How to Claim Railroad Retirement Benefits

Trace a missing Railroad Retirement pension

The Railroad Retirement Board administers payment of retirement, unemployment, sickness, disability, survivor and death benefits to the country’s railroad workers and spouses under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1937. Railroad retirement benefits are financed primarily by payroll taxes paid by railroad employers and employees. The National Railroad Retirement Investment Trust currently totals $26 billion. Retirement and survivor benefits of more than $10 billion are paid annually to about 589,000 employees and spouses.

For fiscal year 2018, the average annuity paid to career rail employees was $3,525 per month, while the average annuity paid for all retired rail employees was $2,815 per month. Records are classified by Social Security Number dating back to 1937; but 5% of beneficiary addresses on file are not current. Retirees retain the right to claim benefits during their lifetime, but for those who have already attained retirement age, there is a six-month retroactivity limit. No routine effort is made to locate individuals who may have 120 months of railroad service but have not filed for benefits, so it is important to file a claim if entitled.

Claim Railroad Retirement Benefits

Initiate search for Unclaimed Railroad Retirement Benefits

Unclaimed Railway Worker Life Insurance

Note: Survivors of retired railroad employees who died between 1964 and 2001 may be entitled to receive a $2,000.00 life insurance benefit. Certain retired employees of participating railroads may have been covered under group life insurance policies issued to the Health and Welfare Plan of the Nation’s Railroads and the Railway Labor Organizations. The amount of the coverage is $2,000.00 per insured. The beneficiary must filed a claim.

RRB Certificate of Service

Annually each June, the RRB issues a Certificate of Service Months and Compensation (Form BA-6) for every railroad employee who had creditable railroad service in the previous calendar year. Form BA-6 provides employees with a complete record of their service and compensation.

Railroad Employee Unemployment and Sickness Benefits

The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act provides unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad employees, replacing unemployment insurance.

Railroad Retirement Survivor Benefits

Monthly benefits are payable to surviving widow(er)s, children, and certain other dependents at the time of death of a covered Railroad employee.

Generally speaking, to qualify for benefits an employee must have at least 120 months of creditable railroad service, and a “current connection” at the time of death. Service months need not be consecutive, and in some cases military service may count. Credit for a month of railroad service is given for every month in which an employee has had some compensated service for an employer covered by the Railroad Retirement Act, even if only one day’s service is performed during the month.

A railroad employee who worked at least 12 of the preceding 30 months preceding the month his/her Railroad retirement Annuity begins is “currently connected.” If the employee dies before retirement, railroad service in at least 12 of the 30 months before death meets the current connection requirement. {A Railroad employee may also meet this requirement with 12 months service in a 30 month period after which there was no employment outside the Railroad industry.}

Full or part-time work for a non-railroad employer after the 30th month and before the date a railroad retirement annuity starts (or the date of death, if earlier) can break a current connection. If a deceased employee does not qualify under the terms above, survivors should look to the Social Security Administration for payment of benefits.

Also, survivors of Railroad employees may be entitled to claim two types of lump-sum death benefits. A lump-sum death benefit for burial expenses is payable to certain survivors (those not immediately eligible for monthly benefits) of employees with a current connection and 10 or more years of creditable service. A residual lump-sum benefit is payable to survivors or designated beneficiaries of railroad employees with service prior to 1975 (essentially a refund of an employee’s pre-1975 payroll taxes plus an adjustment for interest).

Age and Service, Disability and Supplemental Annuities

Although benefits are financed by taxes levied on railroad employers and employees, benefits are considered to be federal statutory grants. Among those eligible to collect annuities are former railroad employees, widows and widower’s unmarried children under 18 (or age 18 while enrolled as a full time secondary school student), unmarried disabled children over age 18, unmarried dependent grandchildren, and, in certain circumstances, parents who are dependent on a rail employee for at least half their support.