After understanding the basics of the reservation system of the Indian Railways and triumphantly getting yourself a ticket, it's finally journey time! Here, I try and simplify the actual journey itself.
Is there a "check-in" process for trains? When should I reach the station?
No. At most, your luggage might be put through an X-ray scanner, but this only happens at very large stations and shouldn't take more than ten minutes. As far as the railways are concerned, if you're on the train, you're on the train, and whether you reached the station two hours early or two minutes before the train left (I've done both!) is of minimal importance.
If you've never travelled by train before, I'd suggest reaching the station 45 minutes to an hour early for your first journey, especially if the train you're taking doesn't start from your station. Stations can be large and complicated, and you might need time to find out which platform your train is due to depart from, not to mention where your coach will be in the train's formation. Indian trains can be very long, and finding yourself at the "wrong" end of the train can be quite problematic, especially if the train stops for only a few minutes.
Here is a video of a train passing through a small station without halting. There is a fair bit of honking; almost 15 seconds before the train finally shows up! You also get to see the station assistant sticking out the green flag to the driver of the train, telling him that everything is okay. This train's length - at 21 coaches - is fairly average by Indian Railway standards; you can find trains that are 24 coaches long:
A frenzied, late arrival at a crowded station followed by a desperate dash for the train is unlikely to put anybody in a good mood at the start of a journey, apart from which, you'll make an easy target for any pickpocket that happens to be in the vicinity. In general, I try to reach the station half an hour early when I travel.
I have a lot of luggage. Will I find trolleys at the station?
Not too many stations have trolleys, and the few that do won't allow you to put your luggage on the trolley and push it off yourself. Confused? Read on.
If you have a lot of luggage, you'll probably depend on a porter to help you with your luggage. Porters are men who carry your luggage to your coach for a fee (which you definitely should negotiate before giving him your luggage). Often, they just carry your luggage on their head (!), but if you have too much luggage for that, they'll load your luggage onto the aforementioned trolley and push it to your train and coach. A huge advantage of using a porter is that they know exactly which platform your train will get and where your coach will stop, eliminating the hassle of you having to figure them out by yourself.
Porters are distinguishable by the red coats they wear see picture
What can I do at the station?
That depends on the station in question. With over 8,000 stations, the Indian Railways is hardly homogeneous, and there's little resemblance between a small halt station and a bustling junction station. In general, you can expect the following facilities at medium-sized to large stations; a large waiting room (apart from benches on the platform), a small restaurant selling fairly cheap meals, stalls selling junk food, a book stall, a medical stall, and a left-luggage room. If you plan to be at a station for a very long time, you might even want to hire a retiring room. For more on what to expect at stations, read this article.
While large stations might have several small restaurants to choose from, don't expect to find cafes or lounges where you can have a leisurely cuppa, insulated from the bustle of the station - at best, you might find an AC waiting room see picture at some of the more important stations.
How do I cross from one platform to another at a station?
Most medium-sized to large stations have a foot overbridge and/or a subway that allows you to shuttle across platforms without crossing the tracks. It is another matter that many people decide to walk across the tracks anyway. Over 15,000 people die crossing tracks in India every year.
Where should I wait for the train - in the waiting room, or on the platform?
Personally, I prefer waiting on the platform - in most cases, there are benches at regular intervals along the platform, and I find it less stuffy than the waiting room. I use the latter only if I arrive particularly early, or if I need to charge my phone. AC waiting rooms can be quite enticing in the summer, though.
I can't really advise you here - waiting rooms differ from station to station, and in the end it's an issue of personal preference. Even if you decide to use the waiting room, it's a good idea to move to the platform at least 15 minutes before your train arrives, to avoid any last minute surprises.
How do I find out whether my train is on time?
Stations usually announce the status of trains due soon, but if you don't want to wait for those, you have a few options to find out how your train is behaving:
- Log on to www.trainenquiry.com, enter the number of your train, choose your station and boarding date, and you will be told where the train is, how late it is running, and when it's expected to arrive.
- Call 139 and select the "arrival/departure" option. If you want to do this in English, you need to select option number 2 for the first two menus. You will then be told the running status of your train.
- SMS SPOT <train number of your train> to 139. You will get an SMS telling you the name of the last station passed by the train and its current status.
Be a little careful with the railways' delay predictions. A train running late can miraculously make up time due to a concept known as slack time. Slack time is extra time provided in a train's schedule before its destination and any important station on the route, which enables a late-running train to either arrive on time or make up some of its delay. In some cases, the amount of slack can reach ridiculous proportions. For example, the Alleppey - Dhanbad Express is given a substantial amount of slack time at Chennai - it is allotted 1 hour and 38 minutes to cover 6 km between Perambur and Chennai! While your train might not have that much slack, it is worth remembering that a train can easily gain time at important stations.
If you've not read it already, the article on avoiding trains that are likely to be delayed might help you select a train that's less likely to be delayed.
Are stations safe?
You need to follow the same precautions at a station that you would at any crowded public space - keep an eye on your belongings at all times, and don't keep your wallet in a position that is easily accessible to any opportunistic pickpocket.
Violent crime at stations is very uncommon. However, if you happen to be at a station waiting for a departure at an odd hour, it's a good idea to wait in the middle of the station, which tends to be better-lit, with more people waiting. The extreme ends of the station tend to be poorly lit and isolated (unless the station is a terminus). Avoid using ill-lit and empty subways to shuttle between platforms late at night. These precautions should suffice to make your late night stay at the station fairly uneventful.
How much luggage can I carry?
Unlike domestic airlines which allow a stingy free allowance of 15kg, the railways are fairly generous with allowing luggage on board.
The free allowance for each passenger per class is as follows:
|Class of travel||Free luggage allowance||Maximum allowance|
First AC Sleeper
|70 kg||150 kg|
Second AC Sleeper
First Class Non-AC
|50 kg||100 kg|
Three-tier AC Sleeper
AC Sleeper Economy
AC Chair Car
|40 kg||40 kg|
Sleeper Class Non-AC
|40 kg||80 kg|
|Second Class Sitting||35 kg||70 kg|
Children between 5 and 12 years old are permitted half the free allowance of an adult.
It is possible to carry luggage beyond the free allowance by paying for the extra luggage at the luggage booking office of your originating station. The maximum allowance that you can carry with yourself in the coach is also mentioned above. The maximum allowance includes the free allowance amount. If the weight of your luggage exceeds the maximum allowance permitted in your class, you will have to book it in the luggage van of your train.
Your free allowance is not admissible on bulky items like bikes, which have to be carried in the train's luggage van.
How safe is my luggage on the journey?
If you're travelling by a sitting class (Executive Class, AC Chair Car, Second Class Sitting), luggage is stored on racks above the windows, like in the images below:
(Click on the images to view them in greater detail)
Since you're unlikely to be away from your seat for particularly extended periods, you shouldn't have too much to worry about here.
With sleeping classes (any reserved class except the three classes mentioned above), luggage is stored under the lower berth or the side-lower berth, depending on which berth you have. If you're travelling overnight by First AC Sleeper or First Class Non-AC and you (and/or your group) have the whole cabin/coupe to yourself, you don't have too much to worry about either, as you can bolt the cabin/coupe shut at night, so nobody can steal your belongings as you sleep.
If you don't have the whole cabin/coupe to yourself or are travelling by any of the other sleeping classes and feel worried about your luggage, you should chain it to the lower or side-lower berth. These berths have a set of hooks or wires below them, like in the example below:
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
A simple cycle lock or a chain lock secures your luggage to the lower berth. You'll find vendors selling chain locks at most stations. Just make sure you don't lose the key later! While I have never had my luggage stolen on trains (touchwood), this is not unheard of, and a few precautions go a long way:
- As I said, chain your luggage to the hooks or straps below the berth,
- Don't leave small bags in easy reach of anybody passing through the corridor. I usually wedge small bags between my body and the coach wall, which should deter anybody looking to quickly snatch a bag.
- If you're carrying anything of great value that's particularly small, sleep with it under your pillow.
- If you're travelling non-AC and keep the windows open at night, don't keep anything small (your mobile, wallet etc) in clear visibility and access of anybody from outside.
To end on a lighter note, here is an amusing poster on the Trivandrum - Veraval Express cautioning passengers to be careful with their belongings (can anybody translate?)
Will I get bedding on trains for an overnight journey?
If you're travelling in any AC sleeper class for an overnight journey (except AC Sleeper Economy and Garib Rath trains), bedding is included in your fare and you will be provided a bedroll which consists of the following:
- A pillow
- Two sheets
- A thick blanket
- A small face towel
..though the face towel is rarely provided, as passengers have a bad habit of stealing them.
