Facilities at stations
There are over 8,000 stations across India, and they can vary immensely depending on where they're located. The smallest halt stations can be nothing more than a small platform and a board in the middle of nowhere - sometimes, without the platform!
Above, L: Heelalige station on the outskirts of Bangalore. R: Another station in rural Karnataka.
Big stations, on the other hand, can have a massive building, over ten different platforms, a plethora of food courts, petty stalls, waiting rooms, dormitories for overnight stays, left-luggage rooms.. you get the picture.
Above, L: The facade of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai. R: Crowds of people exit the same station. Photos by Karsten K T, used with permission.
Well, if you don't, worry not - this article will help you get the hang of the "average" railway station - if it is possible to average railway stations.
The entrances to most stations are at the middle of the station, and the middle of most platforms have a shelter for passengers, while the extreme ends of platforms are left uncovered.
The entrance of Coimbatore railway station. Image uploaded by Ragunathan on Wikipedia. Used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.
Every platform has a yellow board at both ends indicating the name of the station along with its PIN code and height from the sea. Station names are written in three languages: English, Hindi, and the vernacular language of that particular state:
Within the station, smaller diamond-shaped signs also mention the station's name: (to state the obvious, the picture below is from a different station)
On the assumption that you're not planning to use any of the really small halt stations, here is the typical set of amenities you can expect at a railway station:
Ticket counters: Important stations can have three different types of ticket counters; a set of counters that issue reserved tickets (i.e, a Computerised Reservation Office); another set of counters that issue unreserved tickets for travel in the unreserved coaches of trains; as well as a Current Reservation Counter that issues tickets against vacant seats/berths on trains where the chart has already been prepared. These counters are usually not located right next to each other, but this can vary from station to station.
Departure boards: Stations with more than 4 platforms usually have a departure board, which displays the trains are due to leave (and arrive at) the station along with their platforms. These are located at the main entrance to the station - you might not see them if you enter from the (numerous other) entrances that each station has.
ATMs: Most medium-sized to large stations have at least one ATM located near the entrance.
Toilets: Even fairly small stations have a couple of toilets. It is another fact that most toilets are so badly maintained that waiting for the arrival of the train to use the facilities is often preferable.
Waiting rooms: Waiting rooms allow passengers with valid tickets to avoid the elements while waiting for their trains. Small stations might have two waiting rooms, segregated by gender. While women can also use the men's waiting room, the reverse isn't permitted. Large stations can have as many as five different types of waiting rooms, rather amusingly divided into the following:
- Lower class (Unreserved and Second Class) men's waiting rooms
- Lower class (Unreserved and Second Class) women's waiting rooms
- Upper class (Sleeper Class Non-AC and any higher class) men's waiting rooms
- Upper class (Sleeper Class Non-AC and any higher class) women's waiting rooms
- AC waiting rooms
The average waiting room has several rows of benches for passengers to sit, plug points to charge mobile phones and laptops, a small display board with upcoming train arrivals/departures at the station and a few toilets and washrooms. Here is a picture of the Upper class waiting room at Bangalore City railway station:
An increasing number of important stations now have AC waiting rooms, which tend to be far better maintained and comfortable than regular waiting rooms. While some stations restrict the use of AC waiting rooms to AC passengers, other stations allow all passengers to use the AC waiting room on payment of a nominal hourly payment. Here is a picture of the AC waiting room at the Madgaon railway station in Goa:
I've personally used the AC waiting rooms at the following stations:
- Ahmedabad: Open only to AC passengers, located at the extreme (right) end as you enter platform 1.
- Bangalore City: Located on the first floor as you enter the facade of the station.
- Chennai Central: Located in the concourse connecting platform 6 with the southern (platforms 7-11) end of the station.
- New Delhi: Located at the Ajmeri Gate side of the station (platform 16). Relatively expensive at INR 300 (includes tea/coffee and a buffet meal)
- Madgaon (Goa): Located on the immediate right as you enter the station.
