Old 02-10-2014, 05:23 PM   #1
EdKrimmer
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Default Train Identification

Perhaps this is better in the "Railroad Discussion" but I see the traffic there is quite light. While I've always been a railroad lover only in the past 9 months have I begun to shoot them and thus become embroiled in this whole 'nother dimension of railfanning. Among the minutia is the topic of identifying trains. I realize there is no published schedule for freights. However I see infinite references to train ID beyond just the carrier and lead engine #.

I've read about how to decipher a name once it is known butwhere does find this information and where might I learn more about it?

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Old 02-10-2014, 06:23 PM   #2
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Welcome to the "whole other dimension of railfanningĒ (as you put it)! As far as learning what a particular trainís symbol (or I.D.) is, the best way is to get a scanner, if you donít already have one. You can buy a good one for around $100. This will allow you to hear the radio transmissions from the trainís crew. It is common practice for a crew to call out signals as they pass them, and this transmission will often include the trainís symbol. If you listen to the scanner on a regular basis, some basic traffic patterns will start to emerge. Eventually, you should almost be able to tell what symbol a particular train is simply based on the time of day you see it, itís direction of travel, and the type of cars in itís consist.
A list of scanner frequencies is readily available on the internet. Hope that helps!
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Old 02-10-2014, 06:29 PM   #3
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Yeah, definitely listen to the scanner. Also, here's a website called RailroadfanWiki. If you click on the railroad you want, you should be able to find a set of train symbols.


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Old 02-10-2014, 06:52 PM   #4
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I've certainly gotten wind of the necessity of a scanner. I did get one but learning further that the POS antenna they come with is just that - and worse in mountainous Southern CA. In the process of rectifying that. Perhaps then it's not as mysterious as I had perceived.

Thanks and love your sig Derek...

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Old 02-10-2014, 06:59 PM   #5
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Thanks and love your sig Derek...

Ed
I was hoping someone would get it.
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Old 02-10-2014, 07:26 PM   #6
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While a scanner is great for railfanning with, if you are in California it is utterly worthless in trying to get train symbols. Both BNSF and UP call engine numbers instead of symbols when/if they do call signals.

That being said, there are certain trains that you can start to identify by what they carry and when they run. I wrote a book that lists all of the local and haulers with symbols. I don't want to turn this into an ad for my book, but if you look up my last name on Amazon you can find it (you would want the 2013/2014 version).

As to intermodals, you may luck out and hear a symbol called on occassion, but that is more likely to happen right at LA or San Bernardino, and not at other places.
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Old 02-10-2014, 07:31 PM   #7
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Here's a link to the book.

http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Calif...2064203&sr=8-1
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Old 02-10-2014, 07:31 PM   #8
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Aha! The plot thickens. I will track down your book...

Thanks,
Ed
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Old 02-10-2014, 09:34 PM   #9
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The couple times I have railfanned out west in modern times (90's+), I found the scanner useless for the most part. For one, they rarely call signals. I guess their rules don't require it like Eastern railroads do. Second, as mentioned, they dont really call symbols so you have no idea who is coming.
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Old 02-10-2014, 11:03 PM   #10
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Troy's right - that being said you will often hear the dispatcher telling one train what he has that he's passing such as "I've got three eastbounds and a westbound I have to get by you..."

If you are in Metrolink territory, the freights do generally call the signals as this is Metrolink policy (but it doesn't always happen).

When you are out along the BNSF or UP you got to really rely on what the DSPs are telling the trains.
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Old 02-10-2014, 11:26 PM   #11
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The couple times I have railfanned out west in modern times (90's+), I found the scanner useless for the most part. For one, they rarely call signals. I guess their rules don't require it like Eastern railroads do. Second, as mentioned, they dont really call symbols so you have no idea who is coming.
BNSF has to call out signals more restricting than clear or diverging clear. "BNSF 8810 North approach in advance of Boylston, 35 mph, out" By the book anway.
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Railroad photography is what you make of it, but one way is not "better" than another, IMHO. Unless you have a pole right thought the nose of the engine! -SG
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Old 02-10-2014, 11:30 PM   #12
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See where I'm from, I'm kind of lucky. On CSX, I'm at a siding, so the signals will light up if there's a train leaving Cincinnati or Dayton. Then I just wait until I hear them calling signals a few blocks away. On NS, the signals don't light up until they are in the block, so I still have to rely on them calling signals. Also, detectors are really good for telling you where trains are at.

But that's interesting, I never knew that they didn't call signals out west. That has to be a pain if you're trying to take pictures. "Where's it at? Oh, there it is! Hurry get the camera!!!"
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Old 02-10-2014, 11:33 PM   #13
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So far it's been a "hurry up and wait" experience. Fortunately the wait is rarely long in Cajon Pass or up in the Mojave. Tehachapi was a bit less frequent
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Old 02-10-2014, 11:57 PM   #14
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BNSF has to call out signals more restricting than clear or diverging clear. "BNSF 8810 North approach in advance of Boylston, 35 mph, out" By the book anway.
Maybe it's territory specific then, or it's changed since I was last out West (2010), because that did not seem to be the case. But then again also, in some places like the ATSF transcon in NM and AZ, unless they are melting down or something else is going amiss, they are always running on greens.
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Old 02-11-2014, 12:39 AM   #15
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BNSF has to call out signals more restricting than clear or diverging clear. "BNSF 8810 North approach in advance of Boylston, 35 mph, out" By the book anway.
I agree with Troy, the only place I hear them call out down here is on the track warrant controlled lines. On the transcon they dont call signals. The only times I have heard them give the symbol is if the crew talks to BNSF Mechanical
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Old 02-11-2014, 05:23 AM   #16
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The couple times I have railfanned out west in modern times (90's+), I found the scanner useless for the most part. For one, they rarely call signals. I guess their rules don't require it like Eastern railroads do. Second, as mentioned, they dont really call symbols so you have no idea who is coming.
I don't know about that, as the few times I've been on Donner and also the Moffatt sub, my scanner has been VERY handy. So they don't call train symbols...big deal. At least they do SOME kind of communicating to let you know a train is coming. And don't forget about the defect detectors.
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Old 02-11-2014, 10:11 PM   #17
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The couple times I have railfanned out west in modern times (90's+), I found the scanner useless for the most part. For one, they rarely call signals. I guess their rules don't require it like Eastern railroads do. Second, as mentioned, they dont really call symbols so you have no idea who is coming.
I've also noticed that there is generally less stuff to 'call' out West. There are sections of the Transcon where you must be able to go something like a hundred miles without a siding or junction. I have a crappy little Radio Shack scanner that was good enough for busy eastern hotspots with junction after junction like Chicago/Cleveland/Pittsburgh. Out West that scanner is all but useless with nothing but a detector every 20 miles. Fortunately many of those lines are so busy, that its never really been a problem. I use to be a real scanner Nazi - always had to have it and write down every symbol. Out in CA I'm lucky if I even remember to get it out of the closet before heading out.
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Old 02-12-2014, 06:23 AM   #18
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Forget the scanner...if you're in an area covered by ATCS, you're golden!
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Old 02-12-2014, 04:02 PM   #19
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Old 02-12-2014, 10:13 PM   #20
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Forget the scanner...if you're in an area covered by ATCS, you're golden!
If you live near a CSX line that has ATCS, enjoy it while you can, they are rapidly converting radio ATCS to Satellite, and it's gonna be gone with in a couple years systemwide. Witnessing this locally, seems every week or 2 we lose another signal.
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