This glossary should help you understand some terms you probably will encounter while interacting with the Indian Railway network.
Note: If the term on the left appears as a link, the link leads to an extended or relevant article about the term.
|ARP||ARP, short for "advance reservation period", is the period from which you can reserve seats on a train. For most trains it is 60 days from the date the train leaves its origin, though some short-distance day trains in North India have a reduced advance reservation period of 30 days.|
|Bedroll||A bedroll is a set of bedding. A bedroll includes a tiny pillow, two sheets, a thick blanket and a small hand towel. Bedrolls are provided free of charge in First AC Sleeper, Second AC Sleeper and Three-tier AC Sleeper. If you are travelling by First Class Non-AC, AC Sleeper (on a Garib Rath Express) or Sleeper Class Non-AC (On a Duronto Express) you can rent a bedroll for the journey from the coach attendant on payment of INR25.|
|Berth||The word for a sleeping-bed or bunk in a train. A common misspelling is "birth", which can lead to amusing statements and questions on railway forums like, "I'm travelling with my wife, I have a waitlisted ticket, will I get a birth?"|
|Bogie/bogey||Another word for a car (carriage) of the train. The most commonly-used word is "coach" - your tickets will tell you the coach in which you've been allotted seats or berths.|
|Broad Gauge (BG)||
In railway parlance, the gauge refers to the width or space between the rails in a track.
|Cabin||A "room" with four berths that can be locked from the inside. If you want a cabin (or the more private equivalent, the coupe), you will have to travel by First AC Sleeper or First Class Non-AC. Nothing like the cabin featured in this Ylvis video.|
The "chart" of a train refers to the list of all (reserved) passengers travelling by that train with their originating and destination stations, as well as the coach and seats they've been allotted. Every reserved coach of a train will have the chart of that coach pasted near one of the doors.
Once the chart of a train is prepared, you cannot buy tickets for that train online or at a regular reservation office - see current reservation. If your ticket is still on the waitlist once the train's chart is prepared, you cannot travel in any reserved coach of the train as your ticket's status will not be updated further after this. This is why when checking the status of your ticket online or over the phone, you are told whether or not the chart has been prepared - if the latter, your ticket still has a chance of getting confirmed.
The chart for a train is usually prepared around four hours before departure. However, if the train leaves early in the morning (usually before 10 am), the chart of the train can be prepared the previous night.
|Circular Journey Ticket||
If you're visiting several places on a single trip and your route is such that you never repeat any section or station, you can buy what is known as a circular journey ticket and save a significant amount of money. This is because the fares of circular journey tickets are calculated based on the total distance covered during the trip, rather than separate fares for each individual journey. These tickets cannot be purchased online. See the article on circular journey tickets for more details.
An abbreviation of the term Tatkal Waitlist. This is the waitlist maintained for passengers who book tickets under the tatkal scheme - see Tatkal reservation scheme.
|Class of accommodation||
Your travelling experience on trains will be shaped by the class of accommodation you choose. There are as many as ten different classes of accommodation that the railways offer!
However, no train has all ten classes. Most overnight trains have four classes (2A, 3A, SL and UR). First AC Sleeper is found on some of the more important overnight and long-distance trains, and First Class Non-AC is very rare. Short-distance day trains tend to have AC Chair Car, Second Sitting and unreserved coaches.
A website that allows you to book train tickets online.
Most stations have a "left luggage" room called a cloakroom where you can leave your luggage. This is especially useful if you plan to reach a place in the morning, head out to sightsee and catch another train later in the day - this saves you the trouble of carrying luggage unnecessarily.
You need to have a valid journey ticket to leave your luggage at the cloakroom. Your luggage must be locked, otherwise the staff at the cloakroom will not accept it. If you're carrying a backpack, a cheap (and visible) lock over the front straps should suffice. Do not leave particularly expensive stuff in your bag, and avoid leaving food in your bag when you drop it off at the cloakroom. Cloakrooms have short breaks of 30 minutes approximately three or four times a day - check these timings to avoid the potentially thrilling situation of reaching the station ten minutes before your train leaves and finding the cloakroom closed!
