An Overview of Federal Railroad Retirement Benefits (RRB)

Railroad retirement and disability benefits are as good as or better than Social Security benefits.

One of the advantages to working in the railroad industry is that you may be eligible to receive retirement benefits or disability benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act, and generally these federal benefits are more expansive than Social Security benefits. Spouses and survivors of eligible workers may also receive benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act.

Eligibility for Railroad Retirement Benefits

To gain eligibility for railroad benefits, first you will need to show the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) that you have worked for an employer covered by the Railroad Retirement Act. Regulations under the Act broadly define an employer to include carriers who perform any service in transporting property or passengers by the railroad.

Second, you must have worked at least 60 months of service with a railroad employer, or 120 months of service if you worked before 1995. Even if you work for only one day in a month, you would receive credit for that entire month.

Railroad Retirement Benefits

The timing of when you can start receiving retirement benefits (described as age and service annuities) is based upon how many years you have worked for the railroad industry. If you have 360 months (30 years) of service, you can retire the first full month you are age 60 without any age reduction in benefit amount. However, if you have 60 to 359 months (5 years to 29 years) of service, your benefits will be reduced if you retire before your full retirement age (FRA). The website rrb.gov has a chart to calculate your FRA.

Generally, the full retirement age has been slowly increasing from age 65 to age 67, depending on the year you were born. As with Social Security benefits, if you delay retirement past your full retirement age, your benefit amount will be increased. The Railroad Retirement Board uses a complex two-tiered system for calculating retirement benefits.

Spousal Benefits

If the covered employee is age 60 and has worked for 30 years, then the spouse can elect to receive a spousal annuity the first full month after the spouse turns age 60. If the covered employee has worked less than 30 years and is at least age 62, then the spouse may receive an annuity the first full month after turning age 62.

Also, if the spouse is caring for a child who is under age 18 or who became disabled before the age of 22, the spouse may receive a spousal annuity at any age, if the covered employee is currently receiving railroad retirement benefits.

Survivor Benefits

Benefits are available for widows and widowers, children under age 18 (or who became disabled before age 22), parents, and other dependents. The covered railroad employee must have worked for at least 10 years for a railroad employer, or 5 years of work performed after the year 1995. In addition, the covered employee must have a “current connection” with railroad employment. The easiest way to meet the regular current connection test is to show the employee had railroad employment in at least 12 of the 30 consecutive months immediately before the employee’s retirement benefits began, or before the month of the employee’s death.

Eligibility for Railroad Disability Benefits

To be eligible for railroad disability benefits, you must have performed at least 120 months (10 years) of railroad employment, or at least 60 months (5 years) of work after the year 1995.

You can receive a disability annuity if you are unable to perform any regular type of job (not just your occupation in the railroad industry). The RRB will want medical evidence showing that your impairment will last for at least one year or is expected to result in death. Proof of your disability can be shown through the use of a functional capacity test or independent case evaluation indicating your ability to stand, walk, lift, crouch, stoop, bend, climb, and kneel.

Appealing a Railroad Benefit Decision

If you want to appeal a decision by the RRB, you may request a reconsideration from the RRB within 60 days. If you are unhappy with the RRB's reconsideration, you would further appeal to the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, where you could to present additional evidence to a hearings officer. Next, you could appeal to the three-member Railroad Retirement Board. Lastly, if necessary, you could file an appeal with the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals.

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