Rail travel in India

Bhopal Shatabdi. The fastest train in India
The Mumbai Monorail, a sign of India's economic development

Nearly all trains in India are operated by the government-run Indian Railways (IR).

IR is the third largest rail network in the world, and the rail system is efficient, if not always on schedule. Tracks running well over 60,000 kilometers help connect about 7500 stations, ferrying nearly 20 million people every day. Although distances in India are long and Indian trains aren't the world's best, traveling in them can add a fascinating new dimension to a visitor's experience. There is virtually no better way to make friends with the local people and see the spectacular and diverse Indian countryside. On many routes the railways are the fastest and cheapest way to get around.

In addition to this guide, very useful information for train travel in India can be found here.

Trains

Regular Trains

All regular trains in India are either super-fast, express/mail, fast passenger, passenger or local/suburban trains. The broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:

A schematic map of India's rail network, color-coded by gauge


Note: Above are fully reserved trains. They do not have general compartments (see below).

Mountain trains

Indian Railways operates trains to various hill stations in India. Travelling on them is a delightful experience, with the tiny trains passing through tunnels, over bridges, around curves and loops amid spectacular scenery. The three mentioned below are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

A DHR train on the Batasia Loop near Ghoom

Luxury Trains

One of the luxurious ways to explore the most prominent tourist destinations and attractions in India is to opt for luxury train travel. The history of luxury train traveling in India dates back to the days of erstwhile maharajas who used to travel in opulent personal carriages for purpose of state visits, hunting and personal occasions. In the year 1982, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation launched Palace on Wheels in collaboration with Indian Railways to revive the art of elegant traveling in India. Palace on Wheels was launched to promote tourism in Rajasthan and cater exclusively to the overseas traveler and offer them a hassle free, all-inclusive and opulent option of traveling to the royal destinations in Rajasthan. Palace on Wheels is still the most revered luxury train in India. Nowadays there are a total of 6 luxury train plying different routes and offering a total of 11 pre-packaged itineraries.

The Golden Chariot Pride of the South itinerary begins from Yeshwantpur Station in Bangalore and covers Mysore, Srirangapatna, Kabini, the historical sites of Shravanabelagola, Belur, Halebidu, Hampi, Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole and finally the beaches of Goa during its 8 days loop. Prices of Golden Chariot Pride of the South starts from US $440 per person per night on triple sharing basis and reaches as high as US $754 for the same on single occupancy basis. The Golden Chariot Splendor of the South itinerary take the guests on voyage across Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Poovar, Thiruvanathapuram and Kochi. The attractions of this luxury train tour include Auroville, Vidhan Soudha, Rock Fort Temple, Kumarakom backwaters, Meenakshi Temple, Chinese Fishing Nets, Jewish Synagogue and UNESCO World Heritage sites Group of Monuments at Mamallapuram and Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. This prices for Golden Chariot Splendor of the South starts from US $545 per person per night on triple sharing basis and reaches as high as US $831 on sigle occupancy basis.

Accommodation

Long-distance

For typical layouts of the different classes, you can refer to these unofficial diagrams.

Short-distance

Unreserved

Fares

Log on to IRCTC for details of trains and fares. Alternatively (and especially if you do not have an account yet), you can find trains, fare details and ticket availability on the Indian Railways section on Trains/Fare/Accommodation Availability Between Important Stations.

Typical fares (Before 2014)
Distance Class Total Fare in ₹
100 km AC First ₹550
100 km AC 2 Tier ₹320
100 km AC 3 Tier ₹230
100 km AC Chair Car ₹180
100 km Sleeper Class ₹120
500 km AC First ₹1610
500 km AC 2 Tier ₹785
500 km AC 3 Tier ₹575
500 km AC Chair Car ₹450
500 km Sleeper Class ₹215
1500 km AC First ₹4200
1500 km AC 2 Tier ₹1610
1500 km AC 3 Tier ₹1165
1500 km Sleeper Class ₹425

Despite the numerous types of trains and classes, the fare system is quite logical.

Different types of trains

Basically there are five types of trains:

Schedules

Before booking a ticket, do visit the Indian Railways website on Trains/Fare/Accommodation Availability Between Important Stations for information including finding a train, fare and ticket availability.

You can also get the whole schedule online by train number. A list of trains operating between a given pair of stations can also be obtained online.

Alternatively you can get a copy of Trains At A Glance, the national rail timetable, from any railway station. This is updated every July and remains valid until the end of the next June. It allows you to choose the best train for your needs, and find the name and number of the train for your destination. However, this is a general guide and does not contain a detailed list of all stations, neither does it contain all the trains that ply. A more specific guide depending on the "rail zone" is available at important stations on that zone. For example, a detailed guide on trains plying in West India (i.e. the Western Zonal Timetable) will be available at all major railway stations in West India.

This private webpage (India Rail Info) also lets you search for trains, fares and ticket availability and route maps (no account necessary). Only use this site for your information, but always book online tickets, etc. via the official webpage (IRCTC) as stated under Ticketing.

