Essentials of Railway Act 1989

The Indian Railway Act enacted in 1890 got legislated and passed by the British Parliament. This piece of legislation addressed a variety of railway-related issues. Following independence, it was felt that some adjustment is needed to the Act to meet the requirements of people today. So, to keep some elements of the Act of 1890 while making others obsolete and replacing them with new provisions, new legislation known as The Railway Act 1989 was enacted, which went into effect on July 1, 1990.

The main characteristics of this Act include the reorganisation of railways into zones, each with its own General Manager. The Central Government had the authority to set the prices for the carriage of persons and cargo. The provision for compensation by railways for loss, damage to goods, and so on and for accidental fatalities and injuries got maintained with the act. Special provisions got enacted respecting the monetary liability of railways as carriers of goods, among other things.

Objectives of Railway Act

The Railway Act 1989 establishes the railway administration’s substantive obligation for loss, destruction, damage, non-delivery, or degradation of goods entrusted to them for carriage, as well as death, injury, or loss to a passenger in a railway accident or adverse occurrence.

Consignors/consignees and passengers or their representatives pursue compensation claims for damages and losses to booked goods and, if unsatisfied with the railway administration’s decisions, seek legal redress in court.

Claims for compensation for the death, injury, or loss of a passenger in a train accident are currently decided by claims commissioners.

Due to the lengthy nature of litigation in courts of law and before claims commissioners, it’s decided to establish a specialised Tribunal for the expeditious adjudication of such claims.

The establishment of such a Claims Tribunal, with Benches in various regions of the country and judicial and technical members, will bring significant relief to train users by expediting payment of compensation to victims of rail accidents and those whose products are lost or damaged in rail transit.

The following are the further objectives of the Railway Act:

  • Maintain an unyielding struggle against criminals to protect railway passengers, the passenger area, and railway property.
  • Remove any anti-social elements from trains, railway premises, and passenger places to improve passenger travel and security.
  • Maintain vigilance to avoid human trafficking of women and children, and take necessary action to rehabilitate poor children located in railway areas.
  • Cooperate with other Indian Railways departments to improve the Indian Railways’ efficiency and image.
  • Serve as a link between the Railway administration and the Government Railway Police/local police.
  • In pursuit of these goals, use all modern technology, best human rights practices, management strategies, and specific steps to protect female, elderly, and children passengers.

Features of Railway Act

The Indian Railway act provides the following legislative provisions for:

Railway Zones

The Indian Railway System currently gets organised into 18 zones, including two deemed zones (i.e. Kolkata metro and Konkan railway), each led by a General Manager who is accountable to the Railway Board for the railway’s operation, maintenance and financial status.

Construction and maintenance of works

According to the railway act, a railway administration has the authority to make, construct, and perform any other actions necessary for the construction, maintenance, alteration, or repair of the railway and use it.

Employee and Passenger Services

According to the act, the Central Government may fix rates for the carriage of passengers and goods for the whole or any part of the railway from time to time by general or special order. Different rates may get fixed for different goods classes and specify in such order the conditions subject to which such rates shall apply.

Rules and regulations under Railway Act

According to section 131 of the Railway Act, the railway rule in chapter XIV will not apply to any of the railway servants to whom the Factories act of 1948, the Mines Act of 1952, the railway protection force act (1957), the merchant shipping act of 1958 applies.

Limitations of hours of work

A railway servant whose work is intermittent may not work more than seventy-five hours in any week. A continuous railway servant may not work for more than fifty-four hours per week on average throughout two weeks of fourteen days. An intensively engaged railway servant may not work more than forty-five hours per week on average throughout two weeks of fourteen days.

Grant of periodical rest

A railway servant whose employment is demanding or prolonged shall be given rest of not less than thirty hours straight for each week beginning on a Sunday. A railway servant whose employment is intermittent shall be given rest of not less than twenty-four hours, along with a whole night, for each week beginning on a Sunday.

Railway servant to remain on duty.

Where proper provisions for a railway servant’s relief got established, the act’s rules authorise him to leave his duties until he is relieved.

Supervisors of Railway Labor

The Central Government has the authority to select railway labour supervisors. Supervisors of railway labour are responsible for inspecting railways to see whether the provisions of this Chapter or the rules promulgated thereunder are being followed and performing any other responsibilities that may get specified.

Provisions of the Railway Act

According to the legislation, any accident involving the loss of human life, grievous bodily harm as defined by the Indian Penal Code, or severe property damage as may be prescribed;

  • any collision involving trains, one of which is a passenger train;
  • a train carrying passengers, or any component of a train carrying passengers, derailing;
  • any accident that is generally accompanied by the loss of human life or such grave harm as stated, or with severe property damage;
  • The railway administration whose territory the incident happens and the railway administration whose train is associated with the accident must notify the State Government and the Commissioner with authority over the accident site as soon as possible.

Section 143 of the Railway Act

Section 143 of the Railways act states that the unauthorised procurement and supplying of railway tickets can result in a penalty.

If any person, who is not a railway servant or an agent duly authorised in this capacity,

  • engages in procuring and supplying railway tickets or reserved accommodation for a train journey.
  • acquires or sells, or seeks to purchase or sell, tickets with the intent of carrying on a business of any kind, whether for himself or someone else;

shall be punished by imprisonment for a term of up to three years or a penalty of up to rupees ten thousand, or both, and shall forfeit the tickets that he procures, purchases supplies, sells or attempts to purchase or sell.

Whether or not the offence gets committed, anyone who aids and abets any crime punishable under this section faces the same punishment as the offender.

Proposed amendments to Railways act, 1989

The Ministry of Railways recently recommended decriminalising begging on trains or railway premises and compounding the offence of smoking by imposing a spot fee and dismissing all charges/actions against the person involved. These amendments are part of a larger effort to decriminalise and rationalise penalties under the Railway Act of 1989.