If you are travelling by AC Sleeper Economy, a Garib Rath Express, or by Sleeper Class Non-AC in a Duronto Express, bedding is optional and can be obtained by paying an additional INR 25 at the time of booking your ticket. You can also ask (and pay) the attendant on the train, though there is a slight risk that all bedding might have already been given away by then.
If you are travelling by First Class Non-AC, bedding can be obtained from the attendant on payment of INR 25.
What's food like on trains? Is food included in the cost of my ticket?
Premier trains like the Shatabdi, Rajdhani and Duronto Expresses include food in the fare of your ticket and serve it to you at your seat. On other trains, food needs to be purchased separately.
There are no restaurant cars on Indian trains - you can buy food (not to mention chai, water, aerated drinks and junk food!) from passing vendors. Alternatively, an attendant will usually appear before mealtimes, asking you whether you'd like a meal and listing out the options available, usually limited to "veg" and "non-veg", which is delivered to your seat a little later. Lastly, you can buy food at stations where the train stops. See this article for a more comprehensive description of food options on trains.
This blog post is a nice account of the "evolution" of food services on trains.
Are there charging points (sockets) on the train?
Yes. If you're travelling by any AC class, you should have at least one charging socket per bay (often for the inner berths and not the side berths), usually above the window, like in this coach below:
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
Non-AC classes usually have a pair of charging sockets at each end of the coach, though newer Non-AC coaches have a pair of charging sockets in each bay.
The sockets deliver an output of 110V AC. Do not attempt to use the sockets to charge anything, apart from your phone and laptop.
Trains have toilets, right?
Yes, they do - every coach has four (some classes have just three) toilets. Toilets are located at the ends of the coach, near the vestibule, and - depending on your luck - can range from being reasonably clean to incredibly smelly and dirty. See this article for more information on train toilets.
Can I bathe on the train?
Technically, yes, you could, but would you want to? Again, the article on toilets will help you make up your mind.
What should I carry on the journey?
Carry a book to read and your music player, especially if it's a long journey. If you have the option of packing some interesting food to eat on the train, go for it! Other things that might come in handy are a sheet (if you're not travelling by an AC class, and it's an overnight journey), plenty of loose change if you plan to buy chai from the vendors and hand sanitiser (antibac). It's also an excellent idea to print and carry the schedule of your train with you - not only will you know how early or late you're running, you'll also know where the train makes a long halt, and can buy stuff from the station accordingly. No train can leave a station before its scheduled commercial departure, so if your train reaches a station early, you'll have a longer wait. However, if a train reaches a station late, it doesn't have to wait out the full duration of the halt printed in the schedule.
What do I do if there's a medical emergency on the train?
I'll start with what you shouldn't do - pull the alarm chain. This is just going to bring the train to a halt, probably in the middle of nowhere, and this will delay the train - exactly what you don't want if you need to get to a city for urgent medical treatment.
Note: this is what I would do if I (or my travelling companions) had a problem on the train. Other readers are welcome to send in their experiences with medical issues on trains; what they did, and how effective it was.
Get the support of your co-passengers (if travelling alone)
Second, find the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE). TTEs have the following seats/berths allotted to them:
In Second AC Sleeper: berth number 5 in every odd-numbered coach (i.e. A1, A3, A5 etc)
In Three-tier AC Sleeper: berth number 7 in every odd-numbered coach (B1, B3, B5 etc)
In Sleeper Class Non-AC: berth number 7 in every odd-numbered coach (S1, S3, S5 etc)
In Executive Class: seat number 1 in every odd-numbered coach (E1, E3 etc)
In AC Chair Car: seat number 1 in every odd-numbered coach (C1, C3, C5 etc)
In Second Sitting: seat number 1 in every odd-numbered coach (D1, D3, D5 etc)
TTEs do not usually have berths allotted to them in First AC Sleeper and First Class Non-AC - you will need to head to the adjoining coaches and classes. In general, there is one TTE allotted for every three coaches.
Why approach the TTE? His chart will have details of all medical practitioners travelling on the train, and you might be able to get a quick, preliminary diagnosis from a travelling medic, which will help you figure out whether to continue your journey or get off at the next big station for emergency treatment. If the issue is serious, the train staff can contact the next station so that medical help can be arranged immediately on arrival.
If you can't find the TTE, seek help from the coach attendant or even passing vendors. They should be able to spread the word quickly to get help to you. You will find a first-aid kit in the guard's van for minor issues.
Articles in this gallery
|Facilities at stations|
|Finding your train at the station and your coach in the train|
|Food options in trains|
|Toilets in trains|
Last updated on 17 November 2013.