Railroad Workers

Railroad Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Occupational Asbestos Exposure for Railroad Workers

Throughout most of the 20th century, asbestos could be found in a variety of equipment and products used by the railroad industry. It was commonly used in the construction of trains and steam engines and was found in everything from brake pads and rail ties to insulation, gaskets, and rail car flooring. As a result, railroad workers faced significant risks of being exposed to the mineral and developing serious health conditions such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related health condition, past employment as a railroad worker may provide grounds for you to seek financial recovery for your losses.

At SWMW Law, we’re known nationally for litigating asbestos exposure cases in courts across the country. Our team has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for railroad workers, families, and workers in other at-risk occupations and has the experience and resources to take on powerful corporations and insurance carriers. If you have a potential case, we’re ready to help.

SWMW Law serves railroad workers and families across the nation. To speak with an attorney about your legal options, call (855) 744-1922 or contact us onlinefor a FREE consultation.

How Railroad Workers Were Exposed to Asbestos

Asbestos was used widely in the railroad industry, and workers who helped construct, operate, maintain, inspect, and repair tracks, trains, and rail equipment were routinely exposed to harmful asbestos-containing materials in the course of their employment. 

From the myriad of asbestos-containing products found in train cars to asbestos contained in essential locomotive components and railways, there were many ways that railroad workers were directly exposed to asbestos. Indirect exposure to asbestos also affected workers who didn’t directly work on trains or rail systems, as well as families of railroad workers who were exposed to the harmful mineral through secondary exposure. Studies have found ample evidence to show that spouses and children of railroad workers have a higher incidence of mesothelioma than the general population due to take-home exposure.

A variety of workers faced risks of asbestos exposure due to working in or alongside the railroad industry during the 20th century. Some examples include:

  • Engineers
  • Conductors
  • Dispatchers
  • Yardmasters and Station Masters
  • Brake Operators / Brakemen
  • Signal Switch Operators / Switchmen
  • Safety Engineers
  • Railway Electricians
  • General Laborers
  • Car Couplers
  • Clerks
  • Inspectors 
  • Mechanics
  • Millwrights and Machinists
  • Maintenance Workers
  • Locomotive Firers
  • Roadhouse Workers
  • Boilermakers
  • Blacksmiths
  • Welders
  • Train Crews
  • Track Crews

Asbestos was used widely in materials and equipment found in rail cars. Insulation, for example, contained asbestos because it was heat-resistant and could withstand the high temperatures inherent to rail transit. As such, asbestos insulation was used abundantly in engine rooms, boilers, electric panels, brake systems, clutches, and other train and rail components subject to heat and intense friction. It could also be found throughout freight and passenger cars in wallboard, ceiling tiles, flooring, and more. 

Unfortunately, workers who built, installed, serviced, or repaired these items were likely exposed to asbestos. The risks were especially great for workers who performed tasks such as sanding, grinding, or sawing, which increased the likelihood of releasing harmful asbestos fibers into the air where they could be inhaled or ingested, and for workers who performed tasks in cramped spaces with poor circulation where asbestos fibers could concentrate at higher levels. 

Some studies suggest railroad workers who worked with and around older trains may face greater risks of developing asbestos diseases. That’s because older locomotives were primarily powered by steam engines and used larger quantities of asbestos to insulate equipment than diesel-powered trains, which were still riddled with asbestos. 

In addition to the direct exposure experienced by railroad workers, other workers would have also been exposed to asbestos used by the railroad industry. This includes machinists, boilermakers, welders, pipefitters, electricians, painters, welders, and various trades workers who built or repaired train components in repair shops and roundhouses, as well as general laborers and track workers who installed new rail lines. Some of these track workers were exposed to raw asbestos when excavating or clearing land for new lines.

Asbestos was used so abundantly on trains, tracks, and rail-owned property that even workers who did not directly handle asbestos-containing products were likely exposed to asbestos. This includes employees in various ancillary and support roles, such as clerks.

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Sources of Asbestos Exposure for Railroad Workers

The American railroad industry relied heavily on asbestos to support its infrastructure, expand rail systems, and meet the growing demands of an increasingly industrialized and connected society.

Unfortunately, this reliance on asbestos meant it was present in a variety of products, equipment, and machinery used and encountered by railroad workers. These asbestos-containing products would have been especially hazardous to workers who performed repairs or duties that created dust and dispersed harmful asbestos fibers into the air. 

Some of the asbestos-containing products railroad workers may have been exposed to include:

  • Boilers and Fireboxes
  • Brakes Pads and Brake Linings
  • Clutches
  • Ceiling Tiles and Floor Tiles
  • Wallboards and Paneling
  • Cement Rail Ties
  • Gaskets and Packing
  • Thermal Insulation
  • Pumps and Valves
  • Paint, Sealant, and Adhesives
  • Steam Engines


Manufacturers and other major corporations used asbestos in their products and processes throughout much of the 20th century, despite knowing as early as the 1930s that asbestos was harmful to humans. The result has been decades of continual diagnoses for devastating diseases like lung cancer and mesothelioma – most significantly among workers in high-risk occupations like railroad work.

According to minutes from the American Railway Association, railroad company executives and medical officers discussed the health risks of asbestos exposure as early as the 1930s. Records also show by the late 1950s, railroad medical officers discussed asbestos as a cause of cancer. Despite knowing about these risks, however, rail companies willingly withheld this information from railroad workers who faced daily risks of asbestos exposure from dangerous products and job duties. 