  • On Begging

    • Current Provision: According to Section 144 (2) of the Act, anyone who begs in a railway carriage or at a railway station faces a penalty of either one year in prison or a fine of up to Rs. 2,000, or both.
    • Proposed Amendment: “No individual shall be permitted to beg in any railway carriage or upon any section of the Railway,” according to the proposed amendment.

      In 2018, the Delhi High Court struck down a similar rule that made begging in the national capital a criminal offence, ruling that the law did not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary begging.

      The statute breached articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court concluded that the government could not fail to provide a decent life for its citizens and then add insult to injury by arresting, detaining, and, if necessary, imprisoning those who beg for necessities. After conducting an empirical analysis of the sociological and economic sides of the situation, city governments can introduce alternative legislation to stop any racket of forced begging.

  • On Smoking:

    • Current Provision: According to Section 167 of the Act, no individual shall smoke in any train cabin if another passenger objects. Regardless of any objections, the railway administration has the authority to prohibit smoking in any train or section of a train. Whoever violates these provisions is subject to a punishment of up to Rs.100.
    • Proposed Amendment: If the individual who must pay the fine is willing to pay it right away, the authorised officer may compound the offence by charging the maximum amount to the railway administration. The perpetrator will be released, and no further action will be taken against him or her in connection with the offence.

Offences under Railway Act

The offences under the railway act are as follows:


Smoking is prohibited in any cabin of a train if any other passenger in that compartment objects. A railway administration may ban smoking in any train or part of a train, notwithstanding anything in other subsections. Whoever violates the terms of other sub-sections is subject to a fine.

Risking safety

Any person committing an offence under this Act or any rule established thereunder shall get tried for that crime in any place where he is or where the State Government may inform him in this regard, and in any other place liable to be tried under any law currently in force.

If a railway employee, while on duty, puts another person’s safety in jeopardy-

  • by breaking any rule established under this Act
  • by disregarding any instruction, direction, or order issued under this Act or its provisions
  • He shall get punished for any reckless or negligent conduct or omission by imprisonment for a period of up to two years, or a fine of up to 1000 rs, or both.


If any railway servant or other person obstructs, causes to be obstructed, or attempts to obstruct any train or other rolling stock on a railway-

  • squatting, picketing, or participating in any Rail roko movement or bandh
  • by retaining any rolling stock on the railway without authorisation
  • tampering with, detaching from, or otherwise interfering with its hose pipe, tampering with signal gear, or otherwise

He may get sentenced to a period of imprisonment of up to two years, a fine of up to two thousand rupees, or both.

Travelling on roofs, steps or the engine of the trains

A passenger or other person who continues to travel on the roof, step, or footboard of any carriage or engine or in any other component of a train not designated for passenger use will get punished under Section 156 of this act.

He may get imprisoned for up to three months or fined up to five hundred rupees, or both, and may be removed off the railway by any railway servant.

Travelling without tickets or pass

If, to defraud a railway administration,-

  • enters or remains in a railway carriage or travels in a train in violation of section 55,
  • uses or seeks to use a single pass or single ticket already been used on a prior journey, or, in the case of a return ticket, a portion thereof that has previously been used.

He shall get punished by imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or by a fine not exceeding one thousand rupees, or by both: provided, however, that in the absence of unique and sufficient grounds to the contrary specified in the court’s judgement, such punishment shall not be less than a fine of five hundred rupees.

Entering Reserved compartments

  • If a person enters a compartment where the railway administration has not assigned him a berth or seat,
  • Suppose a passenger refuses to leave an unapproved berth or seat booked by the railway administration to use other passengers. In that case, a railway employee may evict him or force him to be removed from the compartment, berth, or seat, as the case may be, and fine him up to 500 rupees.
  • A passenger who refuses to allow another passenger to enter a compartment not designated for the resisting passenger will get fined up to two hundred rupees.


Since British dominance in India, railways have been an essential mode of transportation. The Ministry of Railways operates Indian Railways, which ranks fourth among the world’s largest railway networks. As one of the world’s major railway networks, it is evident that it employs many people.

All land acquisition and related aspects are given considerable importance under the Railway Act of 1989. Proper sections get prescribed that contribute to the smooth operation of the railways while also considering people displaced due to land acquisition railway development.

The Railways Act 1989 is a piece of legislation enacted by the Indian Parliament that addresses all areas of railway transportation. It comprises provisions about railway development, railway zones, railway agencies, the right to purchase land, etc.

The Ministry of Railways and Rural Development’s preamble states that while land acquisition for railways and other infrastructural and developmental projects is required and in the national interest, it is also critical to ensure the rights of people living in the area acquired for such projects are not harmed. Under the Indian Railways Act 1989, sufficient legislation has been enacted to ensure that the appropriate compensation gets granted to the aggrieved people and their rights are not restricted.

FAQs on the Railway Act

The British Government passed and enacted the Indian Railways act in which year?

In 1890

What are the features of the railway act?

The railway act establishes rules for railway zones, works development and maintenance, and employee and passenger services.

What is the proposed amendment for smoking?

If the individual who must pay the fine is willing to pay it right away, the authorised officer may compound the offence by charging the maximum amount to the railway administration. The perpetrator will be released, and no further action will be taken against him or her in connection with the offence.

What is the proposed amendment for begging?

No individual shall be permitted to beg in any railway carriage or upon any section of the Railway.

What are the travel offences under the railway act?

The following are the travelling offences under the act

  • travelling on roofs, steps or the engine of the trains.
  • travelling without the tickets or the passes
  • entering in reserved compartments without permission