Finding Specific Railroad Frequencies
A great place to start is the Database for your particular area. Sometimes, there is not any information to be had and this is where it can be fun! Many scanners have a built-in search feature for different radio services, including railroads.
If you live in the USA you can find all the railroad licenses in your area with a visit to the FCC's website.
Select your state from the drop-down menu. Then select your county, or leave it on "All Counties". Be aware that large or populous states can return a long list of results, and it may take some time to appear.
On the Frequency line, enter 160.215 in "Begin" and 161.565 in "End".
Scroll to the bottom of the page and hit "Submit Query".
As always, be sure to submit any new information for inclusion in the RRDB!
If you don't find it here or in the database, feel free to post a message in the Railroad-Railfan Monitoring Forum on RadioReference.
Amtrak routes and frequencies can be found on the On Line On Track Amtrak page
AAR (American Association of Railroads) channels
The railroads have had standardized radios for a long time (from at least the early 1950's), and the primary band they are assigned is the in the VHF Hi range. There are official channel numbers, for North America, starting at AAR channel #2 (frequency: 159.810Mhz) to AAR channel #97 (frequency: 161.565Mhz). Between channel #2 and #97 are sequential channel numbers, with no gaps, with the frequency stepped up by 15khz (also with no gaps or bigger frequency jumps). The first few channels are used only in Canada.
Railroad radios display only channel numbers, settable to channels 2-97 for both send and receive. The transmit and receive channel numbers are paired, as sometimes two-frequency simplex or even repeaters are used. Most radios in locomotives display the channel pair as four numbers. The first two digits are the transmit channel, and the last two digits are the receive channel. For example, you might hear the dispatcher telling a crew to switch over to the next district by saying "go to channel sixty-four sixty-four" or just "sixty-four". If they use two-frequency simplex you might hear "switch to twelve ninety-six". In some cases, such as Norfolk Southern, by local custom they refer to the road channel as "channel 1" and the dispatcher channel as "channel 2" even though the latter is a two-frequency pair.
So, in order to follow conversations it is good either to have the frequency-to-channel number chart with you, or to use the Alpha Tag feature of the newer scanners to program in the channel-to-frequency table so you can glance at the scanner display to see what the AAR channel number is.
Frequencies and Links