Former Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner spent decades fighting fires in his community. Today, Werner uses that experience to assist thousands of firefighters and emergency responders across America in the event of a rail incident.

AskRail, a mobile application developed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the Association of American Railroads (AAR), gives firefighters and emergency responders instantaneous information on the contents of every rail car on a train, including hazardous materials like chlorine, saving valuable time and speeding response in the event of an incident.

Werner, who helped develop the app in 2014, recently spoke about it and what it means for emergency response efforts on the International Wireless Communications Expo’s (IWCE) Urgent Communications podcast.

“Back in 1978, a rail emergency involving carbon disulfide in Charlottesville took us nearly 24 hours to contain,” said Werner. “A significant share of that time was spent assessing the scene and identifying exactly what was on that train. If the same thing happened today, I would immediately have a full view of the information I needed to make better decisions. AskRail enables us to shrink this process from hours to minutes or even seconds.”

Listen to the Podcast

At the touch of a button, AskRail provides first responders with critical information including the contents of every rail car on a train and GIS mapping to identify the locations of community assets like schools and hospitals. The app also includes instructions of where to establish isolation zones to protect the public, the U.S. Department of Transportation Emergency Response guide and more.

Safety first isn’t just a platitude for freight railroads; it is the foundation for everything we do. -AAR President & CEO Ian Jefferies 

“The AskRail app ensures our communities have the information they need to keep people safe. That, coupled with specialized training for thousands of first responders each year, are just some of the ways we demonstrate our commitment to safety and the communities we serve,” says Jefferies.

Accessible through a secure verification process, AskRail is available only to qualified emergency responders. U.S. freight railroads actively promote the app to qualified emergency responders who have completed rail emergency training sponsored by one of the Class I freight railroads or at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC), the industry’s hazmat response training facility in Pueblo, CO. In addition, railroads offer the app to known emergency responders along their routes.

“AskRail provides first responders with accurate, real-time information about the situation at hand, helping them make fast and safe decisions as they work to protect our communities and save lives. It really is a game-changer,” Werner said.