Maine Requests Railroad VHF Spectrum for Public-Safety Network (1/23/12)
Monday, January 23, 2012 | Comments

The FCC is asking for comment on 18 applications filed by the state of Maine seeking authority to operate trunked private LMR facilities on the 160 MHz band, exclusively coordinated by the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Maine filed the waiver request Dec. 2 in connection with these applications seeking a waiver of Sections 90.33 (eligibility requirements) and 90.35(b)(2)(iv) (coordinator requirements) of the FCC’s rules to operate on the channels.

In its waiver request, Maine said its existing two-way mobile radio systems are “outdated, difficult to maintain and no longer adequate to serve respective departments’ critical needs.” Consequently, Maine plans to consolidate all of its agency radio systems into a new narrowband VHF trunked Project 25 (P25) radio system.

Maine said that the VHF band (150 – 170 MHz) is the only viable frequency band for its statewide radio network because of radio engineering considerations, geography, cost and interoperability needs. Maine also notes that most local public-safety agencies in the state rely primarily on VHF radio communications.

The new consolidated radio system will require 342 VHF frequencies distributed across 40 sites, including 151 trunked pairs (302 frequencies) and 40 simplex channels, the state said. The waiver request said the state sought to maximize the use of public-safety pool frequencies to meet these requirements, but it will still need access to non-public safety frequencies, including the identified railroad frequencies.

According to the filing, AAR indicated it would oppose any request to coordinate the frequencies for public-safety use. Maine said AAR’s rejection of its request “is grossly inadequate” and alleges that AAR made no effort to coordinate Maine’s applications or verify the interference potential of Maine’s proposed use of the frequencies.

Maine said that its proposed use of railroad frequencies would not significantly impact future frequency availability for railroads in or near Maine because the state has “very limited railroad service within its borders and none of the large (Class I) railroads currently operate track within the state.”

In particular, the FCC is seeking comment from any parties that would be impacted by Maine’s use of these frequencies. The commission is also asking to what extent the frequencies are used by railroads within or near the state of Maine and whether there are railroad lines within the state that may seek access to these frequencies in the future. The commission also asked whether there are alternative VHF frequencies available to Maine.

Some of the applications submitted by Maine seek authorization for sites located above Line A. These applications can only be granted upon successful coordination with Canada, regardless of our decision on the Maine waiver request.

Interested parties must file comments by Feb. 13, and reply comments are due Feb. 23.

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