Prepared by Public Affairs 312-751-4777
Under the Railroad Retirement Act, a “current connection with
the railroad industry” is one of the eligibility requirements for occupational
disability annuities and supplemental annuities, and is one of the factors that
determine whether the Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) or the Social Security
Administration has jurisdiction over the payment of monthly benefits to
survivors of a railroad employee.
The following questions and answers describe the current connection requirement
and the ways the requirement can be met.
1. How is a current connection determined under the
Railroad Retirement Act?
To meet the current connection requirement, an employee must generally have been
credited with railroad service in at least 12 months of the 30 months
immediately preceding the month his or her railroad retirement annuity begins.
If the employee died before retirement, railroad service in at least 12 months
in the 30 months before death will meet the current connection requirement for
the purpose of paying survivor benefits.
However, if an employee does not qualify on this basis, but has 12 months'
service in an earlier 30-month period, he or she may still meet the current
connection requirement. This alternative generally applies if the employee did
not have any regular employment outside the railroad industry after the end of
the last 30-month period which included 12 months of railroad service and before
the month the annuity begins or the date of death.
Once a current connection is established at the time the railroad retirement
annuity begins, an employee never loses it, no matter what kind of work is
2. Can nonrailroad work before retirement break a former railroad employee's
Full or part-time work for a nonrailroad employer in the interval between the
end of the last
30-month period including 12 months of railroad service and the beginning date
of an employee's annuity, or the month of death if earlier, can break a current
Self-employment in an unincorporated business will not break a current
connection. However, if the business is incorporated, self-employment may break
a current connection.
Federal employment with the Department of Transportation, the National
Transportation Safety Board, the Surface Transportation Board, the National
Mediation Board, the Railroad Retirement Board, or the Transportation Security
Administration will not break a current connection. State employment with the
Alaska Railroad, as long as that railroad remains an entity of the State of
Alaska, will not break a current connection. Also, railroad service in Canada
for a Canadian railroad will neither break nor preserve a current connection.
3. Are there any exceptions to these normal procedures for determining a current
A current connection can be maintained for purposes of supplemental and survivor
annuities if the employee completed 25 years of railroad service, was
involuntarily terminated without fault from his or her last job in the railroad
industry, and did not thereafter decline an offer to return to work in the same
class or craft as his or her most recent railroad service, regardless of the
distance to the new position.
If all of these requirements are met, an employee's current connection may not
be broken, even if the employee works in regular nonrailroad employment after
the 30-month period and before retirement or death. This exception to the normal
current connection requirement became effective October 1, 1981, but only for
employees still living on that date who left the rail industry on or
after October 1, 1975, or who were on leave of absence, on furlough, or absent
due to injury on October 1, 1975.
4. Would the acceptance of a buy-out have any effect on determining whether an
employee could maintain a current connection under this exception provision?
In cases where an employee has no option to remain in the service of his or her
railroad employer, the termination of the employment is considered involuntary,
regardless of whether the employee does or does not receive a buy-out.
However, if an employee has the choice of either accepting a position in the
same class or craft in the railroad industry or termination with a buy-out,
accepting the buy-out is a part of his or her voluntary termination, and the
employee would not maintain a current connection under the exception provision.
5. An employee with 25 years of service is offered a buy-out with the option of
either taking payment in a single lump sum or of receiving monthly payments
until retirement age. Could the method of payment affect the employee's current
connection under the exception provision?
The employee must always relinquish job rights in order to accept the buy-out,
regardless of whether it is paid in a lump sum or in monthly payments. Neither
payment option would extend the 30-month period. The determining factor for the
exception provision to apply when a buy-out is paid is not the payment option.
It is whether or not the employee stopped working involuntarily.
An employee considering accepting a buy-out should also be aware that if he or
she relinquishes job rights to accept the buy-out, the compensation cannot be
used to credit additional service months beyond the month in which the employee
severed his or her employment relation, regardless of whether payment is made in
a lump sum or on a periodic basis.
6. What if the buy-out agreement allows the employee to retain job rights and
receive monthly payments until retirement age?
The RRB considers the buy-out to be a dismissal allowance. When a monthly
dismissal allowance is paid, the employee retains job rights, at least until the
end of the period covered by the dismissal allowance. If the period covered by
the dismissal allowance continues up to the beginning date of the railroad
retirement annuity, railroad service months would be credited to those months.
These railroad service months would provide at least 12 railroad service months
in the 30 months immediately before the annuity beginning date and maintain a
regular current connection. They will also increase the number of railroad
service months used in the calculation of the railroad retirement annuity.
7. Could the exception provision apply in cases where an employee has 25 years
of railroad retirement coverage and a company reorganization results in the
employee's job being placed under social security coverage?
The exception provision has been considered applicable by the RRB in cases where
a 25-year employee's last job in the railroad industry changed from railroad
retirement coverage to social security coverage and the employee had, in effect,
no choice available to remain in railroad retirement covered service. Such
25-year employees have been deemed to have a current connection for purposes of
supplemental and survivor annuities.
8. Where can a person get more specific information on the current connection
Railroaders and former employees can contact a
field office of the RRB for more
information by calling
toll-free at 1-877-772-5772. They can also find the
address of the RRB office serving their area by calling this number or by
visiting www.rrb.gov. Most RRB offices are open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to
3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays.