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Western Railroad Discussion > Life expectancy of railroaders


Date: 08/25/07 20:03
Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: eminence_grise

I'm a retired operating employee (locomotive engineer)of a major Canadian transcon.

I was able to retire on a full pension at age 55 with 33+ years of service. (Canadian railways have their own pension schemes rather than the US RRB.)

When I started my career, the pre-WW2 operating employees were just retiring at age 65. A significant number of them passed on very shortly following retirement. Alot of these people lived very hard lives, both from surviving the Depression and WW2. There was alot of alcoholism, and other health problems. Having said that, some are still around in their 80's and 90's, with a very few passing 100.

The wisdom of the day when I started on the railway was that the work and lifestyle would shorten my lifespan and that the railway industry was more hazardous than other industrial employment.

The 30 plus years of my employment disproved the myth of a shortened lifespan, as the post WW2 generations have had much better survival rates.

A major factor was the general crackdown on alcohol abuse following a major collision at Hinton,Alberta in 1987, which also increased medical standards for employment.

Having lived in a small railroad and forestry town for most of the years of my career, I was aware of the fatality rates for loggers, heavy equipment operators and construction workers. They appeared higher than among railroaders.

I was wondering if my appraisal of survivorbility of railway employment in the last few decades would be similar to that observed by other railroaders on this forum.

One of the men who trained me to operate a locomotive was of the pre-WW2 generation, and was the sole survivor of a Wellington bomber crew in the RCAF during the European Campaign. His Air Force experiences haunted him greatly and I'm sure bought about his early demise more than his railway career.



Date: 08/25/07 21:38
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: trkinsptr

I agree with you,having worked both sides of the border since 1978 in MOW.The decrease in hard core RR drinking was evident in the mid-80's. Another factor in increased life expectancy is the much reduced smoking in the RR workplace.
Colin Johnson



Date: 08/25/07 21:51
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: crackerjackhoghead

According to the US railroad retirement board's statistics, the average life expectancy for railroad employees, after retirement, is just three years.

In the twenty years that I've worked for the railroad it seems to me that conductors live much longer than engineers. Many of the engineers that have retired have died withing 6 months to a year after retirement. I wonder if diesel exhaust is not the cause? These conductors would have spent most of their career on a caboose, not the head end. I also know a couple of engineers that hired in th 30's and 40's, who spent a good portion of their career on steam, and they are still living.



Date: 08/25/07 22:12
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: fbe

The railroader lifestyle offers almost all of the bad lifestyle you can imagine. No regular sleep patterns, no regular meal periods and commonly a choice of high calorie, high fat, low fibre meals at the other end of the road. Increasingly high stress positions account the lack of rest, tense operating situations, particularly at grade crossings and increasingly onerouse enforcement of poorly instituted rules changes to cover the carriers butts. It just does not get any better, eh?

I would have to say the post retirement life span of just three years does not seem to hold true here in western MT. In fact many of the retired rails, especially the engineers I run into on the street report that within weeks of retirement they are sleeping better, losing weight and smoking less if they retain that habit. Hopefully, we are trending in the right direction. Better medical care and technology seems to be playing a part. All those new heart stents certainly reduce the damage to vital systems which allow for a more active lifestyle both pre and post retirement.



Date: 08/25/07 22:23
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: JBRioGrande

Crackerjackhoghead, you hit the nail right on the head. I was in engine service, but preferred to be on the ground. Some of my friends who were hoggers, have succumbed to cancer, namely Leukemia. Diesel exhaust may possibly be the culprit. Most of these people worked through tunnels with heavy tonnage, either in helper service or on a regular assignment. I agree that many men who worked in the days of steam had a longer life expectancy than the men of the diesel era today.



Date: 08/25/07 22:40
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: hoggerdoug

I have often been amazed at how well some of the guys look 2 or 3 months after retirement, quite often look years younger, yup regular sleep,meals and not having to go to work at odd hours helps. Don't know about the booze effect, I think stats show that here is no more alchol abuse in the railway industry as compared to other heavy industries. I agree that in the old days the job could be a lot harder on a person then today, and hopefully most guys recognise the stress of the job and deal with it appropriately. 37 pay days left to go and looking forward to retirement, plans made and things I want to do or accomplish, some of the old timers never planned or thought of retirement, it's a very stressful change in life and maybe that's what shortened their lives.



Date: 08/25/07 22:46
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: crackerjackhoghead

I also wonder about the electromagnetic fields. If a cell phone can cause a brain tumor, what could a generator and traction motors do?



Date: 08/25/07 23:21
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: SPLoopConductor

It is not the best lifestyle. My Grandfather lasted 13 years after (Disability account smoke inhalation from stall in the Saugus tunnel #25) retirement, passed away in 1965. His brother, (both were Hogheads) lasted 5 years. In the past 30 years, several guys (Los Angeles area) passed away just short of their retirement dates, and several more retired and never got their first check. On the other end, some have been kicking for 20+ years retired. 'They' have me 'dialed-in' for my last "kick-sign" at age 72...19 more years to say...

