Passing the Time By Listening In.

When I’m on a long train ride, I enjoy the passing scenery, meeting and chatting with other passengers, and catching up on my reading. And sometimes I take a scanner with me. In fact I have one with me on this trip.
A scanner is just a radio receiver that seeks out (scans) the radio frequencies used by the railroads by the engineers and conductors for communication with each other and with the railroad’s dispatchers.
Most of the time conversations you pick up are boringly routine: the recorded voice of the automatic detectors installed at trackside to check passing trains for overheated bearing or any dragging equipment. Or the engineer and conductor agreeing on arrival and departure times for stations along the route.
But occasionally you really do pick up some interesting stuff, especially when something goes wrong. Here are a few examples I’ve heard over the years:

  • Two conductors exchanging expletives while removing a refrigerator and an old mattress, placed on the tracks by vandals, from under the locomotive’s wheels.
  • An engineer exclaiming, “Damn! I thought for sure we’d hit that dumb bastard!”when a teenager pedaled across the tracks right in front of the t rain.
  • A conductor asking state police to meet train at a grade crossing to arrest and remove a troublesome passenger.

There are, in my opinion, just two rules to observe with a scanner: use ear buds and be discreet about displaying your scanner. Conductors tend to clam up if the notice someone with a scanner and you could miss hearing some interesting stuff.
NOTE: I’m about to leave Los Angeles on the Sunset Limited. Next post will probably not appear until very late on Friday night.