Two-Way Radio Narrowbanding for the Locomotive Industry


The FCC mandates that all commercial two-way radios must be narrowband (12 kHz channel spacing) by January 1, 2013. But for the railroad industry, that deadline came and went much earlier. Led by the American Association of Railroads, the industry voluntarily set a July 2010 deadline for all locomotives to be narrowband capable. This early deadline allowed the industry time to identify any “bugs in the system” and to catch any locomotives that it might have missed.

As it turns out, the early deadline proved beneficial. The FCC mandate is intended to increase the number of usable voice channels on two-way radios by cutting the bandwidth and spacing in half, resulting in 12.5 kHz channels spaced at 7.5 kHz, rather than the current 25 kHz width spaced at 15 kHz. In practice, however, railroad pros found the narrowband emissions of two channels may overlap and cause interference. To remedy the situation, AAR officials recommend avoiding the use of the 7.5 kHz separation or use of the interstitial channels for narrowband.

If you’re a railroad industry professional and have yet to migrate your two-way radios to a narrowband or narrowband-capable system, know that any wideband applications or modifications are no longer accepted as of January 1, 2011. All new applications or modifications must be for narrowband or very narrowband (6.25 kHz / 4800 bps digital signals). Wideband operation will not be permitted after January 1, 2013.

If your two-way radios are capable of narrowband analog operation, there’s no need to replace them just yet. However, be aware that railroad professionals are adding a leading zero to the narrowband channel number in order to differentiate it from a wideband channel on the same frequency. For instance, channel. 52 is wideband, whereas channel 052 is narrowband. If your two-way radios are unable to display leading zeros, you may want to replace them.

Very narrowband operation will be mandated by the FCC in the future, but it appears that the deadline may be as far ten years away. So, if your radios are narrowband-capable but not very narrowband-capable, there is no big rush yet. However, if you’re purchasing new two-radio systems anyway, why not go ahead and get very narrowband-capable models?‘s specialists are familiar with the communications nuances of many industries, including the railroad industry. Search our online inventory or contact us at 1-888-560-0758 or via our convenient online email form to speak with a specialist today.

How to Know if you Need Licensing for your Two-Way Radios

Once upon a time, two-way radios were reserved for government and businesses. But the creation of the Family Radio Service (FRS) band by the FCC in 1996 prompted a popularity wave for two-way radios for use by families and friends. However, depending on how you use your two-way radios, you may need licensing from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).


The FRS system uses channelized UHF band frequencies that don’t suffer the same interference effects of Citizen’s Band (CB) radios. It’s limited to a power output of half a watt (500 milliwatt) and allows for use of seven channels provided specifically for two-way radio users. Use of these seven channels alone does require licensing by the FCC for use in the United States. If you operate a radio that has been approved exclusively under the FRS rules, no licensing is necessary.

FRS users can also use the 7 shared channels with GMRS for a total of 14 channels without licensing, provided you broadcast using no more than the half-watt of power allowed. However, for full GMRS operation and for dual-band FRS/GMRS operation at higher power levels (typically 1 to 5 watts), you will need a GMRS license.

GMRS licensing comes with some parameters. The FCC allows licensing to individuals age 18 or older who are not representatives of foreign governments. The licensed individual’s family members of all ages subsequently are eligible to operate GMRS units within the licensed system. For non-individuals (corporations, partnerships, associations, governmental units, etc.), licensing is available under the FCC’s Private Land Mobile Radio Services.

At press time, the current fee for a new or renewal GMRS license is $85, but fees change over time, so be sure to check the FCCs GMRS licensing webpagefor updated fees and application instructions.

Tips for Choosing the Right Two-Way Radios for You

Choosing a two-way radio system that’s right for you and your family, business or other group can seem a daunting task. Whether you’re a manager looking for a way to better communicate with your staff working in a large warehousing or retail facility; a parent looking to keep in close contact with your kids on a mountain hiking trip; a volunteer coordinating an emergency response operation; or a ski instructor looking to communicate with students and fellow skiers all over the slopes, offers a two way radio system with features that perfectly meet your needs.

