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WHEN must I use Duplex Comms? :

This is easy , according to the Network Rail mandate it is:

“ where personnel are required to undertake activities involving on-track machines or on-track plant on or about Network Rail managed infrastructure”

The Network Rail  mandate not only lists where and when Duplex comms should be used but also what you should do in the event of a failure.

Click for: Network Rail Safety Central Duplex Comms info.

WHEN should you use duplex comms? :

We believe that effective communication between  Machine Operator and Controller is much better when using Duplex communications ( we recommend Setcom full duplex bluetooth headsets). If a system is more efficient and safer why wouldn’t you use it all the time , regardless of  whether or not you are mandated to do so? Many of our civils customers use duplex comms for their machines even though they may not be working on or around Network Rail infrastructure.

WHY should I use duplex comms? :

  • If you are working with 0n-track plant on or around Network Rail infrastructure then you are mandated to by Network Rail
  • Because effective communication leads to more efficient and safer systems of work.

WHO should use Duplex Comms? : 

Duplex comms must be used by machine controller and machine operator. There are of course instances when other users will be required but for the most part it will just be Machine controller and Machine Operator

WHICH Duplex comms should I use? :

There are currently 3 different types of full duplex comms that are type approved for use on network Rail infrastructure.

  • Setcom full duplex bluletooth headsets
  • Athena full Bluetooth headsets
  • Dect Comm II radios + headset

All of the items listed above are type approved for use.

How do I use Duplex comms? :

In terms of Duplex Comms there are 2 types of technology that is used.

WHAT can I do if my comms. are not working properly?

If you are working when the Duplex comms fail then there are a number of things that you re mandated by Network Rail to do:

  1. The MC/CC must attempt to source replacement equipment. (Additional sets should be planned for and held in case this safety critical equipment fails).

  2. If the time required to source alternative equipment imports risk to successfully completing the task within the given possession working time, an alternative agreed safe system of work can be used.

  3. The MC/CC MUST record on his OTP Work Plan why an agreed alternative safe system of work is being used and the type/reason of failure of the Radio equipment and report the defect to the Site or Line Manager.

  4. Equipment failure and consequent actions must be reported through the Close Call system.

    (Info. taken from Network Rail Safety Central)

If  you are not working on track and it is safe for you to do so then you can troubleshoot your duplex comms.  by switching off the kit and following the startup procedure user instructions –

click here for Full Duplex user instructions

If restarting the device does not solve the problem then please consider the following questions:

  • Are the radios fully charged? – If not then put them on charge
  • Is the charger working correctly – If not then  switch out chargers
  • Are the radios paired with their original partner. – If the radios are yours then re-pair the handsets / headsets. If they are on hire then  make sure that the handsets / headsets match the paired unit numbers on your hire contract. If you mix headsets / handsets from different kits then they will not work.

If you are still having issues then contact the Professionals:

We are here to help with all your comms needs. If you are having issues with your duplex comms then we would like to hear from you.  You can reach us via the contact page of our website or you can e-mail directly to





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Every weekend our onsite engineers travel far and wide and provide communications support for the Rail industry, from tunnel communications to wide area marker board to marker board coverage we have seen and heard about all the potential problems that people on the rail have with 2-way radios. The good news is that almost all potential issues can be avoided by a few simple steps. We have compiled a list of the top 10 problems that we see week in and week out. We hope that you will not only find them useful but also help you use your radios more efficiently in the future.

1. Not carrying a site radio whilst moving trains

If your job requires you to move trains then you must carry both a train movement radio (programmed for the task) and a site radio with the wide area channel selected. The reason for this is as follows: If you are moving a train then you cannot contact anyone except the train driver. In the event of an emergency where your colleagues require the train to stop there is no way of contacting you to relay this information. If you are carrying a second radio on the wide area channel then you can be contacted on this radio even if you are actively moving a train with the other one. Most importantly you can immediately stop the train if required to do so.

2.Wrong Frequency

Whilst there are many types of 2-way radio in use on the railway, they all fall into one of two different frequency bands. UHF or VHF. If you have a radio and the aerial is about the length of your thumb then it is most likely to be a UHF radio. UHF is very good at penetrating through obstacles i.e buildings and trains. The downside is that the range of UHF is about 1/3rd less than a VHF.

If the radio in your hand has an aerial about twice the length of your  thumb then it is most likely VHF.  VHF  whilst having a better range than UHF is not very good at penetrating obstacles. The important thing to ask is where are you working?, what potential obstacles will there be? (don’t forget trains!) and then decide which frequency would best suit you .

3. Wrong Channel

A standard 2-way radio  has 16 possible channels which are selected by a knob on the top. If you are having trouble contacting someone over the radio then the first thing to check is that you are on the same channel. The correct channels for use should have been briefed before the job began and a radio check should have been performed to make sure that all radios are operational.

4. Range too great

As we covered briefly earlier each type of radio (UHF or VHF) has its own specific range and this will vary wildly dependent on topography and obstacles. If you are having trouble raising your colleagues on the radio then it may be that they are too far away from you. This would apply to pretty much any worksite over 1km in length. This distance could be down to only a few hundred metres in a built up area like central London. The only way to guarantee full site coverage is to survey the work site and if necessary install a repeater system .

5. Incorrectly programmed

It may be that if your radios are not working as they should then they were incorrectly programmed to begin with. Best to find this out before you are standing out in the rain next to a live railway line. Check that all required channels work before you leave.

