RailScan - Railroad Traffic Around Reading, PA

This is how RailScan worked For 1998-2000 and historical changes:

I have a Dell XPS-R400 with two sound cards installed.  One card is used for recording and the other for playback of a speaking clock program.  The Speaking Clock is set to announce the time every five minutes (although it could be set to every minute).  The stereo output of the speaking clock card is combined to one channel.  The other sound card has the output of the speaking clock going into one channel and the frequency scanner output going into the other channel.  Thus, the left channel is railroad radio traffic and the right channel is time stamps.

The sounds are recorded by a nifty little program called Goldwave.  I have a .WAV file that can record 10 hours of discrete stereo at 8000 bps (saves space).  Now, the neat part is that Goldwave has a feature that allows voice activated recording.  So, I set it to record (it also has a delay timer so I can set it to start at a particular time) and walk away.  Between the time stamps and the radio chatter the program uses between 4 and 8 minutes of time per hour.  So at worst case a 24-hour period would require about 192 minutes (approx 3.25 hours) of recording time.  That gives me enough to record around 3 days worth (sometimes 4 days).

The next step is the tough part -- logging the info.  I created a database in Access that is used to log in the events.  Goldwave has another feature that lets you set markers so I use them as references for when I need to review an event.  It takes roughly 4 hours or so to complete logging a 24 hour period.  Then I run reports, export, and massage the data for the web.

UPDATE 1 - Jan 1, 2001:
In January of 2001 I made some changes to the way I record and log the events.  I found a wonderful little program called RecAll-PRO which is a true-blue, time-stamping, audio capture application.  With this app I do not need the speaking clock program, nor the second sound card.  Because it time-stamps, I am able to log the actual time of the events instead of logging in five minute increments.  It, like Goldwave, also has a voice operated recording feature.

Goldwave has it's merits as a digital audio editor, while RecAll-PRO is a simple capture app.  RecAll-PRO has no file size limit and automatically creates files on the fly.  So now I can literally record indefinitely (although I doubt that I will log all of the events!).  As an added bonus, RecAll-PRO allows me to choose which audio compression scheme to use.  I've chosen MP3 / 11,025 bps / 16-bit mono.  Anything less than this causes too much distortion and choppiness to be useful.  I can get over four hours of recording time (which equates to more than 24 hours of events) in a 30MB file!  The average file size is actually about 18MB.

UPDATE 2 Feb 17, 2001:
As of February 18, 2001 I set up a stand alone 300MHz machine from parts I had lying around.  The scanner will be constantly recording 24 x 7 x 365.  Unfortunately, NS uses four frequencies around Reading for train traffic alone.  I would like to be able to record all of them, but that would cause conflicts when I log the mainline activity between Reading and Harrisburg (which is where most of the traffic goes anyway). 

Just for information's sake, the frequencies are:
160.860 MHz - Blandon (west) to Reading, Phoenixville (west) to Reading, Reading to Harrisburg.
160.070 MHz - Blandon (east) to Allentown.
160.800 MHz - Phoenixville to Points East Toward Philadelphia.
160.980 MHz - Reading (Spring Street) Yard.

From time to time I will randomly choose dates to log and post.  

UPDATE 3 Jun 11, 2015:
As of June 11, 2015 I replaced the main system with a Win8.1 machine.  It uses VSTHost to clean up the scans and is now scanning the four NS frequencies plus R&N and EPRY.  Also, RailscanPA has a presence on Broadcastify Reading Area Railroads.

And that's how it's done!

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