Finding trains between places and checking whether they're available
If you live in or are visiting India, it's highly likely that you'll need to use the railway system at some point. Flights can be prohibitively expensive, and might not even connect your destination, and quite often for a short-distance trip, travelling overnight by train can save you time during the day, apart from a hotel bill. With a few exceptions, trains tend to be both faster and more comfortable than the bus, and in most cases cheaper than their bus equivalents as well.
However, searching for the ideal train can sometimes be more difficult than one expects, with several tourist websites displaying highly dated (and inaccurate) train timings. Even when you find a train you want to take, you also have to check whether seats are available. Here, I walk you through the simplest methods to do this.
[a] Use the timetable: The Indian Railways prints an annual abstract timetable called "Trains at a Glance" [INR 45] which lists the schedules of major trains at important stations. There are also quite a few zone-specific timetables (for example, specific to the Southern Zone) which list the timings and stops of all trains within the zone and sketchy timings of trains outside of the zone. Zonal timetables are very useful if you plan to visit places that aren't important enough for mention in Trains at a Glance, and if you quickly want information about the next train out of a remote location where internet is scarce. Some pictures:
However, timetables cannot help you find out whether the train you want has availability on your chosen dates, and can be cumbersome if the journey you wish to undertake is a long one - in which case you might have to flip through multiple tables to find out when your train leaves your origin and reaches your destination. So, unless you're an ardent rail enthusiast, it's unlikely you'll want to use this method.
[b] Use the internet: There are many websites that provide real-time train routing and availability information. Some of the websites you're probably going to use are:
(i) The Indian Railway official website www.indianrail.gov.in
(ii) IRCTC (The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) www.irctc.co.in
(iii) 90di www.90di.com
(iv) Erail www.erail.in
(v) India Rail Info www.indiarailinfo.com
(vi) Cleartrip www.cleartrip.com/trains
I now discuss the merits and demerits of each website in some detail, and leave it up to you to decide which works best for you. If you're in a hurry and don't want to read the whole list, I'll save you some time - if you want an easy search interface, head straight to the section on 90di. If you want a comprehensive listing of all trains, look at the sections on Erail and India Rail Info.
(i) Indianrail.gov.in [www.indianrail.gov.in]
This is the official railway website to check for trains and availability, and most other websites draw their information from this website. However, it isn't particularly user friendly and unless you have Adblock installed, full of annoying pop-up ads. To search for trains between two stations, go to http://www.indianrail.gov.in/dont_Know_Station_Code.html.
Screenshot from www.indianrail.gov.in/dont_Know_Station_Code.html
However, this will only show you trains that run on the specific date you query for (not all trains run everyday), and will also only show you trains that have reserved accommodation. If you're searching for trains for a short-distance hop where several unreserved passenger trains operate, this website can be very misleading.
If you want to search for all (reserved) trains running between two stations (without confining your search to a single day), visit indianrail.gov.in/inet_Srcdest.html instead:
Screenshot from www.indianrail.gov.in/inet_Srcdest.html
Be aware that the names of some popular tourist destinations differ from that of their stations (for example, there is no railway station called "Goa"). I'm working on a list of these stations, which should be uploaded soon. Indianrail will not list multi-train itineraries if there is no direct train between the two stations you select. 90di is probably the best site for this.
Once you've entered your stations (and assuming there are direct trains), it will show the list of trains that fit your query. For example, if I search for trains from Delhi to Agra:
Screenshot from http://www.indianrail.gov.in/cgi_bin/inet_srcdest_cgi.cgi
The list of trains starts with the train number and name of each train, followed by the station you'll be boarding from if you catch this train (big cities have several stations and the website shows you trains departing from other stations within the city), the train's departure time in the 24-hour time format, the station of arrival and its arrival time. Remember, many longer-distance journeys take more than 24 hours, so don't always assume your train arrives the same day! The green Y's and red N's indicate which days of the week that particular train runs - you can see here that a few trains don't run daily - and the hyphens (-) and radio boxes indicate which classes the train has. I include the full forms of the class abbreviations here again:
|Abbreviation||Class of Travel|
|1A||First AC Sleeper (Executive Class if the train is a Shatabdi)|
|2A||Second AC Sleeper|
|FC||First Class Non-AC|
|3A||Three-tier AC Sleeper|
|CC||AC Chair Car|
|SL||Sleeper Class Non-AC|
|2S||Second Class (Sitting)|
AC Sleeper Economy
To check whether a train is available,
- Click the radio button corresponding to the class of your choice in that train
- Scroll to the top of the page, select the quota you want from the drop-down menu (you will usually want the preselected option - "General Quota")
- Enter the correct journey date and click on the "Get Availability" button below
- It will display the availability status for your date and the next five departures of the train in your class as well as the next lowest class.
Screenshot from http://www.indianrail.gov.in/cgi_bin/inet_accavl_cgi1.cgi
The first set of boxes (right under the "You Queried For" message) confirm the train and stations you've asked for as well as the quota (in this case general) and the second set of boxes provide availability info. Each row represents a particular date with the date you've asked for - in this case 24th September - being the first. The last two columns represent the classes, with the penultimate column (which says "Class - 1A") representing the class you've asked for and the rightmost column representing the next lowest class. The intersection of these rows and columns tells you what the availability is for that day. In this case, the blackened box tells you that 14 seats are available in Executive Class on 24th September - whee! Should you wish to downgrade to AC Chair Car (CC), there are 13 seats available on the 24th as well.
This is a fairly simple scenario where everything is available, and in many cases, it might not be this simple - you might come across availability figures like the following:
For an explanation of what these figures mean, click here
You might also encounter other messages such as:
RT CLS SUSPNDED
The Dates given were outside ARP
Station is not in the ISL of the Train
Train suspended: DBA administrator
For an explanation of these error messages, click here
So that's the first possible website you can use. Not the easiest!
(ii) IRCTC [www.irctc.co.in]
IRCTC is the primary website for booking train tickets online, and many people use this website to check for availability as well. I don't recommend this, as the site can often be really slow - too many people log on to the website to book tickets and the added load of people checking availability clogs the already overburdened servers of this website.
To check availability on IRCTC, follow steps 1 - 4 mentioned in this tutorial
(iii) 90di [www.90di.com]
This is by far the most user-friendly website to find trains between two stations as well as check availability - it consists of a simple box in which you type your query! So, to revisit the Delhi - Agra trip on September 24th, you would type:
Screenshot from www.90di.com
Results open in a fairly easy-to-understand format:
Screenshot from www.90di.com
90di also has a "Route Rank" where the route is evaluated based on how fast it is, whether it requires transits, and whether departure and arrival times are at pleasant times of the day. Clicking on the "details" link after the stars in the route rank will give you slightly more detailed feedback.
To check availability on 90di, choose the class you want from the dropdown menu provided for the train of your choice and click on the "Check Availability" link. If I check for the Bhopal Shatabdi (not visible in the above image as it is further down the list), I get:
Screenshot from www.90di.com
So 12 seats are available (down from 14 from the last check - looks like two seats have been sold in the meantime!)
Another advantage of 90di is that it will also suggest multi-train itineraries when there is no direct train to fit the bill. The main disadvantage of 90di (which is common to Indianrail and IRCTC) is that it only lists reservable trains - not passenger trains that are fully unreserved.
(iv) Erail [www.erail.in]
Erail is an excellent website that provides all the information the official website provides - and much more - in a far simpler layout. To search, enter your origin and destination stations in the boxes in the top. Once you've done that, click on the higher "Show Trains" box to the right to get the list of trains.
Screenshot from www.erail.in
For Delhi - Agra, the resulting train list appears like this:
Screenshot from www.erail.in
The same details in a similar - but far cleaner format - than the Indianrail website, with a few changes. Erail displays the station codes for the from and to stations, but this can easily be corrected by hovering your mouse over the station code to get the name in full. Erail also has a few helpful features:
- It mentions whether the train has a pantry car (a coach where food is prepared on the train) - see the third column, trains marked with "P" have a pantry car,
- It lists the travel time of each train - hovering your mouse over this will have erail tell you the total distance and the train's average speed. Clicking on the travel will bring up the train's route on a map,
- It tells you the dates of the month non-daily trains run - hover your mouse over the "R" column to the right of the "Travel time" column,
- Clicking on the train's name or number will bring up its schedule,
- It also lists trains that cannot be reserved - see the "DLI AGC PASS"
Erail also tries to provide transit routes if no direct service is available.
To check availability on Erail, change the date on the top-right corner of the screen (link 4) to your preferred date, choose the quota you want, and then click on the "Av" link for the class of the train you want. You will have to download a plugin the first time you do this.
It will bring up an availability menu like the one below:
Screenshot from www.erail.in
The format is the same as the one on Indianrail, with a nice difference - boxes are colour-coded. A green box means seats are available; a yellow one means that you will get a Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) seat, and a red box means that you will be placed on the waitlist. [For an explanation of the RAC and waitlisting system, click here]
You might get the same mysterious availability figures that you do on Indianrail - for an explanation of them, click here
If you get an error message, click here
Erail has several useful features which I shall discuss in a future tutorial.
(v) India Rail Info [www.indiarailinfo.com]
India Rail Info is another useful website that you can use to get information about trains in India. Personally, I don't care much for the design scheme of the website and prefer Erail to check for trains and their availability, but I know many people who swear by India Rail Info - it is, after all, a matter of personal choice. India Rail Info is also a far better website to get information about specific trains - how well they're maintained, how late they generally tend to run, as well as the order in which coaches are positioned in the train - invaluable when you're catching a train from a station where it stops for just a couple of minutes, as Indian trains can be long!
To search for trains on India Rail Info, enter the names of your source and destination in the the boxes on the top-left corner of the page (leave the "via station" box empty)
Screenshot from www.indiarailinfo.com
The list of trains will be displayed in this format (Again, looking at Delhi - Agra trains on September 24):
Screenshot from www.indiarailinfo.com
Some points to note:
- The third column tells you whether the train is a slow passenger train, an ordinary express service, a "superfast" service, or a premium train (Shatabdi Expresses, Rajdhani Expresses, Duronto Expresses, Jan Shatabdi Expresses and Garib Rath Expresses fall under this category,
- Like Erail, India Rail Info mentions station codes - hover your mouse over the code to get the name in full,
- India Rail Info tells you - on an average - how late or early a train tends to run. See this article for more information on avoiding trains that are likely to be poorly-maintained and late.
- The platform number at both the departing and arriving stations is mentioned - but please check at the station before boarding!
- The figures in green and red after the departure/arrival times indicate how late (or early) the train is on average,
- After choosing your date of journey, clicking on the "Refresh Availability" button above the train list will give you a precis of accommodation availability on all trains - the blocks in the Classes column will change to green if available, blue if RAC, and red if waitlisted.
To get a detailed availability status, click on a train - this will open up a box with availability figures for the next month.
Like Erail, India Rail Info also displays multi-train itinerary suggestions (Called "sigma chains") and also lists passenger trains that cannot be reserved.
For an elaborate tutorial on the various features of India Rail Info, visit Dave W's thread on the Indiamike forum here.
(vi) Cleartrip [www.cleartrip.com/trains]
Cleartrip aims to provide a simple, hassle-free website to book train tickets in India, and is the website most people without an Indian-issued credit card are forced to use. To start, visit cleartrip.com/trains.
Enter your origin, destination, preferred class of travel, date of journey and the number of people travelling, and you will be shown the list of trains. Again, with the Delhi - Agra example, this is the result:
Screenshot from www.cleartrip.com/trains
Clicking on "Check availability" will give you the availability status for that particular train. Fairly user friendly, isn't it?
However, Cleartrip has its own deficiencies - there are a fair number of complaints about trains not showing up in its database (for example, searching for trains between Kalka and the popular hill station Simla will not yield you the Shivalik Deluxe Express, the most popular train on the route). Like Indianrail, it doesn't reserve unreserved trains or multi-train itineraries. Despite this, it is a far more user-friendly website to book tickets when compared to IRCTC.
Well, that brings us to the end of this article. Whew! Whoever knew searching for trains could be this lengthy...
Last updated on 14 November 2013.