6. Poor training

Just 10 minutes of concise training in the correct use of 2-way radios can prevent pretty much all the other points on this list. Make sure that all staff are briefed in the operation of radio equipment, including which channel they should be using, the number of the emergency channel (if programmed) and how long the battery lasts under normal use.

7. Radio Not charged correctly

The charging docks for 2-way radios vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but without exception it is possible to put a radio into the charger without it actually charging. This is because of the way the chargers are made to accommodate the different battery depths of various models in the range. To avoid this common mistake, make sure that the radio is correctly seated within the guide channel and that the charging light comes on.

8. Radio turned off / Volume turned down

Believe it or not one of the most common occurrences that our on-site engineers report is that workers turn their radio off. When their colleagues try to contact them they naturally assume that the radio system is not working. Don’t forget to turn your radio ON and keep it ON! Much like the problem with people turning their radios off, our engineers often report that a potential radio fault has been remedied by encouraging people to turn the volume on their radio up. Make sure that if you are required to use a radio then the volume is at a suitable level  for your environment. For example: the volume you used in the SAC cabin will not be loud enough if you are on site around noisy machinery. You must adjust volume accordingly.

9. Being ignored

Perhaps the most ridiculous reason for radio failure reported by our engineers  is that people are simply ignoring the radio. Their colleagues continually try to get hold of them without success and naturally assume that there is a problem with the radio system itself. The simple way to solve this problem is simply to NOT ignore the radio when you are called.

10. No radio to start with

Lastly  if you are having problems raising a colleague on the radio you must consider one last thing. Were they ever issued with a radio to begin with? If they don’t have a radio then you will never be able to contact them, no matter how comprehensive your radio system.




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Silicosis has been a hot topic in the media recently, with national news, TV and radio highlighting the potential risks and speculating on its potential long-term ramifications. But how do we begin to project what the future impact of extended exposure to Respiratory Crystalline Silica (RSC) would look  like?

It is a human tendency to look to the past to make sense of where we now find ourselves. Often there is no precedent from which we can draw, leaving us treading a new and uncertain path. In the case of Silicosis however we are not alone in the wilderness. We can draw on the statistics and information compiled for another respiratory illness, Pneumoconiosis, and in doing so we have an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and lay the foundations for preserving our future health.

Coal worker pneumoconiosis (CWP) known colloquially as Black lung is a terminal respiratory condition caused by long term exposure to Coal dust. It has been well studied and documented over the years, and provides a valuable comparison by which to highlight the dangers of Respiratory Crystalline Silica.

According to the figures issued by the health and safety executive (HSE) , in 2017 the number of new cases of CWP assessed for Industrial Injury Disablement Benefit (IIDB) was 130 . The average number of deathS  from CWP over the last 10 years have averaged 135 annually (1).


How can we learn from CWP and apply our knowledge to exposure to Silica?

The NHS website describes silicosis as “ a long term lung disease caused by inhaling large amounts of crystalline silica dust, usually over many years. Silica is a substance naturally found in certain types of stone, rock, sand and clay. Working with these materials can create a very fine dust that can be easily inhaled.Once inside the lungs, the dust particles are attacked by the immune system.This causes swelling (inflammation) and gradually leads to areas of hardened and scarred lung tissue (fibrosis). Lung tissue that’s scarred in this way doesn’t function properly” (2).


According to the HSE statistics:  the number of deaths over the last 10 years from Silicosis average at 30 annually. (1)To put this into context, the ORR list the number of rail workforce fatalities  between 2017-2018 as 2 (3). Therefore It is not inconceivable that if left unchecked, in 20 years the number of railway worker deaths caused by silicosis could be 10-20 times greater per annum than the number of workers killed on track. So what are dangers to railway workers and how do we reduce the risks?

Looking at it from a railway perspective, the average track worker is constantly working around ballast which is by its nature heavy in silica. During ballast drops, especially in dry weather the silica dust is widely dispersed and being invisible to the human eye presents a real danger.

So, how much silica would the average railway worker inhale over a 25 year career? It is probably impossible to estimate, but if we can take anything from the plight of the coal miners, we don’t want to wait 25 years to find out.

Each year the rail becomes a safer and safer place to work as new innovations are mandated. Money is invested in practices and equipment that produce tangible , chartable outcomes.  If adopting a practice this year will result in a 5% drop in injury or fatality next year then it is adopted, and rightly so. It is ironic perhaps that potentially the biggest health and safety issue for the rail industry is not something that can be tracked and charted in a year, or even 5 years. If we take the example of the coal industry, it may take 25-30 years before we can see the damage that has been done, and by that point it will be too late. The industry needs to take action today to ensure that its workers can not only enjoy a safe and injury free career but also a long and healthy retirement.

So what can we do to prevent silicosis becoming as devastating as Black Lung?

The answer is incredibly simple. If you are required to work in an environment where silica dust may be present then you must insist that adequate respiratory protective equipment is provided. If you are always clean shaven then this can be as simple as a paper dust mask, however if you have any facial hair at all then a paper dust mask would not be adequate, due to facial hair impeding a good seal between the mask and face. For those with facial hair the only type approved option is a positive airfed respirator.  The helmet provides a positive pressure air seal which not only filters all dust and debris out, but blows cool air over the visor of the mask preventing it from steaming up during heavy work and keeping you cool at the same time.

In conclusion by taking simple steps now we can safeguard the future health and well-being of our workforce.   Investing in the railway means investing not only in its infrastructure but also its people.