When a loved one dies, knowing where to turn for help can be challenging. This is especially true if that loved one worked on the railroad. Railroad death benefits, also known as survivor benefits, are available to those who qualify, but claiming those benefits can be confusing. This article will explore the requirements to get railroad survivor benefits and what a current connection is. We will also look at some of the nuances of these benefits, including divorced spouses, children, and dependents.

What are Railroad Survivor Benefits?

The Railroad Retirement Act provides for the payment of monthly benefits to the surviving widow(er), children, and other dependents of a railroad employee if the employee was “insured” under that Act at the time of death. Lump-sum death benefits may also be payable to qualified survivors in some cases.

To be eligible for monthly survivor benefits, a person must have been married to the deceased employee for at least nine months immediately before the employee’s death; or, if not married to the employee, must have been the employee’s child and either dependent upon the employee or have become disabled before age 22. A person may also be eligible for benefits as a “qualifying child” if certain conditions are met.

The amount of monthly survivor benefits payable depends on several factors, including the deceased employee’s years of railroad service and whether they received a retirement annuity at the time of death. Generally, the higher the deceased employee’s years of service and annuity rate, the higher the survivor benefits will be.

Requirements for Railroad Survivor Benefits

An employee must have been insured under the Railroad Retirement Act to be eligible for survivor benefits. Employees are insured if they have at least 120 months (10 years) of railroad service or 60 months (5 years) of service performed after 1995. In addition, the employee must have a “current connection” with the railroad industry as of the month the annuity begins or the month of death, whichever occurs first.

Employees who worked for a railroad for at least 12 months in the 30 months immediately preceding the month their railroad retirement annuity begins will meet the current connection requirement. In the event that a deceased employee did not have insured status, the jurisdiction of any payable survivor benefits is transferred to the Social Security Administration.

Railroad Survivor Benefits and Divorced Spouses

Survivor benefits may be payable to a surviving divorced spouse or remarried widow(er) under certain circumstances. Benefits are limited to the amount social security would pay (tier I only). They, therefore, are less than the amount of the survivor annuity otherwise payable (tier I and tier II) by the RRB. A tier II benefit is not provided for a surviving divorced spouse or a remarried widow(er).

To qualify, a surviving divorced spouse must have been married to the employee for at least ten years immediately before the date the divorce became final and be age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled). Alternatively, an unmarried surviving divorced spouse can qualify at any age if they care for the employee’s child and the child is under age 16 or disabled. In such cases, the 10-year marriage requirement does not apply.

Railroad Survivor Benefits and Children or Dependents

Monthly survivor benefits may be payable to qualifying children or dependents of a railroad employee. To qualify, an unmarried child must be under 18 or 18 and in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school or approved homeschooling program. The benefits will continue until the child attains 19 years of age or graduates from their current school term. If the child marries, discontinues their full-time attendance, or reaches 19 years of age before graduating, the benefits will terminate.

In some cases, an unmarried dependent grandchild meeting any of the requirements described above for a child may also qualify for monthly survivor benefits. Monthly survivor benefits may also be payable to a parent at age 60, dependent on the employee for at least half of the parent’s support.

The Different Types of Lump-Sum Benefits

Suppose an employee dies while working for a railroad company. In that case, their survivors may be eligible to receive a lump-sum death benefit. To be eligible, the employee must have ten or more years of service or less than ten years if they have five years after 1995. Additionally, the employee must have a current connection to the railroad industry. If the employee meets these requirements, their surviving spouse will receive a lump sum payment of $255. If the employee did not have ten years of service before 1975, the lump sum is limited to $255. It is only payable to their surviving spouse if they lived in the same household at the time of death.

Suppose the employee had less than ten years of service but had five years after 1995. In that case, they must meet social security’s insured status requirements for the lump sum to be payable. Lastly, suppose an eligible widow(er) did not receive monthly benefits in the 12 months beginning with the month of death, totaling at least as much as the lump sum because of excess earnings. In that case, they are still eligible to receive the lump sum payment.


Railroad death benefits can be complex, with different types of payments available depending on the circumstances of the employee’s death. This article has provided an overview of the different lump-sum costs and monthly benefits available to a deceased employee’s spouse and children. If you have further questions regarding railroad survivor benefits, please visit https://www.rrb.gov/. Loved ones of deceased railroad workers should also know that compensation may be available under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act. Contact us today to find out more.