Cloakroom charges are currently INR15 per piece of luggage for the first day, and INR20 for every extra day after that. You will be given a receipt upon leaving your luggage, which you will need to show the staff to retrieve it.
|Coach||The officially used word to refer to a car (carriage) of a train.|
|Compartment||Yet another word for a coach in a train.|
|Computerised Reservation Office||A place where you can book rail tickets at a counter. You will find reservation offices at important stations. In large cities, you will also find satellite reservation offices that are located nowhere close to a railway station - after all, you can't always go to the station to book tickets, can you?|
|Coolie||A commonly-used but rather derogatory term to refer to a porter - a person in a railway station who carries your luggage to your train and coach for a small fee.|
|Coupe||A two-berth cabin that can be locked from the inside. Only found in First AC Sleeper and First Class Non-AC.|
|Current reservation counter/current booking||
At major stations, it is possible to reserve seats on a train after the train's chart has been prepared at the current reservation counter. You will be able to get seats or berths on a train at this counter if:
If condition #2 is not met, your only way to find yourself reserved accommodation on a train after its chart has been prepared - without being fined - is to buy an unreserved ticket, and pay the difference in fares to the ticket examiner.
You can also check current booking availability for different trains online at this link.
|The Deccan Odyssey||
The Deccan Odyssey is a luxurious tourist train - in many ways, the Southern equivalent of the Palace on Wheels. Based out of Mumbai, its seven day itinerary is:
For more information on the Deccan Odyssey, click here.
|Duronto Express||A set of premier trains introduced in 2009. The USP of the Duronto Expresses is that they have no stops between their origins and destinations (though, in actuality, most of them do have halts en route for operational reasons). They are usually the fastest options between the stations they link, run with modern-design coaches that are more comfortable than regular coaches, and have meals delivered to your seat as catering is included in the cost of your ticket. They are easily recognisable by their indescribably hideous livery.|
|e-ticket||A ticket that you can print and carry to the train after booking online. You can also just show the ticket examiner on the train the confirmation SMS you received on booking an e-ticket - this saves paper. Make sure you carry a valid ID card with you.|
The bulk of the trains you will probably use when travelling on the Indian Rail network. The hierarchy of trains in India (in descending order of speed) could roughly be summarised thus:
|Foreign Tourist Quota (FTQ)||
Some trains, especially those in North India, have a Foreign Tourist Quota (FTQ) - a small set of seats or berths kept aside specifically for foreigners and NRIs travelling on a tourist visa. Most trains have a grand total of two foreign tourist quota berths in Sleeper Class, though a few trains on some of the more touristy routes do have a foreign tourist allocation in the higher classes as well.
Seats or berths under this quota cannot be reserved online - they can only be booked at certain important reservation offices. As a result, it is often possible to get FTQ seats or berths at relatively short notice. IndRail passholders are also eligible to get berths under this quota.
For more information, see my article on the Foreign Tourist Quota by clicking on the link on the left.
|Free upgrade scheme (upgraded passenger scheme)||
Similar to the free upgrades that airlines occasionally hand out, the free upgrade scheme was introduced in 2006. Under this scheme, passengers can be upgraded - free of charge - by one or two classes, subject to the following conditions:
Passengers can opt out of this scheme while booking tickets. Remember, your berth preferences are unlikely to be retained if you are upgraded. Would you be happy if you booked two inner lower berths in Three-tier AC Sleeper and were upgraded to two side-upper berths in Second AC? Probably not.
Free upgrades are quite rare (I've never been given one), and some trains see a larger volume of free upgrades than others.
|Garib Rath Express||A useful (but badly-named) set of trains introduced in 2005. Garib Rath (which translates to "poor man's chariot") trains are fully airconditioned and are the Indian Railways equivalent of the no frills airline. Coaches are more crowded than a Three-tier AC Sleeper coach, seating 78-81 people in the same amount of space as a Three-tier AC Sleeper coach, which seats 64. There are no privacy curtains as in the case of the other AC Sleeper classes, and bedding is provided at a small fee. The main complaint with the Garib Rath trains is that they usually have an extra berth on the side (called a side middle berth), which can make travel in these coaches slightly cramped. However, a ticket in an AC Sleeper on the Garib Rath about 33% cheaper than a regular Three-tier AC Sleeper, which makes it excellent value for money for short overnight journeys.|
|GNWL||Short for General Waitlist. If you are on a waitlist, you're best off being on this type of waitlist.|
|The Golden Chariot||The Golden Chariot is yet another luxury tourist train - the southernmost such one. Operating from Bangalore, the train offers two different itineraries - one that focusses solely on interesting tourist destinations in Karnataka and another with a broader focus on South India, covering Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. For more information on the Golden Chariot, click here.|
|ICF coach||Short for Integral Coach Factory (Perambur), these form the majority of coaches across the Indian Railway network. They are going to be phased out in favour of LHB coaches in the coming decade.|
|i-ticket||A ticket that you book online that the railways courier to you. This can only be booked on the IRCTC website (see the glossary entry for IRCTC)|
|Indrail pass||A pass that allows unlimited travel on the Indian Railway network during its validity period. This pass is only sold to foreigners and NRIs.|
|IRCTC||The much-maligned official ticket booking website of the Indian Railways.|
|Jan Shatabdi Express||A cheaper version of the Shatabdi Express. The first Jan Shatabdi Express was introduced in 2002. Jan Shatabdis are short-distance daytime intercity trains that offer both airconditioned and non-AC accommodation. Jan Shatabdis are generally faster than regular trains on the route.|
A set of (usually six) seats or berths in the lowest reserved class of every train are kept aside under this quota. As the name suggests, only ladies (and male children under the age of 12) can reserve seats or berths under this quota. This is one of the few quotas that can be booked online on IRCTC (see the entry on IRCTC for more details).
