Getting on a train without a prior reservation
Even if you haven't made a reservation on a train ages in advance, you might be able to just buy a ticket and hop on the train. This is only possible if there are vacant seats or berths on the train for your journey sector. If you are travelling in an unreserved coach, you do not need to make a prior reservation (hence the term, "unreserved coach"). However, on most important trains, unreserved coaches are likely to be crowded enough to make this option less than desirable.
It is a common misconception that you can just jump on the train and buy a ticket from the ticket examiner. As per Indian Railway rules, this is an offence, and if the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE) finds you on the train without any ticket, you will be treated as a ticketless traveller and will have to pay the fare for your journey plus a penalty of INR 250. Working on the fairly rational assumption that not too many people would want to pay this fine, I now tell you how you can get on a train without an earlier reservation and not pay any fine (no, this does not involve hiding in the toilets!).
You start by finding out whether seats or berths are available on your train in the first place. You can check on the current booking availability page of the Indianrail website by entering the name of your originating station. The page lists the number of vacant seats or berths available on trains starting at - or passing through - that station in the next four hours. If all the "class" columns for your train display 0 or NE, then the train is full. If any of the "class" columns for your train display a number, those many seats or berths are available in that class. If your train is not listed at all despite being in the next four hours, do an availability search for the train for your journey sector. If you aren't in a position to check this online, you can try calling the railway enquiry number 139.
If seats are available, there are two ways by which you can hop on the train.
Buying a 'Current Reservation' ticket
As of 12 November 2015, it is possible to book tickets online after the train's reservation chart has been prepared, up to 30 minutes before the train leaves its origin station (or important enroute stations). For this, you follow exactly the same procedure you would to book a train ticket online on IRCTC, except that if seats are available, it will display "CURR_AVBL <number of seats available>" instead of "AVAILABLE <number of seats available>". Not a massive change. However, keep in mind that these tickets are nonrefundable (though it would be rather weird if you decided to book a ticket an hour before your train departed and immediately decide to cancel it).
If you can't book your current ticket online, most large stations have a current booking counter for booking tickets after train chart preparation. Once you reach the station, ask any official whether a current booking counter exists in the station. If one does, you can walk up to the counter, fill in the reservation form, and get a reserved ticket that mentions your coach and seat/berth numbers. This is a fairly simple procedure and saves you the trouble of running behind the TTE on the train.
A current booking ticket will look just like a regular PRS ticket, except that it will state "Journey cum Reservation Ticket after Charting".
You can only use this method if the station you're boarding at is large enough to have a current booking counter, and is either an important halt (a "remote location" in railway parlance) or the originating station of the train.
Buying an unreserved ticket and upgrading it on the train
If, for whatever reason, you do not have the option of buying your ticket online or visiting a current booking counter, you need to first buy an unreserved ticket at your boarding station. With the exception of very tiny halt stations in the middle of nowhere, you should be able to buy unreserved tickets at any station. Ask for the unreserved ticket counters. When buying an unreserved ticket, you need to mention the type of train you're taking - the options being Passenger trains, ordinary Mail/Express trains and "Superfast" trains. If you're not sure of the category under which your train falls, just tell the clerk which train you plan to take and s/he will issue you the correct ticket. If you are taking a Shatabdi, Rajdhani or Duronto Express train, you need to ask for a First Class unreserved ticket. For any other train, a normal Second Class unreserved ticket will suffice.
An unreserved ticket will look something like this:
After buying the ticket, and once the train arrives, meet the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE). TTEs are generally recognisable by their dark coats and the reservation chart that they carry with them. Speak to him informing him of your wish to travel by the class of your choice and show him your unreserved ticket. He will direct you to a particular coach and seat/berth (or to another TTE). You will then be issued an Excess Fare Ticket (EFT) for the difference in fares of the unreserved ticket and the actual class you finally travel by. An EFT should look like this:
If all goes well, you should find yourself on the train of your choice without having to pay any penalty.
Last updated on 14 February 2014.