. Height is might! Meaning if it's high enough it'll hear stuff in a reasonable distance from you. What's a reasonable distance? Good grief Charley Brown, how would I know? I used to work near a RR depot. I could hear almost everything the depot. could hear with an 80 meter dipole. Not the best 'hearing' in the world but I'll bet it was at least the same as that depot. heard. My dipole was no where near as high as their antenna so you have to take that into consideration. The RR's communications were not exactly all that interesting to me. so I didn't pay any attention to it. But if I wanted to I certainly could
 

JoshuaHufford

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One thing I forgot to mention, the high gain Smiley antenna that I linked is much more sensitive to it's positioning than other rubber duck style antennas. In other words, if you keep the scanner in your pocket and you can't keep the scanner antenna straight up and down, then a lower gain antenna might be a better choice.

As an example, a friend of mine and myself have the exact same handheld scanner, BC75XLT, he has a shorter lower gain antenna on his. If both of our scanners are sitting side by side with the antenna straight up and down, mine will pick up signals that his will miss. However, once we had them mounted on the back glass of his camper shell, both were about at a 70 degree angle, and his was picking up stuff mine was not. So there is no perfect antenna for every situation, there is always a compromise.
 

N4DJC

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Does anyone use the Smiley Slim duck SMA on a BCD436HP?
 

mrkelso

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Almost any antenna will hear at least some of the signals you want to hear. The closer that antenna is to being resonant on some particular frequency in use near/around you, the better you will hear stuff. Height is might! Meaning if it's high enough it'll hear stuff in a reasonable distance from you. What's a reasonable distance? Good grief Charley Brown, how would I know? I used to work near a RR depot. I could hear almost everything the depot. could hear with an 80 meter dipole. Not the best 'hearing' in the world but I'll bet it was at least the same as that depot. heard. My dipole was no where near as high as their antenna so you have to take that into consideration. The RR's communications were not exactly all that interesting to me. so I didn't pay any attention to it. But if I wanted to I certainly could
From what i can Tell i am hearing stuff pretty good from approx 60 or so miles away in my state and some traffic out of NY but not sure on the distances.
 

wa8pyr

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And I was wondering if in your experience of railfanning, what antenna suits the hobby best?

I got 3 currently, the standard uniden rubber duck which we all know how mediocre it is, I also have the Diamond 77 which to alot of railfans say it picks up the railroad frequencies really well despite it being a general purpose antenna. I also bought a TW-999. It's a telescopic antenna and imo has done a great job with gain.

I'm thinking about buying an antenna soon and I was wondering if you know some good antennas that are at least 18 inches or so that has a BNC male connector.
The Smiley 5/8 Slim Duck 160 MHz antenna beats them all for rail monitoring, hands down. It's specifically made for the railroad band. I've been using them for years.


One of the advantages of the Smiley line is that you can specify the base; they offer BNC, PL-259, SMA Female, SMA Female (Motorola), SMA Female (Vertex), SMA Male, TNC and even the Motorola MX. It unscrews from the antenna so you can even keep additional bases for different radios on hand.

Even though I have scads of other radios (including an Icom railroad radio and a Motorola XTS5000), I wanted to update the no-frills scanner I use for general rail monitoring, so I bought a BC125AT (small world, also bought mine after I saw the review from Danny Harmon "Distant Signal" on Youtube), and the Smiley 5/8 slim duck works like a champ on it. Even works very well for the End-of-Train devices.

I have several of the 5/8 Slim Duck 160 antennas, one of them on my Icom railroad radio, where it makes an excellent radio even better, and another parked on the BC125AT. Not sure which radio the third one is sitting on right now, but I bought it new back in the early 1990s and it still works great. The XTS5000 has a 5/8 Slim Duck for the 2m ham band on it since I use the 5000 for ham radio stuff in addition to rail monitoring.

I picked up a couple of used Smiley antennas recently which (based on an SWR sweep) appear to be cut for the aviation band, but they also perform very well on the railroad band, as does the 2m ham version on the XTS5000.

I also have the Diamond RH77 Danny Harmon recommends (had one for years), but it's a bit too tall and floppy for the 125AT to suit me; the Smiley is shorter and works better, in my opinion.

You can't go wrong for rail monitoring with the Smiley 5/8 Slim Duck 160 MHz antenna.

Does anyone use the Smiley Slim duck SMA on a BCD436HP?
No, but I'll have to try it. Pretty sure I have a spare SMA base lying around somewhere.
 

N4DJC

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@wa8pyr

My 436 is pretty deaf on analog, even with the Diamond SRH77CA, a 25 year old BC80XLT out preforms it.

My Icom R30 is very good and offers a lot of options, dual band scan, record, etc. I use it on multiple bands and modes. It works pretty well with the factory whip.

I may try a BC125AT for railband. Its got a hot receiver, easy to read display, and is very light.
 
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wa8pyr

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@wa8pyr

My 436 is pretty deaf on analog, even with the Diamond SRH77CA, a 25 year old BC80XLT out preforms it.

My Icom R30 is very good and offers a lot of options, dual band scan, record, etc. I use it on multiple bands and modes. It works pretty well with the factory whip.

I may try a BC125AT for railband. Its got a hot receiver, easy to read display, and is very light.
My 436 is pretty good on VHF/UHF (better than my SDS100 which actually isn't too bad). I'll have to give the Smiley antenna a try; it definitely perked things up a bit on the SDS100.

Glad to see your comments about the R30; I just bought one to use as a "super duper portable everything but trunking and DMR radio." The SDS100 and TRX-1 aren't bad on NXDN (especially the TRX-1) but the convolutions I had to go through to get it to work right are annoying; I just wanted a good quality catch-all radio that was comparatively easy to use and had channels in banks like the days of old. All the digital modes and 100 kHz to 3.3 GHz coverage are the icing on the cake.

The BC125AT works great for general rail scanning. In addition to the alpha tags (which my old Pro83 didn't have) I've got mine set up so it matches the AAR channel numbers; hit "HOLD 0 9 4 (enter)" and it goes to AAR 094, etc etc. I've been very pleased with the radio, and it was a bargain at $85 (new) on Amazon. A friend was so impressed he bought one too.
 

N4DJC

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@wa8pyr

Yeah I saw it for $85 and didn't pull the trigger. My only concern is the keypad, I read the numbers wear off pretty quickly and replacements are sold out. But I only have passing experience with one. I had one for a few days and realized that I a trunking scanner was needed for my local public service agencies.
 

N4DJC

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@wa8pyr

I like the architecture of the R30 memory system, simple but does offer some nice options. It’s expensive, but makes sense if a person is interested in listening to multiple modes and bands (outside trunking and DMR). I’ve still got a lot to learn, but it’s a pretty amazing handheld.
 

wa8pyr

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@wa8pyr

Yeah I saw it for $85 and didn't pull the trigger. My only concern is the keypad, I read the numbers wear off pretty quickly and replacements are sold out. But I only have passing experience with one. I had one for a few days and realized that I a trunking scanner was needed for my local public service agencies.
I read about a neat solution for that in an AR8000 group... just use the protective spray used by scrapbookers; a few light applications apparently does the trick.
 
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