"Take Care, Stay Safe, Have Fun!

Larry



Date: 08/26/07 00:07
Bean counters
Author: john1082

The notion of the 'bean counters' getting involved in anything rail related often as not invokes great consternation from the rank-and-file but in this case a thoughtful, data honest study might provide some significant insight.



Date: 08/26/07 00:15
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: eminence_grise

Those that made it to the age of 104 in my District

One Locomotive Engineer, one sectionman, one steam dragline operator, one corporate vice-
president.

On the whole, track workers are some of the longest living.

Train dispatchers seem not to last in retirement, but those who remained station agents or telegraphers have long lives.



Date: 08/26/07 03:23
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: n6nvr

Then again in the days of steam there were a lot of guys that made it a long time. Remember back when you hired on and the Railroad Retirement systems wasn't in effect all the really old old timers there were?



Date: 08/26/07 03:35
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: Red

This is just one man, here, but a very good friend of mine lasted the above mentioned 4 years post retirement, and the last year of that with terminal cancer. This is a man who appeared to have good "genes" in that he always appeared to be a decade younger than his actual age. He never drank, never smoked...he had no vices other than golf (that being a bit of a joke, the golf gave him something to do post-retirment).

His was a very perplexing, tragic case in that: (1) he had a very good marriage (so good a marriage that his wife only lived two years longer than he...neither of them made it even close to the age of 70), (2) had a lot of friends both in the workplace, and, in church both pre-retirement and post-retirement, and (3) did not fit the profile of having an "empty life" post-retirement. He said to me a year after retirement: "I do miss the feeling of running a train, but, I like being able to play golf any time I want to MORE than I miss the running of an engine."

I've often wondered if electrical fields might not be more a factor than diesel exhaust? I just do not buy the diesel exhaust theory, unless you run/ran a lot of NS long hood forward units.

In addition to the new FRA Cab Quietness Regs that come out in 2008, I wonder what it would take to "shield" engine cabs from this, better? The electical fields can be measured. Would a lead lining reduce it? I'm not an expert here, so, am open to suggestions.

Of course, if the FRA can't even make it mandatory that all leading units have a working air conditioner, I suppose that it is useless to speculate about shielding against electrical fields which haven't been "proven" to have health effects (many studies are from the electrical utility industry...trying to convince people that are living under long distance high power transmission lines that they are not having their brains fried out over time).

As a kid, I recall going with my grandparents to a farm where you could pick a few peas and such, pay the man, and go home with fresh vegetables. We were there less than 30 minutes, but the transmission line overhead...you could FEEL those electrical fields. It was the most odd sensation that I've ever felt in my life. You hairs on your arms stood on end. You felt as if you were in the presence of a tremendous power, and you could feel the force of that power in your body. That right there told me...there might be something to the electrical transmission line stories regarding health effects, regardless of the dollars spent for progaganda spent by the utility industry.

By Golly...if I am in the presence of something that hums...that you can feel humming in your GUTS...I do not need to be told that long-term exposure to this would be harmful!!! No way would any locomotive put out that kind of electrical forces. But, as with many things, might it not be a repititive exposure thing? That is, lots of time being exposed to electrical fields of X-Value would be more detrimental than one hour of exposure to a much, much higher level at Y-Value (the transmission line).



Date: 08/26/07 05:00
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: Finderskeepers

Can anyone comment on "Main Generator Syndrome", whereby having the generator sitting right behind the crew increases the likelihood of going nuts? Have heard several at work mention it.



Date: 08/26/07 05:44
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: stuart

I am not a railroad worker of any kind , but after watching my father get older and working 12 hour shifts in a pulp mill, his shifts rotated , 2 day shifts, 2 days off, 3 nights, then 2 days off, 2 days, then 2 off, then 3 day shifts ( you get the idea) and he has been retired since 2002 after 34 years of the crazy shift work, his co workers are not living long after retirement. 5 years seems to be a record. I think like shift workers the railroad people seem to work crazy hours, poor eating habits and other toxic habits and work envoirments add to the shorter retirement life for some.

someday i think there will be enough records of deaths and living souls who worked these lifestyles and careers to find answers to many questions and maybe bring about some changes
those who retire early and seem to last longer.
anyways enjoy your retirement , you never know what bus might hit you on the golf course.



Date: 08/26/07 06:32
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: Lackawanna484

I wonder if the huge amount of physical exercise a fireman got in the steam era made a life-long impact on his physical conditioning? Prior to the automatic stoker, a man could expect to shovel several tons of coal per shift, while maintaining balance on a swaying platform.

