E-Trax Review












E-Trax, by Joseph Cardani, is a DOS based utility for the OptoCom receiver
that allows tracking of the popular EDACS trunking systems often used by
Public Safety and business operations in the US.  While not as numerous as
the Motorola trunking systems, EDACS is a major player in the field.  In
the Chicago area the Illinois State Police and Will County operate EDACS
systems, and Lake County will be installing one soon.

E-Trax currently operates only OptoCom receivers, but support for other
radios such as the OS456 and Icoms are in the works.  E-Trax requires
regular DOS, not a DOS Window within Windows.  It suggests a 486 or
better. No modification to your radio is required.  The Bit Banger feature
now included on OptoComs is not required, although E-Trax should work with
it with no problem.

I have been running E-Trax on a variety of computers, including:

IBM Pentium II, 233 MHz desktop (32 MB RAM)
Compaq Pentium 120 MHz laptop (32 MB RAM)
Compaq 486 DX4/100 tower (8MB RAM)
Winbook 486/100 laptop. (8MB RAM)

It ran well on each of these with no problems.

E-Trax, at first glance, seems complicated.  Once you read the
instructions and view the files, it becomes clearer and after using it for
a couple days it all becomes clear, and I realized that it really is a
simple and easy to use program.  The instructions are easy to read and
complete.  An MS Word version is available on the E-Trax web page (Address
listed below).

The program has several parts. The first is the actual program itself.
This is less than 200K in size.

The second part is the Config file.  This tells the computer what kind of
radio and what com port is used.  Other information is present here, and
the manual tells you exactly how to edit this for proper operation.

The third part is the system file.  This is the file that you edit to tell
the radio the frequencies and other information on the system you are
going to listen to.  Several sample systems are available of you don't
have the information needed for the systems you wish to listen to. Info on
many EDACS systems are available on the E-Trax web page.

One of the system files included is the "Initial" file.  This is used to
figure out the correct Channel Order used by your system. This is
important to have correct, since an incorrect order will provide false
groups ID's. The manual tells you how to edit this with the frequencies
used by your system. The freqs can be found in Police Call, or on various
web sites. You then run the program with the Initial file, and follow the
instructions to decipher the correct channel order. A second scanner is
used to verify the correct channel order. Most, but not all, EDACS systems
use the freqs in ascending or descending order.

Once you have the correct channel order you can start listening to the
system.  The program shows you Group ID's (GID's) as they become active.
By careful monitoring you can figure out what is what.  Many times a unit
will identify the group he is using ("22 to 44 on Car West").  If you are
lucky enough t monitor a system during it's installation and testing phase
the techs will often test each group and identify it for you. Once you
figure out the use you can add a title to the Group, called a Tag.

A recent excursion to the Joliet area allowed me to identify 6
groups in a few minutes.  On a busier day I could have done a lot more,
but since this was Sunday, the only active groups were the Sheriff's

As you identify group ID's, write down the use, and you can edit the
system file and add up to 1000 GID tags.  This should keep you busy for a
while. Once you identify the various groups you can add them to a scan
list by editing the same file.  You can keep several versions of the same
system file with different scan lists to allow for different scanning
strategies. Just be sure to name them differently. Being DOS, be sure to
keep the names to 8 characters or less, and do not use a file extension
(no ".txt" for example)

The program delivers a lot of information on the EDACS system you are
listening to.  The active frequency , talk group, the name of the group,
type of group or conversation, what the control channel is, and status of
the program.  Talk groups that have not yet been identified are shown as
such, so you will know to listen carefully and figure out the use.

The program allows you to monitor a system in several ways. One is to
"Search" this is similar to searching on a regular scanner in that it will
display any active group or call, and display the ID and Tag (if known).
You can chose to track a single group or call, scan a pre-selected list
with or without a scan delay, follow groups only, again with or without
delay, or even individual calls only.

After a couple weeks of operation I found the program to be a reliable and
efficient way to monitor an EDACS system. In fact it is the only way to
track an EDACS system with a single radio, at least until the Uniden BC245
is available.  While monitoring the Illinois State Police system I was
able to track individual groups when an interesting call came out, and
searched out new groups.  I already had a majority of the most active
groups ID's, and as new ones were found I tracked them until I figured out
what it was used for.  When I had several new groups identified I stopped
the program and added them to the list of Group tags.

The only problems I had with the program were relatively minor, and are
probably more preferences than complaints.  I would prefer for the program
to be able to run in a DOS Window so that other Windows programs could run
at the same time.  I would also like to see the "F-Key" functions on the
screen to make it easier to select options.  I found that the default
yellow and blue on black screen was hard to see in bright sunlight in my
van, an inverted screen color would make it easier to read.

There is no way to edit the system file with the program running, nor are
there some advanced features such as hit counts or priority.  Since the
program was intended to be as simple as possible and use as little
computer resources as possible, I do not consider these major
deficiencies.  Some of these features may be included in future versions. 
Also, some of these ideas may not be practical for a program of this

I liked the overall layout of the display and the operation of the
program. It was easy to edit the group tags and to switch between modes.

Other programs are believed to be available in the near future that will
track EDACS systems.  New versions of Scan-Star are rumored to allow
simultaneous tracking of both EDACS and Motorola systems.  Since E-Trax is
limited to EDACS systems only it can be optimized for them and disregard
any bloat needed for additional protocols.

E-Trax is a valuable resource for serious scanner users.  If you have an
EDACS system near you and an OptoCom, then E-Trax is worth the price. 
When this program supports some of the other radios such as the OS456 and
PCR1000 then it will become even more desirable.

E-Trax uses the HEX protocol to identify EDACS groups. Hex is a Base16
numbering system, using 0 thru 9, then A,B,C,D,E,and F as equals to 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, and 15.  So therefore a group with the digits 1AF would
equal 431 in our normal Decimal system.  Uniden's new 245XLT scanner
introduces a new style of EDACS groups ID's, "AFS" (Agency-Fleet-System) 
Hex 1AF, Decimal 431 would equal 03-057 on a 245XLT.  E-Trax will also
display Decimal, but requires Hex to function.

Windows and Mac Scientific calulators will convert Hex to Decimal and
back, but will not convert to/from AFS.  To share group informations
between the various formats one can use a hex converter available at
http://www.theramp.net/n9jig/hex.html  Links to other conversion aids are
available there as well.

More information, including screen shots, is available on the E-Trax
Information Page at: