using a complex trunking scanner with the simple railroad frequencies..
I am new to using a scanner and received a Radio Shack 20-164 for Christmas. I have used my Marine Band VHF radio for many years while commercially delivering vessels, but it now seems very simple compared to this new scanner with all its programmable variables. All the new terms and abbreviations (CTCSS, DCS, EDACS, LTR and on and on) are making my head spin. I am hoping to use the scanner to monitor BNSF transmissions on the Stampede Pass sub this summer. Is there a good Internet link or book that will start with very simple explanations and lead me into being able to use this new complex scanner? I've been reading "Scanner Master's" easier to read Pro 164/163 scanner manual, but it has not helped much as it assumes you already know most of the terms. Any help in finding an intro to scanning source will be greatly appreciated.
USCG Licensed Marine Officer
Northern Pacific RR fan
Fortunately the railroads use simple technologies, and ALL of the fancy options you mentioned the RRs don't use. They are used by Public Safety radio, and HAM operators, mainly. It's quite straight forward actually. You should just program in all AAR frequencies, and a select few marine channels, for draw bridges and such. And all of the fancy options you won't use at all. It's called Simplex (with the ability for Duplex, but most of the RR are not using that, and none in the PNW).. the technical name for how the RRs use their allocated frequencies. I'm a railnut first, and only know some of the radio stuff you mentioned out of my tinker curiosity.
I would recommend one of two things: don't get a trunking scanner (like the one you have) or ignore all the advanced features of it, and just program all (now) nearly 200 AAR channels in on narrow band frequencies (see the 12.5khz thing, below).. Aka.. here is the best 'guide' I've found for the data you want to program in, and should support any upcoming changes the RRs MAY roll out:
DPD Productions - Railroad Frequencies: New 12.5 kHz / 6.25 kHz AAR Radio Plan
(use the 12.5k column.. that is what will be soon mandated by the FCC.. in the scanner there is a setting for channel spacing/frequency separation.. which translates into a spacing of 7.5khz, and is the value (7.5khz) you want to program into the scanner.. plus use the delay option, as you please, and the ID TAG (alpha numeric tag.. I use something like 'AAR #66').. but all OTHER channel options are NOT needed, at all)
I would program the scanner's channel 105, with the frequency on the chart, etc.. match the scanner's channel to the AAR's official channel numbers.. and if you scan them all, all the time, the trunking part shouldn't be TOO big of an issue. The RR's in the pacific northwest, don't use any trunking that I know of, and it is a new feature of the new FCC mandated plan (not in affect for another 365 days). I live here too, so I'm very interested if they DO start using that. So far, no hints even they are planning on it.
If you need further help, I'd be glad to help walk you through.
Paul (a friendly neighbor to your north, near Seattle)
PS AAR (American Association of Railroads) is the official RR supported standards organization, and they make some of the uniform industry standards, like the channel names and numbers for radio communication, across the industry, in North America.