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RAILSCANING in TORONTO - Beginner's Page 2

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Novice Guide - Page 2

My first REAL scanner - Realistic Pro-29 For railroad listening, I strongly suggest a handheld scanner. All will work, but the handheld is the most versatile. You can't take any of the other three with you trackside. Nothing is handier than clipping it to your belt and letting the trains whizzzz by! But really, its all personal preference. If you do all of your trainspotting in a car, a mobile might be the better choice - but you can't take it inside with you. Having an unlimited power supply such as AC or your car's battery is great, but there are options for handhelds, such as cigar lighter adapters, rechargeable batteries, etc.

You should decide off the bat if you want a new or used scanner. Unless the previous owner bashed the hell out of it, a used scanner is just as good as a new one. Cash Converters has a constantly changing stock of used scanners around $100. Be careful, though - I've been screwed by CC on more than one occasion - make sure you examine it thoroughly! Most Cash Converters have a test bench, so you can make sure that you just didn't spend $100 on a piece of shite that isn't going to work two seconds after you bring it home. Also, note that Cash Converters usually gets their stock sans manuals,  so expect a lot of 'figuring it out for yourself'. If you aren't into that, you can usually find manuals on the net. If used isn't your cuppa, then by all means go new. Check out the "Scanner Reviews" page for some information on more popular scanners. In my opinion, the best scanner for beginners is the Realistic Pro-29. Its the one pictured above. New or used, they are a quality scanner. New ones list for about $240, but I've seen them used at Cash Converters for around $100. 

Step Two - Scanners 101

Scanners come in all sorts of different flavours. Some have lots of memories, some have faster scan speeds. 

I've used my Uniden Sportcat 180b in these photos because its functions and buttons are pretty much similar to most scanners on the market. This section might be of help to you, and then again - it might not. All scanners are different, so if you are TOTALLY lost by this next section, you're probably better off asking someone who knows the ins and outs of your scanner.

1. Top of scanner

First, lets take a quick look at the controls of your scanner. Experienced people might want to skip this part - I guarantee it will be insulting! Nothing personal - don't worry. The first knob on the left is the volume/power knob. Obviously, it turns the scanner on and off, and also controls the volume. The second knob is the squelch control. Squelch mutes the speaker until it receives a signal - how strong depends on where you set the knob. You control the sensitivity of this barrier using the squelch knob. All of the way to 'min' effectively turns off the squelch, and you hear EVERYTHING on a particular frequency (static, noise, etc.). Opening the squelch also renders the scan feature of the unit useless. Its best to open the squelch up, and then turn it until just after the speaker mutes.

Some scanners, such as the Icom R2, have automatic squelch.

The EAR port is for earphones or an external antenna.

The ANT port is for the antenna. Scanners need an external antenna to receive signals.

2. Programming your scanner & the Keypad

The keypad is the most important part of your scanner. It is the 'interface' between the user and the hardware. Some scanners have lots of buttons (the Alinco DJ-X10 for example) and some have only a few (the Icom R2). 

Most handheld scanners have a keypad with numbers on the front of the scanner.  This makes programming your frequencies a breeze. Some scanners, such as the Icom R2 have a tuning knob, so you can tune your scanner like a conventional radio. Some radios, such as the Uniden Sportcat SC180B & SC200, have both knobs and keypads. 

A lot of older scanners, such as the Pro-42, only have a few memories, or 'channels'. This particular model only has ten. Most scanners today have over 50 - some over 500, some have thousands! PC based ones can store an unlimited amount of frequencies. Typically, radios with over 10 channels have their memories separated into 'banks'. 100 channel scanners usually are separated into 10 banks of 10 frequencies. This is a handy way to organize your scanning life. You might put CN's frequencies into bank one, CP into bank two, yard frequencies into bank three, and so on. While the radio is scanning, a simple press of the keypad's numbers will activate or deactivate the corresponding bank. Very handy! How you organize it is totally up to you.

How to program frequencies differs from scanner to scanner - you will have to consult your manual. Some scanners have a 'PGM' key, others require you to enter the freqeuency and press the 'ENTER' or 'E' key to save it to memory.

After you've got you scanner all programmed and ready to go, its time to scan! Press "scan" to start scanning. The scanner will now cycle through the programmed frequencies & banks until it reaches an 'open' frequency, one that is transmitting a signal. When the frequency stops transmitting, the scanner will resume scanning. Note the Squelch control MUST be set in order for the radio to scan!

Other buttons on the scanner can include lock-out, delay, keylock and light. 

MANUAL: Puts your scanner in Manual mode, allowing you to scroll through your frequencies one by one.
Excludes frequencies from the scan
DELAY: Delays the time between when a frequency closes, and the scan resumes
KEYLOCK: Locks out keypad, so accidental key presses don't interrupt the scan
LIGHT: Activates the LCD display's backlight - handy for night use.

Different scanners have different functions, so you're best to consult the manual. 

3. Organization

Typically, I like to separate CN and CP into different banks - that way when I'm photographing a CN line, I only get CN transmissions. You need to have your rail line's road frequencies in each bank. For explanation of Road Frequencies, go to the Railroad Ops section.  

You also will want to put the EOT (end of Train) frequencies in EACH RAILROAD BANK.  These sound like short data bursts (or squawks) and can give you advance warning of an approaching train. Again, more info in the railroad ops page.

If you are near a yard, you can put yard frequencies in as well.

This is how the first two banks in my scanner are configured:

Bank 1 - CN

Bank 2 - CP

RTC Road EOT rear-front
EOT rear-front EOT front-rear
EOT front-rear Galt sub standby
YA Dispatcher Belleville sub standby
YB Dispatcher Galt Sub standby
AI Dispatcher Term/Switching

This is typical - and what works best for me. I live in Brampton, so do a lot of photography along the CN Halton sub and the CP Owen Sound sub. I also have been known to hang out at the CN Oakville Sub, CP Galt sub, CP Mactier Sub and at Bayview Jct in Burlington. I also used to work at CTV in Agincourt, which is just down the road from CP's Toronto yard (McCowan road), and used to catch a lot of the yard activity there.

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