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The nation's largest freight railroads will provide dependent health care coverage to eligible same-sex spouses of covered rail employees, effective Jan. 1, the National Railway Labor Conference (NRLC) announced yesterday."While this is not a benefit required by law or under current collective bargaining agreements, the railroads agreed with labor to provide this benefit in light of recent changes allowing same-sex couples to access the same federal tax benefits provided to other married couples," NRLC officials said in a prepared statement. "Employees will receive additional details concerning this coverage in the coming weeks."The major freight railroads provide employees and their families some of the richest health care benefits in the country at a cost to the industry of more than $2 billion annually, they said.Two engineers in Washington state recently filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against BNSF Railway Co. claiming they were wrongly denied health care benefits for their same-sex spouses even after the state began recognizing same-sex marriages a year ago. BNSF already offers benefits to same-sex spouses of salaried workers, but not for those of unionized employees because of existing labor contracts, according to the Class I.