Posted by Fred Lake

Railroad Retirement Benefits VS Social Security, Disability & Survivors Benefits

Railroad Retirement Benefits VS Social Security, Disability & Survivors Benefits

Railway workers have the right to participate in a federal retirement and disability program similar to social security. However, the railway pension scheme offers different and fairly extensive social security benefits. Additionally, the program is administered by the Railway Retirement Board (RRB) and not by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Like SSA, RRB is a federal agency.

The advantages of the railway are divided into two levels. Level 1 is more like traditional social security, while level 2 is more like a private pension scheme.

Tier 1 Railroad Benefits

Level 1 benefits include pension, disability, spousal, and survivors.


Retirement benefits are calculated in the same way as social security pension benefits, but the eligibility requirements are different. To be eligible for railway retirement benefits, a worker must have worked on the railway for only five years (if the job was after 1995) or ten years if the job was before 1995; there is a reduction in the pension if the worker has been on the railroad for less than 30 years.

As in social security, a railway worker is not entitled to a pension until 62 (with one exception). Also, as in social security, if benefits are received at this age, early retirement is taken into account, and benefits will be permanently reduced. The normal retirement age for railway workers is between 65 and 67, depending on their birth date. It is the same as for social security.

However, unlike Social Security, RRB permits a person to obtain full retirement benefits at age 60 if they have worked for at least 30 years for an employer covered by RRB.

Additional Tier 1 Railroad Retirement Annuity

A small additional pension is available for those who:

  • Have worked for at least 25 years for an employer covered by the RRB

  • Are currently connected to the railway company.

  • Started working for the railway before October 1, 1981

To receive this additional pension, the employee must be at the age of 60, with at least 30 years of employment with an employer covered by the RRB, or 65 years old, with 25 to 29 years of employment with an employer covered by RRB.

Disability Benefits

RRB has the same definition of disability as SSA. This implies that to be eligible for RRB disability, the worker's disability must be severe enough to prevent them from performing a substantially paid activity for at least one year. By 2020, SGA is defined as earning $ 1,260 per month of work (or $ 2,110 for the blind).

To obtain the maximum amount of the RRB deficit, a railway worker must have at least ten years of covered work. If a worker has just five years of work on the railway (after 1995), they are entitled to RRB disability benefits if they have received at least 20 social security credits in the past ten years. 

Unlike social security, workers covered by the RRB are also entitled to an "occupational disability" benefit. This benefit aids people who can still do a certain type of work, but whose disability prevents them from performing their normal railway function. To be entitled to this benefit, the railway worker must have at least 20 years of covered RRB service and are currently related to the railway industry or be between 60 years of age and full retirement age, with at least ten years of railway employment and a current connection to the railway industry.

Spousal Benefits

Spouses of railway employees eligible for the railway pension are also entitled to benefits equal to approximately half of the spouse's salary. However, this sum may be affected if the covered worker retires early.

To be entitled to spousal benefits, the spouse must have been married for at least one year or have conceived a child; or the railway worker is no longer obliged to participate in the work covered by the RRB.

The age and service requirements are the same as for pension benefits. Also, the spouse of an insured railway worker can receive benefits at any age if he or she takes care of the worker's child, and the child is under 18 years of age or takes care of the worker's child, and the latter became disabled at the age of 22.

Divorced spouses

Divorced spouses are also entitled to level 1 benefits under the same rules and regulations as social security. This means that ex-spouses are eligible if the spouses have been married for at least ten years, and the non-RRB spouse has not remarried. The ex-spouse cannot receive an equal or greater amount of benefits on their behalf or from another person's income statement.

Children's Benefits

Unlike social security, the children of railway workers can technically benefit from the RRB if the insured parent has died. On the other hand, the RRB includes a minimum payment provider to ensure that a family covered by the RRB receives the same benefits as a family in a similar situation receiving social security benefits. Therefore, a family with a child under 18 will benefit from increased pensions or disability benefits to care for the child.

Survivors Benefits

To be entitled to RRB survivor benefits, the deceased railway worker must have at least ten years of service covered by the RRB or five years of service covered by the RRB after 1995, or you had a current rail connection at the time of death or retirement.

If the criteria for RRB survivor benefits cannot be met, all credits obtained while carrying out work covered by RRB will be transferred to Social Security. The transferred credits can be used to obtain social security survivor benefits.

Survivor benefits can be paid to:

  • Children under 18

  • Dependent child

  • Dependent grandchildren (if both parents are deceased or disabled)

  • Dependent parents.

  • Disabled children before the age of 22

  • Ex-spouses

  • Teens aged 18-19 who are in grade 12 or younger

  • Widow(er)s.

The limits for survivors' benefits are calculated in the same way as social security survivors' benefits. For more information on how benefits are calculated, see social security benefits for survivors after a disabled worker's death and survivors' benefits for divorced spouses.

Tier II Railroad Benefits

Unlike social security, the RRB pension has a second tier of benefits that work similarly to private pension plans. These benefits, known as Tier II benefits, are calculated based on the covered worker's average income who uses the worker's highest five-year salary. The subsidy amount is then determined using a complex formula based in part when the worker has worked on the railroad and then adjusted for the rising cost of living. You can learn more about calculating Tier II benefits on the US RRB website.

Level II benefits can also be paid to current and surviving spouses. However, the ex-spouses are only entitled to Tier II benefits if the entitlement is part of the spouses' estate settlement agreement.

Unemployment and Sickness Benefits

Unlike social security, workers covered by RRB may also be entitled to unemployment or sickness benefits. Contact RRB for more information on these benefits.



Fred Lake
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