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 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.