Railway Workers and Asbestos Exposure

Railway workers have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma due to the fact that they have been exposed to asbestos products that are used throughout locomotives. Long or short-term exposure to the asbestos contained in brakes, insulation, gaskets, and cement can lead to asbestos-related sicknesses in railway workers.

How are train workers exposed to asbestos?

The Virginia FELA attorneys from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp have been achieving positive results in their railway accident cases for more than four decades. Contact our Norfolk-area law offices today for a free consultation about your FELA claim. 

What is Asbestos?

From the 1930s up until the 1970s, asbestos, a natural mineral and carcinogen, was widely used in the production of locomotive and train components. Due to its ubiquitous presence, even railway workers who did not work in parts repair were almost certainly exposed to this toxic substance.

Any employee who worked in or near repair shops, railroad shops, or roadhouses was in danger of inhaling the dust from asbestos because it was customary for workers in these places to smooth, sand, or cut asbestos-containing materials. This would release asbestos fibers into the air where they would then be inhaled and become trapped in the lungs.

What Railroad Products Contain Asbestos?

Over the years, railway employees have been exposed to numerous products that contain asbestos, such as:

  • Insulation: Asbestos was used almost exclusively as an insulator on diesel locomotives, like boilers, and steam locomotives, underneath the train’s body, the exterior of the engine, in caboose ceilings, boxcars, electrical panels, pipe covers, carriages, and driving cabins. It was also used to insulate railroad shops and roadhouses. Asbestos panels and asbestos block insulation were frequently employed to insulate steam locomotives. Asbestos-filled packing material was also used as a type of insulation in locomotive equipment.
  • Fireboxes and Boilers: The fireboxes and boilers found on steam locomotives were comprised of both asbestos-based insulation and asbestos parts, including asbestos refractory cement, also called furnace cement, as well as asbestos-lagging insulation. Some fireboxes were even made from firebrick that contained asbestos. 
  • Plaster: Plaster made with asbestos acted as a fireproof sealing material for trains.
  • Disposable Coasters and Ash Trays: Western Railroad and The Green Bay Railroad provided their passengers with asbestos-laced beverage coasters that also served as disposable ashtrays.  
  • Clutches and Brakes: Due to its strength and high heat resistance, asbestos was used in clutches, brake linings, and locomotive brake pads, 
  • Floor and Ceiling Tiles: The floor and ceiling tiles in passenger cars were often made with asbestos, which offered an aesthetically pleasing form of fireproofing.

Mesothelioma in Railroad Workers

Multiple studies have identified a link between asbestos exposure in railway workers and heightened rates of asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma. A report published by the European Commission in 2022 shows that more than 70,000 railroad workers died from illnesses related to previous asbestos exposure in 2019. 

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that only develops after exposure to asbestos. When a worker breathes in asbestos fibers, most of them are ejected during exhalation, but some are left behind, embedded deep in the lung tissue, where they remain. As these fibers accumulate over time, they cause scarring and inflammation that can result in the growth of mesothelioma cancer as well as other illnesses associated with the inhalation of asbestos. 

Long-term exposure to asbestos has also been known to cause laryngeal cancer, ovarian cancer, asbestosis, and lung cancer.  

Legal Options for Railway Workers 

Railway workers who are diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related condition could be entitled to file an asbestos trust fund claim or a personal injury claim. They may also be qualified to bring a lawsuit against the product manufacturer or the railway company that caused their illness. If you lost a family member to mesothelioma, you could be eligible to bring a claim of wrongful death.  

These lawsuits require a law firm with previous experience in FELA claims. That is why it is vital for railway workers who have been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness to work with a skilled mesothelioma lawyer.  

The Virginia railway injury attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp have dealt with several hundred cases under the Federal Employers Liability Act. If you were harmed in the scope of your employment as a railway employee, call our Norfolk-area law firm at (833) 997-1774 to schedule your free consultation today. 

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