If you're ready to retire and are currently or previously employed by a railroad that withheld Railroad Retirement taxes, your pension is administered by the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB). You must be fully vested in Railroad Retirement in order to collect benefits. You can file for retirement benefits by mail, by phone or in person at an RRB field or satellite office. If you file by phone, proof documents will have to be mailed.
If you are fully vested and at least 62 years old, you can file for your Railroad Retirement Pension benefits. If you retire at 62, you will collect reduced benefits, but early retirement is allowed. Railroad Retirement conforms to the Social Security retirement age table. You can apply up to three months prior to your retirement date. Railroad Retirement also pays disability pensions which are not age-specific, but eligibility is determined by your disability and your years of service. Both of these benefits can be applied for at the RRB offices. Go to rrb.gov for the office that services your area.
When you apply for your benefits, whether in person, by mail or by phone, you must provide the board with certain certifications. Railroad Retirement maintains your employment records regarding your contributions, but other proofs are required. You must provide proof of your age, preferably with a certified birth certificate, though other documents can be presented. If your years of service include credit for military service, you must provide your DD-214 which you can obtain from the National Archives. If you are claiming spouse benefits, you must also provide a certified copy of your marriage certificate and your spouse's birth certificate. If you're divorced, and your ex-wife is not entitled to benefits, you must provide a copy of the divorce decree. You must also supply information about any Social Security award or any federal, state or local government pension, or any other pension not covered by Social Security. If you are applying for disability benefits, you must supply evidence of your medical condition from your physician.
When you file your application for benefits with RRB, the board begins processing the application by verifying the information provided. RRB recommends that you send in your certification documents while you are still working. The documents will be retained in an electronic format and you will not have to provide them again. They will be returned to you. This reduces the time it takes to file your claim. The board recommends that you have a pre-retirement consultation prior to filing for benefits. The representative can explain your benefits, rights and responsibilities and give you an estimated annuity amount.
Unemployment and Sickness Benefits
Railroad Retirement also provides unemployment and sickness benefits for railroad workers, which can also be applied for through the Railroad Retirement Board. Unemployment benefits are payable based on your prior year's earnings much like state unemployment benefits. Railroad unemployment pays $66 per day and is not payable for the first 14 days of a legal strike. Benefits are not payable at all for strikes that violate the Railway Labor Act. You can apply for railroad supplemental sickness benefits by mail, but you must do so within seven days of the start of your illness or injury. Mail your application and medical records to the local RRB office.