Over the past few months, several folks have asked about the wireless phones I use for communication among the “management” positions during CSX Shenandoah Division operating sessions. Accordingly, I thought I’d provide some updated information.
I’ve been very happy with the VTech phones. We use them as our regular house phones when not operating. The intercom ring is different from the incoming call ring, and the system does not have to connected to your home telephone network. The base unit does need to be powered using the included wall wart.
When I researched wireless phones, I knew that I wanted an easy to use intercom system. I looked at several different types of phones, but I decided on the VTech phone because of the straightforward operation of the intercom system. These phones are simple to use, especially with the station number cheat sheet I put on the back. To initiate a call, you simply press the INT button followed by the number of the station to call (1-6 in my case). To answer an intercom call, you simply press the INT or TALK button. To end the call, you can either push the INT or OFF button.
I’ve never encountered any interference on these handsets, either as an intercom or as a phone. I’ve also experienced no interference between the phones, the FRS radios, the wi-fi network, and the Digitrax radio (simplex only) network.
I investigated many wireless alternatives, and the VTech phones seemed to have the best balance of features, price, and ease-of-use. The only negative thing about these phones (and it’s a quite minor negative for me) is they do not have a headphone jack. Not having the headset jack has been fine during op sessions, but a headset would be convenient at times when used as a regular phone. This particular VTech model is expandable up to 12 handsets, which would likely be sufficient for all but the largest of layouts.
I got my phones from the OfficeMax web site when they were on sale just before Christmas 2009. The phones have also been available from warehouse clubs and online retailers, such as Amazon. I’ve seen the 5 phone set priced between $79 and $99, depending on the vendor and any special pricing.
These phones supplement the existing FRS radios used during an operating session. The dispatcher and train crews still use FRS radios to communicate, while the “management” positions (the Supervisor of Train Operations, SD Dispatcher, North Salem Yardmaster, and Superintendent) use the phone/intercom network to communicate. Having the phones available has reduced the radio traffic for the road crews. The fifth phone from the original set serves as the crew call phone for the “crew lounge” (i.e. family room) when we have enough operators present to have off-duty train crews.
Since my initial purchase, I added one more phone at S.E. Catawba, which gives me a total of 6 VTech phones now. This additional phone represents a call box at the south end of the Catawba passing siding. The crew of southbound trains that terminate in the North Salem Yard use this phone to call the North Salem Yardmaster for yarding instructions.