In the same way, a track crew got an enormous amount of physical work lifting rail, grooming ballast, pounding track fasteners, etc.

http://www.rrb.gov/opa/qa/pub_0702.asp

The rrb says that mortality for retired male railroaders, as a group, isn't materially different from that of other folks. That's on the end of the page. This info doesn't break out specific crafts, but that is probably tracked in some study.

From answer 1:

The most recent data reflected a continued improvement in longevity. Using data through 2003, the study indicated that, on the average, a male railroader retiring at age 60 can be expected to live another 20.7 years, or approximately 248 months. Studies done three, six and nine years ago indicated life expectancies of 20.1, 19.8, and 19.5 years, respectively, for this category of beneficiary. The study also indicated that a male railroader retiring at age 62 can be expected to live another 19 years (228 months), while the previous three studies indicated life expectancies of 18.5, 18.2, and 17.9 years, respectively. A male railroader retiring at age 65 can be expected to live another 16.6 years (approximately 199 months). The previous studies indicated life expectancies of 16.1, 15.8, and 15.5 years, respectively, for this category of beneficiary.



Date: 08/26/07 07:41
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: James1

Around here it seems like they either make 80+, or die right around (before or after) retirement age.



Date: 08/26/07 09:56
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: stampedej

Lifestyle choices are a BIG determining factor I'm sure. I have worked with people who did A LOT of drugs in the '70s and many who abused alcohol as well. Many still are HUGE tobacco users. Around 14 years ago I was complaining to a co-worker about this one particular hoghead who insisted on chain-smoking in the cab of the engine with the windows shut (as this took place during the winter). My friend smiled and told me what he did to solve that problem with this engineer. He advised me to bundle up in my thickest Carhartts and insulated thermals. When the engineer lights his first cigarette in the cab, my friend told me to open my window wide and let the arctic night air swirl in! And so I did! The engineer bitterly snapped at me, 'Are you going to be rude and leave that window open?' I answered, 'Yeah, just as long you're going to be rude and smoke in this engine!' Believe it or not it worked. Oh, and by the way, that engineer is dead now.



Date: 08/26/07 11:00
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: bradleymckay

crackerjackhoghead Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I also wonder about the electromagnetic fields. If
> a cell phone can cause a brain tumor, what could a
> generator and traction motors do?

Great question! One that could open up a whole can of worms for the RR's too...

And speaking of electromagnetic fields, I've often wondered about the life expectancy of ex-Milwaukee Road employees that worked as sub-station operators, on Lines West.


AM



Date: 08/26/07 11:04
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: Lackawanna484

stampedej Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Lifestyle choices are a BIG determining factor I'm
> sure. I have worked with people who did A LOT of
> drugs in the '70s and many who abused alcohol as
> well. Many still are HUGE tobacco users. Around
> 14 years ago I was complaining to a co-worker
> about this one particular hoghead who insisted on
> chain-smoking in the cab of the engine with the
> windows shut (as this took place during the
> winter). My friend smiled and told me what he did
> to solve that problem with this engineer. He
> advised me to bundle up in my thickest Carhartts
> and insulated thermals. When the engineer lights
> his first cigarette in the cab, my friend told me
> to open my window wide and let the arctic night
> air swirl in! And so I did! The engineer
> bitterly snapped at me, 'Are you going to be rude
> and leave that window open?' I answered, 'Yeah,
> just as long you're going to be rude and smoke in
> this engine!' Believe it or not it worked. Oh,
> and by the way, that engineer is dead now.

Norfolk Southern settled a second hand smoke case on terms described as favorable to the plaintiff. This looks like a very specific fact pattern, so broad conclusions probably shouldn't be drawn.

http://www.gasp.org/etssuit.html

The Flight Attendants union tried class action litigation over the very high rate of lung cancer among never-smoked flight attendants from the 1950s and 1960s. The argument was they had to work in smoking sections, hours every day, and that caused their high rates of cancer.

The courts threw out the class action claim, but allowed one woman's own suit to go forward. I believe she lost.

FWIW, the same argument has been made about people who worked in bars, certain fabric processors (cotton dust) etc.



Date: 08/26/07 20:27
Re: Life expectancy of railroaders
Author: sdrake

Finderskeepers Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Can anyone comment on "Main Generator Syndrome",
> whereby having the generator sitting right behind
> the crew increases the likelihood of going nuts?
> Have heard several at work mention it.


It is highly unlikely as most of the cab structure is metal and the metal acts as a "Faraday cage". While there are openings for windows, etc., there should be a sealed metal wall between the cab and the generator. Also the metal carbody around the generator (or altenator) shold prevent the field from leaking out of the engine compartment. There should be a metal (conductor) barrier between the crew and all of the major wiring which would isolate the crew form the electromagnetic fields.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage



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