However, it must be kept in mind that this quota is not allocated in a special coach. While booking under the ladies quota ensures your immediate neighbours will be women, everybody else in the coach could well be male.
The Ladies Quota should not be confused with the unreserved ladies coach of a train (usually a portion of an unreserved coach - see the glossary entry on unreserved coaches below), or the ladies-only coaches in suburban and metro trains in India.
Short for Linke-Hoffman-Busch; the German firm that designed these coaches, LHB coaches are newer-design, sleeker coaches gradually being introduced on trains across India.
|Lower Berth Quota (Senior Citizen Quota)||
Two berths in every coach of a train with sleeper accommodation are kept aside under this quota. You are eligible for a berth under the Lower Berth Quota if:
Rated India's most luxurious tourist train, the Maharajas Express offers several different tour packages. For more on this train, click here.
|Mail train||As the name implies, a Mail train ferries mail (apart from passengers!) from its origin to destination. Mail trains are far less common than Express trains. They are always overnight and tend to leave their origin in the night, reaching their destination in the morning, which makes them time-saving travel options between cities.|
|Meter Gauge (MG)||
As mentioned earlier, the gauge refers to the width or space between the two rails in a track. A few train routes in India are still meter gauge, notably the Lumding - Agartala line in the Northeast and the Ahmedabad - Udaipur line in Gujarat/Rajasthan.
Unsurprisingly, the width between the rails in a meter gauge track is a metre - approximately 3.28 feet.
|Narrow Gauge (NG)||
A handful of routes in India are still narrow gauge (notable examples are the Kalka - Shimla, Kangra Valley and the Darjeeling Hill Railway).
There are two types of narrow gauge lines, one in which the width between the rails is 2 feet 6 inches, and another in which the space between the rails is exactly 2 feet.
|Pantry Car (PC)||
A coach of the train in which food is prepared prior to being served to passengers. Not every train has a pantry car - but fear not, on trains that don't have one, the attendant will come and ask you before mealtimes whether you want food, and what food you would like, though your options are usually restricted to "veg" or "non-veg". Food is then loaded at an upcoming station and sold to you.
In Rajdhani and Duronto Expresses, the pantry car is usually airconditioned and is called an "AC Hot Buffet Car" (though there is no buffet!) - on these trains, food is prepared on board only for passengers of First AC and loaded at stations for passengers of other classes.
Food options on trains are limited and generally rather unexciting, unless you happen to be on the Mumbai - Pune Deccan Queen Express or the Mumbai - Goa Mandovi Express. Or, of course, one of the luxury tourist trains.
|Palace on Wheels||
Arguably India's most famous luxury train, offering (mostly foreign) tourists a seven-day tour of Rajasthan (as well as a stop at Agra to see the Taj Mahal). The tour itinerary is as follows:
For more details including tour dates and costs, visit this website.
If a train's name ends with "Passenger" (often abbreviated to "Pass", "Passr" or "Psgr"), it probably stops at every station on the route. Passenger trains are generally far slower than express trains and enjoy lower priority. Most passenger trains are fully unreserved, though a few might also offer reserved accommodation. These trains tend to serve local and short-distance travellers. If you're looking for a comfortable, clinical journey, avoid these trains, but if you want a slower, more relaxed journey that allows you a glimpse of rural life, a journey on a passenger might well be worth the low fare you pay...
"Fast Passengers" are trains that are slightly faster than the average passenger train - with lesser stops - but not fast enough to qualify as an express. There are exceptions to this rule as well, though.
Short for Passenger Name Record, it is a ten-digit number on the top-left corner of your ticket. This is the number you will need to use for any enquiries about the status of your ticket.
A person in a railway station who carries your luggage to your train and coach for a small fee. Porters can be recognised by their uniform - a red shirt.
The abbreviation of Pooled Quota Waitlist. The Pooled Quota Waitlist is a type of waitlist that is notoriously difficult to confirm.
