Asbestos in trains – still a problem?

Its no surprise that you can find asbestos in trains, because asbestos was widely used in the construction and maintenance of trains. With the natural strength and high melting point of its fibres, asbestos in trains was commonly used for insulation, lining train carriage walls and boilers and heating systems. Not only this, but asbestos was also used in the engine rooms of trains, lining brake pads and packing piston cylinders.

Working in the railway industry can come with inherent risk, but many suffer the hazards of asbestos without realising. Asbestos was used in the manufacturing of train and locomotive components from the 1930s. Parts built prior to the 1980s have since been removed from areas that are accessible to people, but older steam engines and carriages on display in museums may still contain asbestos.

In the 1950s railway staff and passengers weren’t aware of the effects of exposure to asbestos at work. Many jobs within carriage work sites where trains were built involved direct contact with asbestos dust. Often labourers would carry out the cutting, sanding or smoothing of asbestos-contaminated material. The disturbance of asbestos can result in the inhalation of its fibres, which can lead to asbestos-related lung diseases including mesothelioma.

As mentioned above, until the 1970’s the danger of asbestos exposure was not widely known. Steam train manufacturers almost always used asbestos insulation on boilers, pipes and fireboxes. Asbestos wrap was often used to insulate high temperature pipes and it contained asbestos. Boxcars and cabooses were also insulated with asbestos containing materials as were some of the walls in the train cars themselves. Other materials such as gaskets and sealing cement used to seal pipe joints and valves provided an exposure risk to railroad workers. Even some of the less obvious things like floor tiles, rope, brake linings and clutches contained some form of asbestos insulation or asbestos containing material in them. The extreme heat resistant and fire-proof properties of asbestos made it the insulating material of choice.

Many older train cars are still in use throughout the world, which are likely to contain asbestos. Recently New York Metro cars were found to contain asbestos, and in 2013 and 2014 Chinese trains imported to New Zeeland and Australia were found to contain asbestos.

Even new train locomotives and cars built in Asia have been found to contain asbestos. Many of those are imported to western nations, thus exposing passengers and railroad workers to asbestos.

asbestos in trains boiler-cladding
asbestos cladding on locomotive boiler

asbestos in trains chinese-new-train
Chinese new trains contain asbestos, imported to western nations

asbestos in trains carriage compartment
asbestos in trains carriage compartment

asbestos in trains dumped
Scrapped locomotives and carriages containing asbestos

asbestos in trains dumped-roof
Scrapped carriage with asbestos-containing roof
asbestos in trains locomotive-pipe-wrap
asbestos wrap on locomotive pipe

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