First, choose the configuration. Two way radios come in two basic configurations: FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service). FRS models operate with a half-watt of power and can transmit on seven FRS channels and seven shared FRS/GMRS channels for a total of 14 channels. GMRS models are higher-power radios that operate on one or two watts of power and can transmit and receive signals on any GMRS or FRS bands – a total of 22 channels. GMRS models work better for outdoor recreation (such as hiking, skiing and boating), but are pricier and require a five-year FCC license for use.

Next, consider the range of coverage you’ll need. Higher powered models boast range claims of up to 25 miles. And they’re perfectly capable of this kind of range in “optimal conditions,” meaning an unobstructed line of sight between two radio operators, preferably from a high vantage point in clear weather. A ski resort on a sunny day is a great example of these optimal conditions where even lower-powered two way radio systems should work well.

A densely wooded hiking trail or work facility where employees are separated by walls, buildings and machinery obviously will have less optimal conditions. Depending upon these conditions, even a higher powered GMRS radio may be limited to a coverage area of a few miles but is much more likely to be effective than is a lower powered FRS model. A helpful tip to maximize possible reach is to choose a two-way radio with antenna and radio bodies of equal or near-equal lengths.

Also consider the number of channels you many need. If your radio will be used only in areas where two-way radio usage is low, such as on your family farm or estate, the seven to 14 channels on an FRS or FRS/GMRS system should suffice. However, in high-traveled areas such as vacation resorts, shopping malls and business facilities, even the 22 channels offered on a GMRS system can fill up quickly. Radios with CTCSS or CDCSS systems allow you to subdivide main channels by using privacy codes (also called interference-eliminator codes). These codes allow two-way radio users to connect via a combination of channel and code.

Other features to consider are size, shape and weight. Lighter, less bulky two way radios fit better in backpacks and also are better for restaurant wait staff and others working in high-traffic areas. Skiers, mountaineers and workers who wear protective gloves will want an ergonomic design. Hands-free features, such as VOX (voice activated broadcasting), are important for many situations, as is a noise filter for crowded or noisy environments.

For safety, a Garmin RINO radio (Radios Integrated with Navigation for the Outdoors) allows users to broadcast their location coordinates – a potentially life-saving feature in, for instance, an emergency on the hiking trails, ski slopes or large work facilities where dangerous machinery is used. And a weather radio taps into the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather band stations for local forecasts and weather conditions. offers a full array of systems designed for various professions and environments. If you need help finding one that’s perfect for you call 888-560-0758 or email us to talk with a two way radio specialist today.

Two Way Radios Narrowly Miss Being Banned in Delaware

If you live in Delaware and operate a fixed two-way radio in your vehicle, you just got a reprieve of sorts. A new state law signed into effect earlier this month bans use of hand-held cell phones and texting devices while driving – and it almost cost businesses and individuals the right to use much-needed two-way radios in their vehicles.

The bill was drawn up and supported for the obvious reason. Distracted drivers have caused numerous deaths and serious injuries to pedestrians, passengers and occupants of other vehicles while dialing, texting, reading emails or even surfing the web on their handheld devices despite being behind the wheel. Avoiding such tragedy is a cause that anyone would support.

However, millions of people working in businesses that rely on two-way radio communications for their day-to-day operations, the original bill would have cost them their livelihoods and put thousands of companies out of business. In its original form, House Bill 229 would have outlawed all use of two-way radio devices with handheld transmitters. But House Bill 493, filed just in the nick of time, exempted two-way radios attached to vehicles, protecting the livelihoods of thousands of service and delivery workers throughout the state.

Similar laws have been passed in California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington and other states are following suit with legislation of their own. Of course, law enforcement and emergency personnel are exempt from the law, as are workers operating farm equipment, farm tractors and farm trucks. And drivers may use handheld cell phones to report emergencies while driving.  If your state or municipality is considering such a ban, contact your representatives to make sure that use of two-way radios for businesses is not compromised. offers a range of two-way radios with hands-free capabilities that allow you to be both productive and safe on the road.