I'm fairly sure other important stations like Howrah, Mumbai CST and Secunderabad among others have AC waiting rooms - do inform me if you have information on these stations (or any other stations with an AC waiting room)
Cloakrooms: Cloakrooms (or left-luggage rooms) are an excellent facility that can help many a traveller on a short visit to a city or town. You can leave your luggage at a cloakroom at a nominal payment of INR 15 per suitcase (per day), and pick it up when you arrive to catch your outbound train from the city. This is particularly useful if you plan to arrive at a city/town by an early morning train, head into the city/town for your sightseeing or business for the day, and are catching an evening or overnight train out. You need a valid journey ticket and ID proof to leave your bags in the cloakroom, and a strict rule is that the suitcase or bag must be locked. On a recent set of trips, it became fairly evident that most staff were very serious about this rule, so if you're carrying a backpack or knapsack that doesn't lend itself to being locked, you might not be able to leave it for safekeeping at the cloakroom.
On leaving your bag at the cloakroom, you will be given a receipt that you will need to return to the staff when you collect your bags. The staff at the cloakroom are penalised if they fail to produce all original receipts at the end of the month, a strong disincentive against pilfering any bags.
At major stations, cloakrooms are open 24/7. However, some cloakrooms have a few 30 minute breaks when staff change shifts. I'd advise checking the break timings of the cloakroom when you leave your luggage there to avoid the potential adventure of arriving just before your train leaves to find the cloakroom shut.
I've never heard of stuff being stolen from bags left at a cloakroom, though I'd avoid leaving any food in my bag at the cloakroom - the occasional rat might decide to forage for it by gnawing a hole through your bag!
Restaurants, food stalls, food plazas: Food options depend on how big the station is. The smallest halt stations could well have nothing. Smaller to medium-sized stations will usually have a few stalls on the platform selling junk food, apart from a limited range of meals like veg and egg biryani, chowmein, chapatis and curry. Smaller stations might have a vegetarian refreshment room which serves a larger range of vegetarian meals, including thali meals. Prices at refreshment rooms are often very low. Larger stations also have non-vegetarian refreshment rooms.
The largest stations might a have a few different restaurants, and some stations even have food plazas that serve fairly passable food. Some stations are known for specific food, so if you happen to pass through them, it's well worth it to sample whichever regional delicacy the area is famous for. See this thread on Indiamike for a list of some stations famous for specific dishes. The railways have also started "Jan Aahar" stalls at certain stations to provide cheap, quality food to passengers.
You might not have to get off the train at a station to buy food - vendors are often very active in bringing food to every coach of a stopped train.
Other stalls: Medium to large stations often have medical stalls, bookstalls, not to mention "miscellaneous stalls"
Retiring rooms: Not to be confused with waiting rooms, retiring rooms are the railway station equivalent of a guesthouse or lodge, providing passengers with valid journey tickets rooms for day or overnight stays at the station. A retiring room can be used by a traveller for a maximum of 48 hours. In smaller towns, retiring rooms are significantly cheaper than any hotel or lodge in the vicinity - for example, in Rameshwaram, a double-bed AC room costs INR 300 per night. It would be difficult to find a decent Non-AC double bed room in the vicinity for that price!
The quality of retiring rooms can vary widely across stations. Some stations take pride in keeping their retiring rooms clean and tidy; other stations couldn't care less. It's always a bit of a gamble..
Having said this, it is often very difficult to secure a retiring room at a station - as of now [11/2013] they cannot be reserved online. However, it is possible to reserve retiring rooms at selected major stations by heading to the closest major railway station to you and presenting your ticket to the matron and requesting a reservation at the retiring room at that station. However, you can only do this if you have a confirmed or RAC ticket.
It is possible to just turn up at a station and request a retiring room, though you will - in all probability - be told that the retiring rooms are "full".
Last updated on 14 November 2013.