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Good Morning

Let it be the end of the line for railroad disability retirement

An LIRR conductor checks a platform at Jamaica

An LIRR conductor checks a platform at Jamaica station as a commuter tries to board on July 8, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Congress is finally taking a hard look at the federal disability retirement system for railroad workers. It's amazing it took so long. It's been clear at least since 2008 that the system is too easy to defraud. Exhibit "A" was the vast cheating scandal that jolted the system then and concluded last year after 33 people, including 29 former LIRR workers, were convicted in bogus disability claims.

Commuter railroads like the LIRR don't belong in the retirement system that covers mostly rail freight workers. Better yet, Congress should retire the separate program for rail workers, and fold it into the Social Security program that covers the rest of us.

The railroad retirement program was created in 1935 after rail industry pension plans dating to 1874 had trouble meeting their obligations. It administers retirement, survivor and disability benefits, as does Social Security, which was created that same year. The separate railroad system was needed because at its inception Social Security didn't credit past work and wasn't to pay any benefits until 1940. So the railroad program is a relic, and it doesn't work very well.

Before the LIRR scam was uncovered, nine in 10 applicants were routinely approved for railroad occupational disability benefits. Nine in 10 applicants are still being approved, according to the Railroad Retirement Board's inspector general who decried its inability to effect meaningful change. The findings prompted the congressional investigation.

This should be the end of the line for this wheezing anachronism.