Normal railroad communications take place
on 97 VHF frequencies allocated by the Railway Association of Canada
(it used to be governed by the Association of American
Railroads), between 159.810 MHz to 161.565 MHz, with 15 KHz
increments. You can also find some communications taking place in the
UHF 400 MHz band.
For specific frequencies, see the Frequency section, accessible with the
menu on the left.
All Operational channels in the Toronto area are simplex - only one party
may communicate at one time. There are various base stations (see the
"Towers" section) that are located about 20-30 kilometers apart
on a specific subdivision. These base stations have are connected to the
RTC either via landline or by microwave.
Radio communications and the RTC
RTC (Rail Traffic Control) does not normally monitor the frequencies - trains and crew must "key the tower"
to communicate with the dispatcher. The user must send three steady tones to the base
station in order to open a link to the dispatcher. The radio in the RTC's office
'rings' to let the dispatcher know a train is contacting them.
The dispatcher's radio can select specific towers along the subdivision,
normally selecting whichever tower is closest to the party calling.
The base stations also house repeaters for the various MoW (Maintenance of
Way) channels used on the subdivision. These frequencies also have patches to
allow crews to call RTC, as well as telephone patches so users can access the
railway PBX or the regular telephone system. Often you can hear users
phoning people on the outside- sometimes the office, often times making
calls of a personal nature (naughty!). MoW bases are also able to be
"linked" together so MoW crews can communicate over the whole length of a
subdivision - unlike the operational
channels where the idea is for the RTC to only use the closest tower so a
conversation doesn't tie up the channel all over the place.
Additional information on towers can be
found in the "Towers" section of this section.
Keying the Tower - differences
CN and CP's radio system are similar, but not identical. One major
difference is the method in which to contact the RTC.
In both systems, RTC does not always monitor their frequencies. If
trains or crew want to contact the dispatcher, they must 'key the tower',
or alert the dispatcher that someone wants to talk to them. In both cases,
a series of tones transmitted on a certain channel makes the dispatcher's
radio 'ring' - prompting them to come onto the air and answer the call.
In CN's radio system, the person calling RTC must switch over to their
subdivision's road channel to send tones and speak to the dispatcher. The
person keys the tower and talks on the same channel
CP's system is a bit different. They still must still switch to their RTC
call-in channel to contact RTC, but after getting an answerback tone they
must immediately switch back to the Train Standby channel to talk to the
dispatcher. No verbal communication takes place on the call-in channel.
Every subdivision has a specific call-in channel. As well, the CP call-in
channels are duplex, where the output frequency is the same as the
subdivision's Train Standby channel.
Trains and the system
All trains must monitor a Standby channel. CN trains monitor channel one (161.415
MHz), and CP Trains monitor a designated Train Standby channel that
changes from subdivision to subdivision. General communications
and line-side automation systems (Detectors, automatic derailers, etc) use
this frequency to relay information to the crew. RTC also communicates
with the trains on this frequency.
On CN lines, there are specific road
frequencies reserved for use on designated subdivisions. If trains want to
communicate with RTC, they must do so on this channel. On CP, as
stated above, all communications take place on the Train Standby channels.
When RTC wants to communicate with a train, the dispatcher contacts the
train by number. If it is a lengthy conversation, the dispatcher will ask
the train to switch over to the road frequency (depending on where the
Non-Train users of the system
Other crew members not attached to trains (Construction foremen,
maintenance crews, etc.) communicate with RTC via walkie-talkies and
mobile (truck-based) radios.
On CN, construction foremen usually stick to channel one. Trains, on approach to
a construction zone (indicated by red flags), communicate with the foreman
via radio, as designated in the DOB (Daily Operating Bulletin - a printed
list of all of the unusual conditions happening on the particular
subdivision, such as slow orders, construction (with mileage and foreman's
name), unusual track conditions, etc.). The train informs the conductor
that train number xxxx, led by engine number xxxx was approaching the work
area, and what action to take. The conductor then informs the train of the
action to be taken (usually bell and whistle around men and machinery).
The train crew repeats and confirms the instructions. This information is
invaluable to the train hunter, as they tell the railfan what the
approaching train's number is and what kind of locomotive is at the head -
as well as give you advance warning of an approaching train.
Construction crews also have MoW channels
that they can use to communicate. CP crews also have Utility channels they
can use to contact RTC and other crews.
As well, a train's EOT (End of
Train) devices operate on two specifically designated frequencies: 452.9375MHz
and 457.9375 MHz. As stated on the previous page, activity on these
frequencies consist of short data bursts (sometimes called
"squawks"), as the box at the end of the train communicates with
computers in the locomotive, relaying everything from rear-end brake
pressure, the speed of the rear of the train, etc. These are very handy
for the train watcher, because they give you some advance warning of an
oncoming train (usually 1 kilometer).
On certain subdivisions, the dispatcher will announce the day's roster of
trains. Not all dispatchers do it on all lines, but when they do - it will
give you a clear picture of the day's activities, and how busy (or bored)
you are going to be that day. This usually occurs either early in the
morning or around lunch time.
There also exists an automated system that maintenance crews can call
(using the phone-patch feature with their radios) that gives them the
day's line-up. If you are able to decode the tones, maybe you could try
giving it a call (grin). Doing this is *not* legal or endorsed by this
site, but I'm told that people indeed do it. :) I think you're best to
wait and see what comes down the line.
If you are looking for timetables or rosters, I highly suggest picking up
a copy of the Canadian Trackside Guide, available in most hobby shops or
on the Internet.