Many people employed in industries that once extensively used asbestos are often at a greater risk of developing a devastating asbestos-related disease. Railroad workers are one such employment group exposed to asbestos, and if you were a railroad worker, it’s a good idea to speak to your healthcare provider about getting screened for asbestos-related illness.

In addition, both the Federal Employers Liability Act and various Asbestos Trusts provide compensation for railroad workers injured by asbestos exposure.

Background on Asbestos Exposure By Railroad Employees

From the 1930s through to the 1970s, asbestos was widely used in the manufacturing of both trains and related locomotive components.

Photo by Benjamin Wagner on Unsplash

How are railroad workers exposed to asbestos?

The use of asbestos was at one time prevalent in many aspects of railroad construction. Given that many of today’s existing tracks and railroad facilities were built during the period of peak asbestos use, a high percentage of asbestos remains present. 

Industrial Asbestos Got Its Start With Steam Engines and Was Used in Most Train Cars for Decades

Any railroad employee both in or around trains, railroad shops, roadhouses, or repair facilities were (and are) at risk. Routine work would often include the cutting and sanding of asbestos-containing materials, disturbing the mineral, and releasing the deadly asbestos fibers into the air to be inhaled or ingested. 

Railroad workers are also at risk of exposure when repairing or otherwise maintaining trains or tracks when dealing with other systems containing asbestos, including electrical, plumbing, and heating systems.

Most former railroad employees may be at risk of developing asbestos illnesses

Other associated tradespeople at risk within the railroad industry included engineers, conductors, boilermakers, brake operators, yardmasters, machinists, train crew, and more. 

While the railroad industry’s use of asbestos came to a halt by the 1980s, its prevalent use means that many material components still contain the hazardous material today. As a result, railroad and associated workers must ensure that their companies take the prevention of asbestos exposure seriously. As asbestos materials age and degrade, the likelihood of the harmful fibers becoming airborne and risking the health of anyone in proximity is heightened.

Associated railroad product hazards

Asbestos was also commonly used to manufacture a wide range of products and materials related to railroad work. These include:

Brakes and clutches

Locomotive brake pads, linings, and clutches all contained asbestos due to its strength and heat resistant qualities.

Boilers and fireboxes

Asbestos lagging insulation and asbestos-containing furnace cement was commonly used in steam locomotive’s boilers and fireboxes. Some of the fireboxes were also made from a ‘firebrick’ that contained asbestos.


The insulative properties of asbestos made it a popular choice for both steam and diesel locomotive boilers, caboose ceilings, electrical panels, pipe coverings, and the driving carriages and cabins. 

Floor and ceiling tiles

Manufacturers commonly used the asbestos-containing floor and ceiling tiles in a train’s passengers cars to create an aesthetically pleasing fireproof finish.

Cement tiles

Asbestos was also used to create the cement tiles that secure the rail lines.

Other associated components include plaster, paint, rope, wallboards, sealing cement, and the disposable coasters and ashtrays that some railroad operations handed out to rail passengers.

A number of studies have been conducted that demonstrate a clear connection between railroad worker asbestos exposure and an increased rate of developing asbestos injuries, including cancers like mesothelioma (an aggressive form of cancer). 

In 2015, the British Medical Journal published a study into asbestos-related deaths in railroad workers in Belgium between 2001 and 2009. The results concluded that these railroad workers were more than three times more likely (than the general population) to die from mesothelioma

The Asbestos Industry Was Informed About Its Dangers, But Failed To Protect Workers

As far back as 1942, Dr. Wilhelm Hueper wrote his first book on the causes of occupational cancer, attributing the great majority of them to industry-introduced carcinogens such as asbestos. In his later work during the 1950s, his findings were that ‘operating’ railroad workers were over three times more likely to develop lung cancer than their ‘non-operational’ railroad working counterparts. 

In 2006, railway worker Ray Williams’ widow was compensated $7.4 million after winning their suit against CSX Transportation. Williams had been an employee of the company from the early 1960s to the late 1990s, frequently working with asbestos-containing materials. He was subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma and passed away before the verdict was given. 

Photo by 2 Bro’s Media on Unsplash

New cases of Railroad Workers’ asbestos exposure continue to emerge

Sadly, it can take as many as 40 or 50 years after the asbestos exposure for the symptoms of mesothelioma or other related diseases to become apparent. In addition, the dangers of asbestos exposure remain a real risk today, as asbestos has been used so prolifically in the railroad industry for many decades. 

Railroad workers can seek compensation through civil action lawsuits under the Federal Employers Liability Act (FELA). With the assistance of an asbestos attorney, compensation may be awarded to railroad workers and their families.


If you may have been exposed to asbestos, speak with your healthcare provider about tests and screening to help detect the presence of asbestos fibers and asbestos-related damage.

AsbestosClaims.Law is your comprehensive resource for all things asbestos. We hope this information is helpful.

If you have any additional questions or concerns related to asbestos, check out our website and Youtube page for videos, infographics and answers to your questions about asbestos, including health and safety, asbestos testing, removing asbestos from your home and building, and legal information about compensation for asbestos injuries.

And if you believe that you were exposed to asbestos, or have been diagnosed with an asbestos illness, you could be entitled to significant compensation—money you could use to cover the costs of asbestos removal services, pay for medical treatment, and preemptively protect your physical well-being. 

All without filing a lawsuit.

If you’d like help with filing a claim, please get in touch by email at [email protected], or call or text us at (206) 455-9190. We’ll listen to your story and explain your options. And we never charge for anything unless you receive money in your pocket.