As the scope of these companies’ negligence and bad acts came to light, victims and families across the nation stepped forward to hold them accountable. In addition to asbestos trusts funded by companies that went out of business, manufacturers, railroad companies, and contactors that sold, supplied, or otherwise negligently exposed rail workers to asbestos have been held liable in civil court. Today, these cases have set precedent for new waves of victims to recover the justice and compensation they deserve.  

  • American Association for Justice
  • MATA
  • The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis

Studies Find Increased Mesothelioma Risks Among Railroad Workers

We know a great deal about the dangers of asbestos thanks to a large and ever-growing body of evidence. This includes the fact there is no safe level of asbestos exposure and occupational exposure to asbestos is the single greatest risk factor for developing mesothelioma. It also includes findings which tell us certain professions – including railroad workers – are recognized as at-risk occupations

Several studies have shown workers in the railroad industry face increased risks of being exposed to asbestos on the job and developing asbestos-related diseases as a result. Some examples include:

  • A 1991 study published in Toxicology and Industrial Health analyzed mesothelioma cases in railroad workers, machinists, and other laborers exposed to asbestos in Italian railroads and found that asbestos present in rail equipment posed significant health risks to workers. The study also stressed the gravity of the risks and the need for preventative measures, medical monitoring, and further investigations into asbestos in the railroad industry. 
  • A 1988 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found significant incidences of mesothelioma among railroad machinists and other railroad workers. The study, which took care to note that there are increased cancer risks wherever there is exposure to asbestos, regardless of job title or duties, also contained accounts of railroad machinists exposed to asbestos dust while servicing steam cranes and locomotives.
  • A 1985 study of nearly 400 railroad workers found railroad workers are a group at risk for asbestos-related disease. This includes mesothelioma and other health problems such as pleural plaques, breathing difficulties, and chronic bronchitis associated with asbestos exposure.

Over the years, waves of workers and families have fought to hold asbestos companies and other liable entities accountable for the devastation caused by asbestos exposure. Their efforts have cleared the path for victims and families today who are struggling with financial and emotional losses caused by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Compensation for Railroad Workers Exposed to Asbestos

At SWMW Law, we’ve dedicated our practice to helping asbestos victims and their families in the fight for justice. Backed by over a century of collective legal experience, our team has the insight to help clients explore options for recovering losses and strategies to maximize their compensation. 

Railroad workers may be entitled to a financial recovery of damages such as:

  • Past medical bills
  • Future medical expenses
  • Lost wages or lost financial support
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium and emotional injuries
  • Other economic and non-economic losses

If you were a former railroad worker who has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, of if your loved one died from mesothelioma or cancer caused by asbestos, you may have options to recover compensation. These include:

  • FELA Claims. Claims filed under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA) can be a viable option for railroad workers diagnosed with occupational illnesses like mesothelioma. FELA claims are governed by a unique set of rules and procedures and require workers to prove that their employer’s negligence caused or contributed to their illness. Some examples include failure to provide adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), comply with safety regulations, or warn workers about hazardous conditions. 
  • Asbestos Trust Fund Claims. After decades of exposing workers to asbestos-containing products they knew to be harmful, asbestos companies were ordered to fund trust accounts created specifically to compensate victims harmed by asbestos exposure, as well as families who lost loved ones to asbestos-related diseases. These funds can provide meaningful compensation to railroad workers and their loved ones. 
  • Civil Lawsuits. Civil personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits allow victims to recover financial compensation for various economic and non-economic losses. These lawsuits can be based on negligence, product liability, or other causes of action, and generally require plaintiffs to prove their claims in accordance with a certain legal standard. Civil lawsuits against asbestos suppliers, manufacturers, and other liable parties can be a viable option for railroad workers when FELA claims against employers are not possible. 

Asbestos litigation is a complex and specialized area of law that demands the insight of experienced advocates. At SWMW, our attorneys can help explore the most appropriate course of action based on your situation and how to overcome any challenges that may arise. This includes the need to litigate against powerful railroad companies, insurance carriers, and other corporations that prioritize profits over people. Fortunately, past cases have shown that these companies can be held accountable.

Examples of railroad companies that have been held accountable through asbestos litigation include:

  • Amtrak
  • Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway
  • Birmingham Southern Railroad Company
  • BNSF Railway Co.
  • Carolina & Western Railway Co. Inc.
  • Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company
  • Conrail
  • CSX Transportation
  • Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad Co.
  • Iowa Interstate Railroad Ltd.
  • Kansas City Southern Railway Company
  • Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co.
  • Seminole Gulf Railway
  • Transtar Inc.

Learn more about your rights and legal options.

Examples of Our Results

SWMW Law has recovered over $750 million in compensation for clients, including millions in verdicts and settlements in asbestos cases. Our team has extensive experience handling high stakes claims involving railroad workers and other victims diagnosed with mesothelioma and cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Some examples of our results include:

  • $11.5 million trial verdict for a U.S. Navy machinist diagnosed with mesothelioma.
  • $9.7 million trial verdict for a client diagnosed with mesothelioma due to take-home exposure.
  • $7 million settlement for a union insulator diagnosed with mesothelioma
  • $3.4 million settlement for a Missouri heavy equipment mechanic and maintenance worker diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Call For a FREE Consultation: (855) 744-1922

SWMW Law is dedicated to helping victims and families in the fight against corporations that care more about profits than people. Comprised of award-winning attorneys, our team has helped clients take on powerful defendants in courts across the country and has helped countless victims and families secure the justice and compensation they deserved. 

If you have questions about an asbestos claim involving work in the railroad industry, call (855) 744-1922 or contact us online for a FREE consultation

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