Ticketing

It is necessary to reserve tickets in advance in order to travel by any of the classes listed above (except GS). Tickets an be booked in two ways:

Internet booking

There are two different types of tickets that can be booked online:

E-ticket is considered to be the fast, secure and best way to book tickets (especially Tatkal tickets).

Counter Booking

Tickets are also sold at most railway stations and at Indian Railways' 1000-plus computerised passenger reservation centres located across the country. For reservation at a counter, you need to fill in a paper form and submit it to the clerk at the counter (occasionally, after a long wait in a queue) along with the payment in either cash or by credit card. Credit cards are accepted at most important stations. Counters in the metros and other important cities accept Visa, MasterCard, AmericanExpress and Diners Card, as well as cards of most Indian banks. There are generally 1 to 3 counters where credit card payment is allowed, depending on the station.

Booking Tips

Non-confirmed accommodation

If you do not get a Confirmed (CNF) ticket, you may get one that is Waitlisted (WL) or in the Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) status. If you've booked your ticket in advance, it will probably move from WL to RAC status or even to CNF status as time goes by (because of cancellations), so it is a good idea to check it periodically and keep your plans dynamic. Use the 10-digit Passenger Name Record (PNR) number, printed on the top right-hand corner of your ticket, to check the status of your ticket at any point of time, either on the website or by phone (dial 139, from any landline telephone in India). The number will read like WL32/WL14 or similar, with the structure being WL(original position)/WL(current position).

You cannot get on to a reserved compartment if your ticket is waitlisted (you can only enter a General Compartment if available). Waitlisted caught entering the train are treated as non-ticket holders and fined. But if you have an RAC ticket, you are allotted 'sitting' berths - i.e. in a Sleeper Coach, you and a fellow RAC ticket-holder share a berth so that both of you can travel sitting instead of sleeping. The Ticket Examiner then allots you a CNF sleeping berth as and when one is available due to last minute cancellations, no-shows etc. Depending on the train, the route and the season you are travelling in, the RAC ticket may get upgraded to CNF either as soon as the journey begins, mid-way through the journey or not at all. If you do not move up past a wait list (WL) ticket before the train leaves, you can apply for a refund, but only up to a maximum of a few hours after the train leaves (3 hours for short journeys, up to 12 hours for long journeys). If you bought your ticket online, a WL tickets receive an automatic refund.

Final berth listing will not be completed until at 4-hours prior to departure. Once the checked list is posted, often final cancellations and government official reservations are re-positioned which allow WL and RAC to move up in the queue. It is also possible that the list moves downward as officials are granted priority seating, and later confirmed seats become non-confirmed. Booking non-confirmed is really a gamble, but more often then not the seat will become available, especially if your earlier in the queue.

If you arrive at the station while still waitlisted, wait until the train arrives. A reservation list will be posted at the beginning of each class or tier. Locate your name according to reservation number. If your name is not listed, your ticket remains non-confirmed. Track personnel will also be able to assist you.

Boarding without accommodation may still be possible. The conductors are known to assist and turn a blind eye to providing foreigners and students available seats without a proper reservation. A bribe payment might be expected, use your own judgement. Any exchange will be discussed upfront immediately after departure, and expected to be completed upon arrival. Typically you will be placed in AC1 or AC2 alongside officials who will also be aware of your accommodation and will expect a partial payment as well. Because a number of seats are reserved for government officials in top tiers, it is easy for officials and conductors to "sell off" an accommodation to travelers.

Tatkal Quota

Many trains keep a small quota of seats known as Tatkal (meaning 'immediate', abbreviated as CK) for sale one day before the departure date. There is an extra charge for these seats. This option is also available at the time of booking online. Even with this extra quota (about 4% of the seats on a train) it can sometimes be difficult to get the train you want when you want it. For tatkal tickets cancellation no refund will be paid. Only four tickets can be booked at time. ID proof is must for Tatkal ticket booking.

IndRail Pass

The IndRail Pass is valid for all visitors to India. It is a pass which allows unlimited travel on all of IR's trains except:

IndRail passes automatically expire 1 year from the date of issue. However, prior reservations are necessary. The IndRail Pass is generally not good value for money if you are staying for a month or more. However, if you choose to travel in Executive Chair Car for 2 or 3 journeys over a couple of days, it is indeed worth purchasing.

IndRail passes are available for sale in railway offices at the following stations - Agra City, Agra Cantt, Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Aurangabad, Bangalore City, Howrah, Chandigarh, Chennai Central, Gorakhpur, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Mumbai Central, Mumbai CST, Mumbai Churchgate, New Delhi, Puttapurthi Town, Rameswaram, Secundarabad, Trivandrum Central, Vadodara, Varanasi, Vasco da Gama and Vijaywada. General Sales Agents are authorised to sell the IndRail pass at a 3-5% surcharge in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangkok, Dhaka, Durban, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Kuala Lumpur, London, Muscat, New York, Paris, Port Louis, Sharjah, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto.

