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Train Stuff in India

everything you need to know about train travel in India

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The hierarchy of trains

Not all trains are created equal - there are several different categories of trains, and a sea of difference in their speeds and the priority they get.  In this brief article, I outline the different classes of trains on the Indian Railway network.

"Special" trains

Special trains are trains that are introduced during periods of especially high demand to cater to the rush of passengers.  They are not mentioned in the printed timetable, and are usually announced at the last minute.  Special trains get very low priority and often arrive several hours late.  These trains are best avoided, unless there's no convenient alternative.

Passenger trains

The humble Passenger trains often serve as the sole link between major junctions and small stations in the hinterland.  Passenger trains are usually fully unreserved, though there are a few such trains that have reserved coaches as well.  These trains generally stop at every station on the route, no matter how small.  Fares on Passenger trains are lower than fares on any other type of train, which makes them highly popular especially with passengers who cannot afford the higher fares of Express trains.  

Passenger trains are quite slow (usually averaging between 25 and 40 kmph) and are rarely high priority, often getting overtaken by faster trains during their journey.  

The Tirupati - Chamarajanagar "Fast" Passenger at a stop between Bangalore and Mysore.

Regular Express/Mail trains

Regular Express and Mail trains - though not particularly fast - are faster than Passenger trains and have far fewer stops than the latter.  Nearly all Express and Mail trains offer reserved accommodation along with a handful of unreserved coaches.  Averaging between 40 and 55 kmph in general, regular Express and Mail trains are reasonably efficient and form the bulk of trains with reserved accommodation in India.  Depending on the section and schedule of the train in question, regular Express and Mail trains receive average to decent priority.

The Yesvantpur - Mangalore Express waits for clearance at Habanghatta station.

"Superfast" Express/Mail trains

"Superfast" Expresses and Mails average above 55 kmph from origin to destination.  The majority of them average between 55 and 60 kmph, while a handful of such "Superfast" trains average above 60 kmph.  Superfast trains follow the same fare structure as regular Express and Mail trains, though there is a surcharge levied on each passenger, ranging from INR 10 to INR 75 depending on the class travelled.  Superfast trains are generally higher in priority than regular Express and Mail trains, though this can vary on a case to case basis.  

In case you're wondering what the difference between an Express train and a Mail train is, it isn't much.  When most Mail trains were started - far away in the mists of the past - the postal service was thriving, and the demand for mail ensured that a special coach for mail was attached to certain specified trains, which were then known as Mail trains.  Mail trains also transport passengers.  Today, with the rise in other methods of communication, the demand for sending post by trains has reduced and most Mail trains have only half an unreserved coach earmarked for the transport for mail.  Mail trains are always overnight, usually departing their origin in the night and reaching their destination in the morning.

The Bangalore Mail prepares to depart from Chennai.

Garib Rath Expresses

Introduced in 2006 by the then Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, Garib Rath trains provide "no frills" AC travel to passengers at rates lower than regular Three-tier AC Sleeper accommodation.  Garib Rath translates to "Poor man's chariot", and while no citizen in actual poverty would be able to travel by this train, it is an extremely economical way to travel.  Garib Rath trains have a single AC Sleeper Economy class of travel (though a handful also offer seating accommodation).

The speeds of Garib Rath trains vary drastically - the Yesvantpur - Pondicherry Garib Rath averages just 42 kmph, while the Bandra - Nizamuddin Garib Rath averages a far more impressive 81 kmph.

The Pondicherry - Yesvantpur Garib Rath at the outskirts of Bangalore.

Jan Shatabdi Expresses

The Jan Shatabdi Expresses are a set of daytime intercity trains introduced by the then Railway Minister Nitish Kumar in 2002.  They are fully reserved and offer two classes of accommodation: AC Chair Car and Second Class Sitting.  They usually average between 55 and 75 kmph and are faster than regular and superfast Expresses and Mail trains on the route.  Catering is also provided on payment of a fee.

Generally, Jan Shatabdi Expresses are high-priority trains and do not get massively delayed.

The Kozhikkode Jan Shatabdi rushes through a small station in Kerala.

Shatabdi Expresses

Shatabdi Expresses were started to commemorate the birth centenary of Jawaharlal Nehru (indeed, "Shatabdi" means "century").  They are fast, fully airconditioned daytime intercity trains that are often the fastest connections between the two cities they connect.  Shatabdi Expresses usually average 65-85 kmph.  

Fares of Shatabdi Expresses include catering, and food is served at your seat.  Most Shatabdi Expresses have modern LHB coaches that ensure a far smoother, more comfortable ride.

Shatabdi Express trains are very high priority, and India's fastest train is a Shatabdi Express, the New Delhi - Bhopal Shatabdi.

The Chennai - Bangalore Shatabdi Express waits for departure from Chennai in the middle of a downpour.  Excuse the poor quality of the picture!

Rajdhani Expresses

Rajdhani Expresses connect the capital of a state with New Delhi, the nation's capital.  Like Shatabdi Expresses, they are fully airconditioned and reserved, and include catering in their fares.  Rajdhani Expresses average between 65 and 85 kmph.  Most Rajdhani Expresses also operate with newer design LHB coaches that make for a more comfortable travel experience.

Rajdhani Expresses are also very high in priority - the highest of all passenger trains - and are rarely delayed in ordinary circumstances.

A Second AC Sleeper coach of the Mumbai Rajdhani Express.  Photo uploaded by tatiraju.rishabh on Wikipedia. Used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Duronto Expresses

Introduced in 2009, Duronto Expresses are a set of fully reserved, high speed trains that have no commercial stops between their origin and destination.  Like Shatabdi and Rajdhani Expresses, Duronto Expresses include catering in their fares.  However, unlike Shatabdi and Rajdhani Expresses, not all Duronto Expresses are fully airconditioned.  Duronto Expresses too average between 65 and 85 kmph.  Most Duronto Expresses have modern coaches and are extremely comfortable. 

Duronto Expresses, like the previous two classes of trains, are extremely high priority trains.  Their eclectic livery makes them easily noticeable.

The Ernakulam - Kurla Duronto Express negotiates a slight curve on the Konkan Railway.

Last updated on 14 November 2013.