Until the dangers of asbestos were exposed during the 1970s, railroad workers continued to inhale the cancer-causing fibers on a regular basis while on the job. Asbestos was present in a variety of materials and equipment used on railroads and was said to even be used in the insulation of the box cars and cabooses. Floor tiles, brake linings and clutches also contained asbestos, although the risk was not widely recognized initially. Due to its heat-resistant quality, asbestos had been a popular choice in insulating materials before the regulations surrounding the substance were put into place.

Insulation containing asbestos was commonly used on steam trains, insulating the pipes, cylinders and mains. As the wear and tear began to build throughout usage of the trains, thus causing a disturbance to the material, released the fibers into the air on a regular basis. Along with this, simple renovations and upkeep on the trains and their equipment made the environment unsafe for all who came into contact with it. As the steam train was eventually replaced by diesel power, insulation materials containing asbestos continued to be used throughout the trains; lining the walls, ceilings and floors. Those who completed the installation of these parts were regularly exposed to the fibers.

Asbestos and Railroads

Railroad workers would be frequently called upon to make repairs on parts, placing them at high risk for inhaling or ingesting the fibers as they became airborne. This occurred when the repair required the railroad worker to cut, sand and smooth asbestos laden materials in order to complete the task. Materials containing asbestos were used in a variety of places throughout trains, placing all workers at risk for exposure. Because of the constant release of the fibers into the air, railroad inspectors were also exposed on a regular basis.

Despite the regulations that were put into place in the late 1970s, railroad workers continue to be considered to be at greater risk for exposure to asbestos and the health risks associated with such exposure. It is suggested that, regardless of the knowledge developing about asbestos, insulation materials containing asbestos have been used in the railroad industry as late as the 1990s. Therefore, the threat of exposure by today’s railroad workers continues to remain high.

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