• Railroad Access To Public Safety Frequencies
  • April 13, 2017 | Authors: Georgina Lopez-Ona Feigen; Alan S. Tilles
  • Law Firm: Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker, P.A. - Washington Office
  • In August 2016, the FCC issued a Report and Order which received too little attention but is certainly worth a second look. Specifically, the FCC authorized railroad police officers (those with authority to carry out law enforcement functions) to use public safety interoperability channels in the VHF (150-174 MHz and 220-222-MHz), UHF (450-470 MHz), 700 MHz narrowband (769-775/799-805 MHz) and 800 MHz (806-809/851-854 MHz) bands. 

    Train derailments often result in significant passenger injuries as well as property damage and require large multi-jurisdictional responses. Interoperability channels are used for sudden emergency and disaster response situations which call for the widest possible access by various federal, state, local and tribal government public safety agencies. In response to a petition filed by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council, the FCC made the following changes to its rules regarding the use of interoperability channels:
    • Adopts a new definition of railroad police officers which expands upon the Federal Railroad Administration definition. The new definition ensures that properly commissioned railroad police officers will have access to the public safety interoperability channels. It encompasses Amtrak police, freight railroad police, commuter railroad police, passenger rail transit system police and part-time railroad police officers;
    • Requires that railroads or railroad police departments obtain approval from a state or state-designated interoperability coordinator in every state the railroad proposes to operate before railroad police officers may operate fixed infrastructure on the 700 MHz interoperability channels;
    • Requires that applications for fixed infrastructure comply with the FCC and any applicable local frequency coordination;
    • Before railroad police officers may begin operating mobile and portable units on the public safety interoperability channels under a blanket license, the railroad and railroad police department employers must have a valid PLMR license and obtain authorization from the statewide interoperability coordinator;
    • Permits railroad and railroad police departments to obtain mobile-only licenses;
    • Enables railroad police to operate mobile units under contract with public safety licensees;
    • Enables railroads and railroad police departments and licensed public safety entities to enter into sharing;
    • Permits railroad police officer to use interoperability channels to communicate along and across the border in Canada and Mexico and
    • Prohibits encryption on the interoperability calling channel.