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[Excerpt] The Railroad Retirement Board (RRB), an independent federal agency, administers retirement, survivor, disability, unemployment, and sickness insurance for railroad workers and their families under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA) and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA). These acts cover workers who are employed by railroads engaged in interstate commerce and related subsidiaries, railroad associations, and railroad labor organizations. Lifelong railroad workers receive railroad retirement benefits instead of Social Security benefits; railroad workers with nonrailroad experience receive benefits either from railroad retirement or Social Security, depending on the length of their railroad service.

The number of railroad workers has been declining since the 1950s, although the rate of decline has been irregular and recent years have seen increases in railroad employment after reaching an all-time low of 215,000 workers in January 2010. Recently, railroad employment peaked in April 2015 to 253,000 workers, the highest level since November 1999, and then declined through FY2017, falling to 221,000 workers. The total number of beneficiaries under the RRA and RUIA decreased from 623,000 in FY2008 to 574,000 in FY2017, and the total benefit payments increased from $10.1 billion to $12.6 billion during the same time. During FY2017, the RRB paid nearly $12.5 billion in retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to approximately 548,000 beneficiaries. Almost $105.4 million in unemployment and sickness benefits were paid to approximately 28,000 claimants.

This report explains the programs under RRA and RUIA, including how each program is financed, the eligibility rules, and the types of benefits available to railroad workers and family members. It also discusses how railroad retirement relates to the Social Security system.


Suggested Citation
Li, Z. (2019). Railroad retirement, survivor, disability, unemployment, and sickness benefits (CRS Report RS22350). Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.