Railroad workers faced extensive exposure to asbestos due to its widespread use in various components and structures within the industry through the 1980s. Even those not directly involved in railroad repairs were likely exposed to asbestos. Workers in roadhouses, railroad shops, and repair shops routinely handled asbestos-containing materials, cutting or smoothing them, leading to the release of airborne asbestos fibers. Conductors and yardmasters were at risk when public cabins and carriages, including floor tiles and wallboards, contained asbestos that could become airborne through wear and tear.
Brakes on locomotives, frequently containing asbestos, posed another significant risk. As brake pads and linings wore down, workers were exposed to asbestos dust during replacement procedures. Maintenance workers faced high exposure risks dealing with piping, electrical systems, and HVAC systems containing asbestos.
Railroad workers encountered various asbestos-containing products, including boilers, ceiling and floor tiles, brakes, cement ties, gaskets, insulation materials, wallboards, and more. Specific trades within the railroad industry faced heightened risks, including engineers, conductors, brake operators, switch operators, car couplers, yardmasters, inspectors, hydraulic engineers, refrigeration engineers, boilermakers, electricians, machinists, and train crews.
Health risks for railroad workers exposed to asbestos include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other asbestos-related illnesses. Older workers, especially those exposed to steam-powered equipment before the 1950s, faced higher risks.
Railway companies that are known to have used asbestos include:
Products used by Railroads and railroad workers that may contain asbestos include but are not limited to: