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Train Stuff in India

everything you need to know about train travel in India

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This section talks you through the process of booking tickets.  What are the different ways you can book tickets?  What are the possible discounts and concessions you can get whilst booking tickets?  Can you book multi-city tickets on a single itinerary?  What are the various quotas you can take advantage of to book your ticket?  Also, does a railpass make more economic sense than buying point-to-point tickets?

When do bookings open for a particular train?

The Advance Reservation Period (ARP) for most trains opens at 8 am, 120 days before the train leaves its originating station.  As quite a few long distance take two days or more to complete their journey, you might be able to reserve tickets for a particular train more than 120 days in advance if the train leaves its origin a day (or two) before reaching your boarding station.  For example, the Sampark Kranti Express from Yesvantpur (Bangalore) to Nizamuddin (Delhi) has the following schedule (as of April 2015):

Let's assume we're looking at the train leaving Yesvantpur on Friday, the 31st of July 2015.

Station name Train arrives Train leaves Day Distance 
Yesvantpur (Bangalore) N/A 22:10 1 (Monday) 0
Dharmavaram 00:40 00:45 2 (Tuesday) 175
Kacheguda 08:25 08:35 2 (Tuesday) 610
Nagpur 17:05 17:15 2 (Tuesday) 1195
Bhopal 22:55 23:05 2 (Tuesday) 1584
Jhansi 02:50 03:00 3 (Wednesday) 1875
Nizamuddin (Delhi) 09:15 N/A 3 (Wednesday) 2277 (km)

As mentioned earlier, reservations for all stations open 120 days before the train leaves its origin (excluding that date), which means that you can start booking from any station on the 2nd of April 2015.  Thus, if you're boarding at Yesvantpur, you can book 120 days in advance; if you're boarding at any station between Dharmavaram and Bhopal, you can 121 days in advance (as this is the second day of the train's run); if you're boarding at Jhansi, you can book 122 days in advance.

Some short-distance intercity trains in North India have a reduced Advance Reservation Period of 30 days. I will upload a list of these trains soon.

If you can't plan your travels this far in advance and all trains are full by the time you decide to book, there is a quota known as the tatkal quota.  This is a set of seats/berths in most trains for which bookings open at 10 am, one day before the train leaves its originating station.

Should I book early?

Definitely!  Trains can get full very early - especially around festivals and weekends - and I'm sure you'd prefer to avoid buying a waitlisted ticket.  I always book tickets as soon as I'm sure of my travel dates.  If you're not sure exactly which date you plan to leave, you can buy tickets for two or three different dates and cancel the ones you don't want - cancellation fees are still fairly low.  Alternatively, there's always the tatkal scheme.

How do I buy tickets?

There are three different ways you can buy train tickets; at a reservation office, online, or by SMS.  Of these three, the last is - surprisingly enough - the most complicated process and not really worth the effort involved.  

If you want to book online, you need to create an account on the Railways' official booking website (www.irctc.co.in).  While other websites (notably Cleartrip) offer a simpler booking experience, you need to sync your official account on IRCTC with these websites before you can book tickets.

For an introduction to the process of booking tickets, click here.  If you'd like to know how to book tickets through the Indian Railways' official website (IRCTC), read this article instead.

What are the different types of tickets?

There are three different types of tickets:

  • PRS or counter-bought tickets are rectangular card tickets that you book at a reservation office,
  • i-tickets are the same PRS tickets booked online on IRCTC, which are then are couriered to your residence (in India only). 
  • e-tickets are electronic tickets that you book online on IRCTC and other ticket-booking websites, which you can print and carry to the train.  However, you can also just show the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) a screenshot of your ticket if you're carrying a laptop or tablet.  You can also show the TTE the confirmation SMS that you receive when you book the ticket - they are also valid tickets as long as you carry a valid ID, and your name appears on the train's reservation chart.  

If you want to see what different tickets look like, read this article.

Do tickets become more expensive as the journey date approaches?

Regular tickets under the general, ladies, lower berth and foreign tourist quota cost the same irrespective of when they're booked. If you you book tickets under the tatkal scheme, you will have to pay a surcharge for each passenger, but all tickets under the normal tatkal scheme cost the same.  The railways' premium special trains, however, follow a dynamic pricing policy whereby fares increase as more tickets are sold.  Yet another scheme of the railways - the premium tatkal scheme (article forthcoming) also follows a dynamic fare scheme.  Phew, confusing...

Are there any discounts or concessions I can get on my ticket?

The railways offer a very wide range of concessions - there are fifty different types of concessions mentioned at this link.  However, most of these concessions are for specific travellers (artisans, students on educational trips, and leprosy patients, to pick three examples at random) and can't be availed by a general traveller.  The two major concessions accessible to general travellers - and the only two concessions that can be availed online - are:

  • Concessions for children between the ages of 5 and 12: 50% of the train's fare.
  • Concessions for male senior citizens (above the age of 60): 40% of the base fare.
  • Concessions for female senior citizens (above the age of 58): 50% of the base fare.

Children under the age of 5 travel free, but aren't given a separate seat or berth.  However, they are provided food on trains where food is included in the cost of the ticket - Shatabdi, Rajdhani and Duronto Expresses.

If you're planning a stopover on your journey or a multi-city trip, a through-ticket, break-journey ticket or Circular Journey Ticket could also save you a lot over the regular fares.

There are quite a few quotas in the reservation system.  Which quota do I use?

Usually, you'd book under the General Quota, which is seen in all trains and open to any passenger.  Tickets under the General Quota can be booked online, which makes it very convenient.  The result of this is that the General Quota is always the first quota to get sold out.  If this happens, you can try a few other quotas (if you qualify for them):

  • The tatkal quota:  A set of seats/berths on most trains that opens at 10 am the day before the train leaves it originating station.  While this allows last-minute passengers to get seats or berths on trains, demand for tatkal seats and berths is incredibly heavy and in many cases, all tickets under the tatkal quota get sold out minutes after bookings open.
  • The Ladies Quota:  As the name suggests, this quota is only open to ladies.  However, male children under the age of 12 can also be booked under this quota.  This quota can be booked online.  However, in most trains, the Ladies Quota is six seats or berths in the lowest reserved class, and these six seats or berths might well be in the middle of many other berths occupied by men.  Only a handful of trains have a Ladies Quota in their AC classes; I'm working on a list of these trains.
  • The Lower Berth Quota:  This quota is for (a) men over 60 travelling alone, (b) women over 45 travelling alone , (c) pregnant women, though pregnant women need to show a certificate stating so to avail this quota.  The Lower Berth Quota can also be booked online on IRCTC, though this option only appears at the final stage before payment.
  • The Foreign Tourist Quota:  If you are a foreigner or an NRI on a tourist visa, this quota can help you greatly on your travels around India.  Read this article for more information on the quota, not to mention the process of getting a ticket under the quota.

I've bought a ticket.  How do I track its status?

The status of a ticket can be checked (a) online (b) by calling the IVRS (c) by SMSing the enquiry service or (d) looking at the train's chart when it is pasted on the coach and at stations.

Read this article for more information on how to check and understand the status of your ticket (PNR).

My ticket is full of information.  What's important?  How do I understand the information on my ticket?  What are my coach and seat numbers?

Tickets can be quite difficult to understand, given the amount of information that's printed on them.  Read this tutorial to learn how to read your ticket, focussing on only the information that's important for your journey.

Can I book a multi-city ticket?  

In some cases, this might be possible.  However, this cannot be done online.  The railways allow passengers to break journey (i.e. make a stopover) en-route if their tickets are for a distance of over 500 km.  There are several rules to such a ticket, known as a break journey ticket.  However, the savings from such a ticket can be quite high.

The railways also allow you to book more than one train on a single fare, if the route you're taking is reasonably direct, or if there isn't any direct train on the route.  Such tickets are known as through journey tickets, also known as tickets with telescopic fare benefit.

Lastly, if you are planning a long trip with several stopovers, and your route is such that you don't repeat any section twice, you might be eligible for a Circular Journey Ticket - which works out significantly cheaper than regular point-to-point tickets.

I've lost my ticket!! What do I do?

If your ticket was purchased online, this isn't too much of a problem, as long as you're carrying a valid ID and your name appears on the train's reservation chart (which it will if it is a valid ticket).  In this case, just tell the Travelling Ticket Examiner that you don't have your ticket, but you're carrying your ID.  You will be issued an Excess Fare Ticket see picture on payment on INR 50.  If, on the other hand, you have your ticket but don't have a valid ID, the penalties are far more severe - you will be treated as a ticketless passenger.

If you've lost a ticket that you bought at a counter, it is slightly more problematic.  You will need to get a duplicate ticket from a reservation office by submitting an application stating you've lost your ticket, specifying as many details about your ticket as you can remember, apart from proving your identity.  You will be charged INR 50 per passenger if your ticket was for Second Sitting or Sleeper Class and INR 100 if your ticket was for any higher class.  

No duplicate tatkal tickets are issued.

Can I cancel a ticket I've bought?  How much do I lose?

Yes.  Cancellation charges depend on the class of travel, the time at which the ticket is cancelled, and the status of the ticket at the time of cancellation.  Note that all cancellation charges mentioned below are per passenger, not per ticket (accurate as of 12 November 2015)

If your ticket is fully confirmed, please see the table below to ascertain exactly how much you'll lose if you cancel.  Note that tickets for "premium" special, "suvidha" trains and those booked under the tatkal/premium tatkal quotas have different rules, explained at the bottom of the page.

Class of travel

Time of cancellation if ticket is fully confirmed

More than 48 hours before departure

Between 48 and 12 hours before departure

Between 12 and 4 hours before departure

Less than 4 hours before departure

First AC Sleeper (1A)

INR 240

25% of ticket fare for all classes (subject to the minimum cancellation fares mentioned on the left)

50% of ticket fare for all classes (subject to the minimum cancellation fares mentioned in the leftmost column)

No refunds*

Executive  Class (EC)

INR 240

Second AC Sleeper (2A)

INR 200

First Class Non-AC (FC)

INR 200

Three-tier AC Sleeper (3A)

INR 180

AC Sleeper Economy (3E)

INR 180

AC Chair Car (CC)

INR 180

Sleeper Class (SL)

INR 120

Second Sitting (2S)

INR 60

Tatkal/premium tatkal tickets (Any class)

No refunds**

No refunds**

No refunds**

No refunds**

"Premium" Specials (Any class) No refunds** No refunds**  No refunds** No refunds**
"Suvidha" trains (Any class) 50% of ticket fare 50% of ticket fare No refunds** No refunds**

For trains that depart in the night (9 pm - 6 am) and no late-night counter exists at the station to cancel your ticket, you can cancel your ticket up to two hours after reservation offices open (i.e. by 10 am) to get a 50% refund - note that this rule does not apply to e-tickets, which have to be cancelled 4 hours or more before the train departs.  Also see point ** below.

**An exception to the "no refunds" rule is if the train is either cancelled by the railways or is running more than three hours late at your boarding station (and, thus, you decide not travel), in which case you get a full refund minus clerkage charges (see table below for charges).  

If your ticket is fully waitlisted/RAC - or if some passengers on the ticket are confirmed and others waitlisted/RAC - the following clerkage charges apply: 

Class of travel

Time of cancellation if ticket is partially or fully waitlisted/RAC (including tatkal tickets)

Up to 30 minutes before departure

Less than 30 minutes before departure

All classes other than Second Sitting

INR 60

No refunds

Second Sitting

INR 30

No refunds

If your ticket isn't fully confirmed, the following cancellation charges apply:

How do I cancel a ticket I've bought?

If you've booked your ticket at a reservation office, you can cancel it at any reservation office across the country.  The procedure is exactly the same you use to book a ticket at a reservation counter - you fill up the reservation form with the same details you did to book the ticket, but when you hand the clerk your reservation form, make sure to hand him/her your ticket as well.  You will then be issued with a cancellation ticket (!) which tells you that you've cancelled your ticket, and also specifies the refund amount.

If you've booked an e-ticket through IRCTC, you need to log into your account and click on the "Cancellation" icon on the main page of your account.  You will then be shown the list of active tickets in your account, where you can cancel the ticket(s) you don't want.  Refunds are credited to the same credit card/debit card/bank account used to book the ticket in three to four working days.  You cannot cancel e-tickets at a counter and vice versa.

If you've booked through a different website, follow the cancellation procedures described on that website.  If your ticket was booked through an agent, you will need to go back to the same agent for cancellations, which is why I never recommend booking through travel agents.

If the train's chart is already prepared by the time you decide to cancel, you need to file a Ticket Deposit Receipt to claim your refund.

I've bought a ticket for five people.  Now one person doesn't want to travel.  Can I part-cancel a ticket; cancel only a few passengers from the ticket?

Yes, you can.  If you're cancelling your ticket through IRCTC, choose only the names of the passengers whose tickets you wish to cancel.  If you're cancelling your ticket at a reservation counter, fill only the names of the passengers whose tickets need to be cancelled on the form, and when handing your ticket and form to the clerk, make sure to mention that you don't want the whole ticket cancelled.

I decided not to travel.  Can someone else travel on my ticket?

No, you cannot transfer your ticket to anybody else.  If caught during the journey, they will be treated as ticketless travellers and fined accordingly.  However, you can transfer your ticket to blood relatives, but this has to be done at least a day earlier by meeting the Chief Reservation Supervisor at your nearest reservation office - you cannot just get on the train and explain the situation to the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE).

Are there any passes for rail travel in India?

Unfortunately, there are no railpasses that can be bought by regular Indians.  

If you are a foreigner or an NRI, you can buy an Indrail pass, though it doesn't really save you money over buying regular tickets unless you plan to travel very frequently during the validity of the pass.  See this article on Indrail passes if you're interested in buying one.

***

Articles in this gallery:

The basics of booking tickets - booking a ticket at a counter
Booking a ticket on IRCTC
Checking the status of your ticket
Understanding your ticket
Booking more than one train on a single fare - break journey and through journey tickets
Circular Journey Tickets
The Foreign Tourist Quota
Railpasses in India; are railpasses worth it? - the Indrail pass

Last updated on 10 November 2015