Desplaines Valley News
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) joined firefighters and railroad officials on Monday at a BSNF?Railway facility at 3611 W. 38th St. in Chicago to unveil a new “smart app” that puts a wealth of cargo information at the fingertips of first responders at crash sites.
Without the new technology called AskRail, accessible on smartphones and tablets, firefighters would have to endanger themselves and delay the response time by boarding trains to search for paper manifest listings that include what materials are being carried, Lipinski said.
“Chicago and northeastern Illinois is a rail hub at the center of the nation’s freight transportation system. We are committed to making America’s rails as safe as possible and prevent accidents, but we know they do happen,”?Lipinski said, referring to recent accidents that resulted in fires and the release of hazardous materials.
In May, a freight train derailed near Pittsburgh, and in March, a train carrying crude oil derailed near Galena, causing fires.
“I’ve asked the federal government and the railroads to come up with something like this, and we appreciate what the railroads have done in working with us on this,”?said Lipinski, a leading member of the House Transportation Committee.
It was pointed out that the new technology was completely funded by the railroad industry.
The BSNF railyard where the news conference was held was just north of Archer Heights, which, like most Southwest Side neighborhoods and southern suburbs is crisscrossed with railroad tracks.
“This is going to make our communities a lot safer,” said Lipinski, a Clearing native, adding that his Western Springs home is within a mile of a BSNF railyard.
“The AskRail app is not obtained from the app store,” said Pat Brady, director of hazardous materials for BNSF Railway Co. He went on to explain that first responders may obtain the app called AskRail from any railroad. Apple and Android smartphone versions are available.
He added that no matter which railroad company provides the app, it will work with all the major Class 1 railroads now using it.
“One app fits them all,” said Brady.
Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Glen Lyman, the CFD?hazardous material coordinator, said that he has had access to the app for the past few months.
“There have been two incidents in the last few months that I’ve had personal experience using it,” said Lyman. “By using AskRail, we were able to get the information we needed within five minutes,”?he said.
“Sometimes, the engineer is not available to give us the information. He might be a mile away, depending on the length of the train,”?he noted.
Officials from the Berwyn and Cicero fire departments also were at the news conference with some of their equipment.
Brady demonstrated for reporters how the app works, showing how all the cargo data can be accessed by entering an identification number found on each railroad car. The app then lists the freight cars in order, and a tap of the finger will display the contents so first responders can tell.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Brady. “All the railroads spend a lot of time partnering with first responders to ensure the safety of surrounding communities.”
“This railroad safety is going to remain a top priority of mine in the Transportation Committee,”?said Lipinski, thanking the railroad officials for being proactive.