Fare in US$
Period of Validity AC 1 First Class/
AC-2 Tier/
AC-3 Tier/
AC Chair Car
Sleeper Class/
Second Class (Non-AC)
-- Adult Child Adult Child Adult Child
Half Day572926 13 11 6
One Day 9547 43 22 19 10
Two Days 160 80 70 35 30 15
4 Days 220 110 110 55 50 25
7 Days 270 135 135 68 80 40
15 Days 370 185 185 95 90 45
21 Days 396 198 198 99 100 50
30 Days 495 248 248 126 125 65
60 Days 800 400 400 200 185 95
90 Days 1060 530530265 235 120

Even if you have an IndRail pass, reservations are compulsory. You cannot reserve tickets online using an IndRail pass.

Foreign Tourist Quota

Many important trains also have a foreign tourist quota (abbreviated as FT) available for foreign travelers or holders of an IndRail pass. Payment must be in foreign currency, usually US Dollars or Pound Sterling, or in Indian Rupees (₹) backed with adequate proof of foreign exchange conversion (an ATM receipt is usually acceptable). A passport may also be required. There are very few seats available on this quota and, with tourism to India on an upswing, it is best to try for a seat at least two or three days in advance. Tickets on the foreign tourist quota cannot be booked online.

Intracity transport

The larger cities in India are generally served by more than one railway station. Most trains might halt at only one station, while others may stop at two to three.

Local rail network in cities

IR runs suburban railways in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune. Kolkata, Bangalore and Delhi have subway (Metro) systems as well. The Delhi Metro is airconditioned. The Kolkata Metro are nowadays air conditioned. Recently, a monorail system started serving the city of Mumbai. But most of the lines are under construction. Local rail networks are often crowded, but are generally the fastest and cheapest way to get around cities which have them. Those who are not accustomed to it are advised not to travel in local trains as it might be quite troublesome for them to alight from the train at the correct station after pushing through a large crowd of other commuters.

Men are advised not to enter the Ladies compartment.

Trams

Tram systems in India were built by the British in Kanpur, Calcutta, Mumbai and Chennai. Only the Calcutta trams remain. Although appreciated for being emissions-free, they are not very popular due to the slow speeds.

Eat

Hot food is available at mealtimes on almost every train in India. The food is mostly prepared in kitchens at railway stations and then loaded onto the train, either onto a pantry coach attached to the train (on most important trains), or just brought on board by waiters and distributed directly to passengers. In some trains food is cooked in the pantry coach of the train. In most cases, a waiter collects orders an hour or two before mealtimes and if you don't place an order, you may be left out in the cold, or if you are lucky you can get some food at many railway junctions. However, in trains having a pantry car, breakfast is prepared on board the train and you do not have to place an order beforehand. You can tell which trains have a pantry car because there is a P listed with the classes available in Trains at a Glance. Meals available for lunch and dinner are generally vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis (rice, dal, a vegetable (chicken or fish curries for non-veg thalis), yogurt (often sour), chapatis and occasionally, a sweet dish) or (veg/egg/chicken) biryani. Chilli chicken (sweet and sour chicken wings with chillis) is often available. Breakfast normally onsists of vegetable cutlet (a veggie patty) and bread, or omelette and bread. Pantry car service always includes the sale of tea, coffee, cold drinks and "namkeen" (chips and other salty snacks). Note that while pantry cars mostly re-distribute food, they do have a small kitchen and, if you're sick of the daal/chappati that shows up in the thali, it doesn't hurt to visit the pantry car and see if they can rustle up an omlet or some fresh chicken curry with parathas. The quality of food varies, with the fare being better in the South, North and West. Moreover, concepts of hygiene, taste, and cuisine change from region to region.

Most pantry cars and restaurants at stations are now managed by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC)). IRCTC provides satisfactory quality and hygienic food aboard trains and at stations. IRCTC kiosks are ubiquitous where one can find snacks/breakfast/packed foods/ biscuits/ cookies/ mineral water etc. At major stations, IRCTC has licensed Comesum to open fine-dine restaurants. There are also Jan Aahar outlet at many junctions which provide tasty and healthy food at affordable prices.

On the Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and Durontos, all meals are included in the fare and are served at your seat at mealtimes.

If you are finicky, bring enough food and bottled water for the journey including delays: bananas, bread, and candy bars are good basics to have. Most important stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff, but the usual caveats about eating in India apply. Often, snacks and food reflect local specialities and, in the case of cooked food, are quite safe to eat.

General information

Sleep

IR runs two hotels in Delhi and Howrah. Passengers can book independent rooms ar dormitories on production of tickets. Known as the Rail Yatri Niwas, the facilities are very basic and the rooms are quite shabby. There is a self-service restaurant.

There are also two Railway Hotels in Puri, Odisha (formerly Orissa) and Ranchi, Jharkhand, which offer far better service than the ones in Delhi and Howrah.

Retiring rooms are available at most major railway stations across the country. They offer basic facilities including a bed, mattress, blankets, drinking water, closet, restroom (and in the case of airconditioned rooms) a television. One has to produce a reserved journey ticket in order to be able to book retiring rooms.

Dormitories, both airconditioned and non-airconditioned, are available at almost all railway stations in India.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, January 19, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.