The short form of Reservation Against Cancellation. This is only applicable for trains with sleeping accommodation. Once all available berths have been sold, you will be issued a ticket which is a reservation against cancellation. This guarantees you a seat on the train, but not a sleeping-berth. If enough passengers cancel their confirmed tickets, you will be allotted a berth.
|Rajdhani Express||A set of premier, fully airconditioned trains that connect Delhi with the capitals of states in India. They are significantly faster than normal trains and operate with newer coaches, making them a very comfortable alternative to other trains. Food is included in the cost of your ticket and is served at your seat.|
|Rake||A rake refers to all the coaches of a particular train.|
If you see this message when trying to book tickets, it's bad news. The term means that the train is so full, the railways have stopped issuing even waitlisted tickets - basically, you have no chance of getting a confirmed seat or berth.
The other place you'll hear this word is when announcements are made at stations about late running trains, where the railways deeply regret the inconvenience caused to you...
Most stations will have a few retiring rooms that passengers can stay in. Retiring rooms are often far cheaper than an equivalent lodge or hotel in the town. A valid journey ticket is required to use a retiring room, and the maximum duration of stay in one is 48 hours. Large stations may have various types of retiring rooms ranging from Non-AC dormitories to large AC family rooms. The maintenance of retiring rooms varies from station to station - some are immaculately maintained, whereas others are grubby and dismal.
The abbreviation of Remote Location Waitlist. This is a type of waitlist maintained from an important intermediate station of a train.
Short for Roadside Waitlist, this is a relatively rare type of waitlist that exists if you're travelling from the train's origin to a fairly close intermediate station on the train's route.
Shatabdi means "century" and this set of trains was introduced to commemorate the birth centenary of Jawharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. Shatabdi Expresses are fully airconditioned day-time intercity Expresses and are usually significantly more comfortable and faster than regular trains. Shatabdi trains - like Rajdhani and Duronto trains - also include catering in the price of your ticket and serve meals and snacks at your seat.
India's fastest train is the New Delhi - Bhopal Shatabdi Express, which has an average speed of 87 kmph and a maximum speed of 150kmph.
Don't be mislead by the name; there is nothing "special" about Special trains - these are trains that aren't listed in the printed timetable. Special trains are usually operated for a short period of time to cater to excess demand on a route, usually during the vacations and over festivals. Special trains are notorious for the low priority they enjoy on their routes and often run extremely late.
If you're visualising bullet trains and TGVs, no, this isn't quite that. Any train in India that has an average speed of 55kmph and above from end to end can be classified a "superfast" train and a small surcharge levied on the fares of that train. If the second digit of a train's five-digit number is "2", then the train is a superfast. (For example, the 12610 Chennai Express with an average speed of exactly 55kmph between Bangalore and Chennai is one such superfast)
|Tatkal reservation scheme/tatkal quota||
Tatkal is a quota; a set of tickets on most trains that opens for booking at 10 am the day before the train leaves its origin station. Tatkal tickets can be very useful for passengers who cannot plan their travels well in advance and face dauntingly high waitlists under the general quota. A surcharge is levied on tickets purchased under this scheme. The number of Tatkal seats per class in a train can vary from as little as 4 berths to as many as 374 berths.
Tatkal tickets on popular routes tend to get sold out fast - in several cases, all tatkal seats on a train have been sold a minute after bookings open!
With the exception of certain premier trains (Shatabdis, Rajdhanis, Jan Shatabdis, Durontos and Garib Raths), every train will have at least one unreserved coach. As the name suggests, you do not require a reservation to board an unreserved coach; you just show up on the day of your journey and buy an unreserved ticket.
If all seats or berths on your desired class of travel for a particular date have been sold, you will be placed on a waitlist. There are various types of waitlists - some that depend on the type of booking you've made, and some that depend on where you're travelling. If enough passengers cancel, you will be allotted a confirmed seat or berth. If not, your money will be refunded minus a small clerkage charge, but you will not be permitted to board the train.
If the train/class you are travelling has RAC, the order of issuing tickets is as follows:
As passengers cancel their tickets, your ticket will move from the waitlist to the RAC list, and eventually (and hopefully!) to a confirmed status.
Apart from very small halt stations, every station will have a waiting room, where passengers can sit while they wait for their train's arrival. A valid journey ticket is required to enter the waiting room. Large stations can even have five different kinds of waiting rooms:
Waiting rooms usually have a set of chairs or benches to sit on, charging points for mobile phones or laptops, toilets (though usually so dirty that you'd prefer to wait for your train), and a display board with information on upcoming train arrivals and departures.
If you feel I've missed out on an important railway-related term, please do contact me and I'll update this glossary accordingly.
Last updated on 16 November 2013.