Wreckage, debris and smoke lingered days after the April 15, 2023, train derailment in Rockwood, near Moosehead Lake. A new law spurred by the crash gives the state access to more information about hazardous materials being hauled along Maine tracks, but still limits what the public can request. Photo courtesy of the Maine Land Use Planning Commission

Maine has a new law that amps up reporting requirements for freight railroads transporting hazardous materials through the state.

Gov. Janet Mills signed L.D. 1937, an emergency bill, into law Friday, creating a system of state oversight that railroads have never experienced in Maine.

The bill was introduced last year to address concerns about the public’s right to information that emerged after a derailment in Rockwood last April sent three locomotives and six rail cars off the tracks, including two carrying hazardous materials. At the time, the state had limited access to information about what was being carried along Maine tracks. And the few records the state did have were shielded from public view through an exemption to the Freedom of Access Act added in 2015. 

The new law, which has taken effect almost exactly a year after the Rockwood derailment, looks very different from the original version of the bill. It expands the public’s ability to access the state’s information about freight trains, but only after a derailment or spill has occurred.

Lawmakers say that despite sweeping amendments, the spirit of the legislation has endured because its intent remains the same: to protect the public from dangerous derailments with greater oversight and better preparation.

“We felt that it was fair that everybody doesn’t need to know everything that’s traveling at any time,” said Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield, a co-sponsor of the bill. “The emergency management agency, first responders, people who need to know will know what generally is on these lines. They’ll have access to any immediate information the companies have if there is a derailment, and then in the aftermath, the public will have the knowledge of anything that potentially could have spilled from a derailment.”


The law, which goes beyond what the federal government stipulates railroads owe to the state, has CSX’s stamp of approval.

And with the swipe of the governor’s pen on Friday, railroads owe a lot more information to the state than ever before.


The public had access to little information in the immediate aftermath of an accident that sent a CPKC train off its tracks near Rockwood on April 15 last year. 

A small stream of information was slowly released over the coming days. Two of the 20 cars carrying hazardous materials derailed. The two hazardous-materials cars did not catch fire, but sat close to four cars and three locomotives that did ignite in the crash. And CPKC spilled at least 500 gallons of fuel and oil into the soil and local waters during the cleanup.

Weeks later, state agencies began issuing CPKC violations for breaking anti-pollution rules and not removing hazardous materials from the site in a timely manner.


CPKC, which had gone silent in the days following the derailment, repeatedly asserted that the derailment posed no threat to public safety.

Experts described the derailment as a “near disaster.” It was not Maine’s first. A Portland Press Herald investigation published last year revealed widespread issues with freight rail operations in Maine, including poorly maintained lines, unreported accidents and secrecy around the hazardous materials transported through the state.

Maine House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, alarmed by the lack of transparency, first introduced L.D. 1937 as an emergency bill in May 2023 to reverse the 2015 state law that shielded most derailment information from the public.

“We should not witness what happened in East Palestine (Ohio) and Rockwood and understand that only when a disaster is taking place is when the public has a right to know,” Talbot Ross said at a public hearing last spring.

That bill was primarily focused on allowing the public to access any information the state had about what hazardous materials trains were carrying – though the Maine Emergency Management Agency told the Press Herald that amounted to few details.

The first iteration of the bill received pushback from Class I railroads CPKC and CSX, which argued that this information would increase the risk of environmental terrorism. It would also go against railroads’ business interests, experts have said.


The bill was carried over to the current session. Lawmakers met with CSX and other interested parties to find a middle ground, said Hasenfus, a co-sponsor.

“It went both ways. Some of us wanted the full public to know what’s traveling and be able to, you know, ascertain that. And CSX was bit hesitant to disclose that information to the general public upon request,” he said. “We felt like this is an OK compromise between full access and no access at all.”

That’s led to what is now chaptered law that went into effect immediately after it was approved. The legislation received more than two-thirds support in both chambers. 

Despite shifting focus away from public access, the law escalates the oversight Maine’s emergency agencies and lawmakers have over railroads.

Railroads are now required to submit a slate of information to the state on a regular basis.

Railroads must submit prevention and response plans on the environmental impacts of a derailment to the state’s Commissioner of Environmental Protection. The state can request inspection reports from railroads whenever they see fit – only the Federal Railroad Administration had access to this information prior to the bill’s approval. Railroads must submit post-accident reviews and yearly accident reports that are then presented to the Legislature. And railroads must facilitate emergency training for any local emergency agencies in communities where the company has train tracks carrying hazardous materials.


The state previously did not have any regulations requiring they receive information directly from railroads on accidents – and limited requirements on general freight rail operations.

“This is making sure the state can watch over our rails to make sure that they’re safe,” he said. “The public can know that the state is watching out for this, is monitoring it and is able to keep us safe, inform us if there is a derailment, and if there are hazardous materials, what they are and how much spilled. If nothing else, this is an important piece so that we know what to do when it happens, if it happens.”


While the public has not been granted unfettered access to information about how hazardous materials are moved on rails through the state, it no longer shields this information altogether.

The public is now able to request any records from the state “related to a train carrying hazardous materials that has derailed at any point from a main line train track or related to a discharge of hazardous materials transported by a railroad company that poses a threat to public health, safety and welfare.”

This stipulation provides greater public access than federal regulations currently do. Railroads now must submit initial accident reports to the Federal Railroad Administration within 30 days of an accident that are then published 60 days later. A full report, which members of the public can request from the federal government, “typically takes from six to nine months from the date of the accident” to be completed.


Now, any member of the public can file a Freedom of Access Act request to the state to receive any records immediately after an accident. The state could also publish that information, though it is not required to.

Hasenfus said he wonders whether federal law preempts the new state law, but he hopes that with CSX’s support no issues will arise.

Though Talbot Ross originally said that the public deserved information ahead of a derailment, spokesperson Mary-Erin Casale said that in the legislative process, “the Speaker has been focused on improving public safety by ensuring that first responders have the best information and training possible to prevent unthinkable disasters due to hazardous materials.”

Casale, who sent the same statement in February, declined to respond to specific questions about how the bill’s focus has changed and how Talbot Ross might continue pursuing legislative action regarding freight rail operations if she is elected to the state Senate in the fall.

If reelected in the fall, Hasenfus will keep a close eye on how enforcement of the bill improves the current system.

“I don’t have any specific plan in mind. Depending on how this bill is implemented, that may direct what future legislation we do to improve the process or improve information,” he said.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story