Life in Indian Railways !


Indian Railways is the largest Railway Network in Asia and world’s second largest network!!

See the statistics first:

Route Length 63,327 kilometers (39,350 mi).…

6,909 stations…

more than 1.6 million employees…

200,000 (freight) wagons, 50,000 coaches and 8,000 locomotives…

9,000 passenger trains…

20 million passengers daily…

It is a huge cultural kaleidoscope on the move

Salute to the Indian Railways for the amazing service they do to the passengers!! Indian Railways information website Railways site for internet booking.


Read ahead for an interesting description that not only provides information on Indian railways but also depicts travel in Indian railways…

A typical long distance Indian train has the following coach configuration.
The engine (!) in the front with the driver and his assistant. The ‘Guard’ at the tail end of the train is the overall in charge of the train. Trains run Diesel or Electric depends upon the route.

Second Class (General Compartment) – 2 to 4 coaches in a train, usually 2 just behind the engine and 2 at the end of the train. You need not do any reservation for traveling in this. Just buy the ticket from the counter at railway station even when the train is standing at the platform ready for departure.
This is the cheapest way to travel in India known to me. For about less than 10USD you can travel about 3000 kilometer (yes three thousand) eg. Trivandrum to New Delhi. The catch is you will not have any seat reservation. No sleeping berth (you have to sit and sleep for 2 nights). If you managed to get a set there is no guarantee that you can hold on to it. You need to ‘reserve’ the seat you occupied by keeping your luggage or any other personal objects on the seats when you go to toilets etc. An empty seat is open for anyone including you to occupy!
The facilities are bare minimum. Food is available from the vendors. 4 toilets (squat type) with water are attached to each coach. Fans are provided. Two washbasins are also provided at both the ends. Bring a small chain and a pad lock to secure your luggage beneath a seat or over the luggage rack.
Depends on the season, route etc these may get overcrowded also. I’ve traveled many times in these during the overcrowded seasons. A couple of times I had to breathe through the neighbor’s nose!
These coaches get phenomenally overcrowded during the Indian summer season. There is a large a passenger overflow into second class from other classes due to the overbooking of reservation.
You can see the poorest people of India in these compartments. If you want to get a feel the raw India traveling by one of these is the best bet. People are generally accommodative. People are more than happy to talk to strangers. A foreigner surely generates a lot of curiosity.
You take the first step in winning the co passenger’s confidence. Use your commonsense to judge the situation. The indication of their interest in you is that you will bombard with a lot of curious questions. Be prepared to answer a lot personal questions. The first would invariably about from where you are coming? What is your profession? Then it could be how much you earn a month. Your answers can lead to sub questions! This is how they socialize. Surprisingly they may not ask your name. They think this is too personal a question to be asked!
A poor Indian thinks that all the western tourists are infinitely rich!! They have loads of money that they don’t know what to do with it. Otherwise why should they travel around and waste a lot of money? It is surprising even the well to do class in the Indian society also at times think in this line.
An average Indian is an infinitely inquisitive question bank. Don’t get offended. This is how that culture is. Asking such questions is not considered impolite. Go with it rather than fighting or get upset about it.

Sleeper Class (SL) - This class is the main chunk of a typical express train. About 72 passengers are accommodated in each coach. There are about 10 to 15 coaches attached per train. You need a prior reservation to get into these coaches. Reservations can be made at the most 60 days prior to the travel date. Seats and made into berths in the night. The seats are grouped into sort of semi private sections of 6 seats, 3+3 facing each other. Upper berth (UB), Middle berth (MB) and the Lower Berth (LB). The lower berth is the seat for the all the three during daytime.
Upper berth is undisturbed and can be used for sleeping even the daytime also. Lower berth passenger gets the window seat during the daytime. Generally you can see a lot of co-operation among the ‘6 member berth family’ in berth swapping, setting the middle berth etc during the travel.
Then on the other side of the walkway there is a row of ‘’Side Berths”. They are twin seats facing each other. If you are a tall person say more than 5.5 feet, these side berths are slightly short for sleeping. But both of these are window seats and you will offer little trouble for the other passengers when getting out and go for a small walk (remember the trouble you created for the mid and aisle passengers sitting in your row during your flight!).
Don’t get offended if an old passenger asks you if you can exchange your lower berth with his upper berth. Generally the younger people consent to this as a curtsy to the senior passenger. Try to avoid if possible first and last 16 seats of the 72 seats in each coach. These are close to the doors and toilets. You may be annoyed by the traffic near the door and toilets especially in the night due to the light at this point. Just like the last row passenger’s trouble in an airplane.
Chains are provided to secure your baggage (bring your padlock). Your luggage can be pushed under the seat. For about 14USD you can travel about 3000 kilometer eg. Trivandrum to New Delhi.
These coaches are provided with 4 toilets (1 western style. Carry your toilet paper). The squat type is more hygienic in a train. Using them in a running train needs some experience. This is a stainless steel basin with footrest installed on the floor. Be careful with small articles like spectacles, purse, toiletries etc, as this can be easily lost down the drain if accidentally dropped on to the toilet floor. Once I’ve lost a key bunch accidentally fallen from my pocket. Don’t forget to collect it back if you leave such articles over the small shelf fitted inside the toilet near the mirror.
Unlike in the west you can use the toilet even when the train is at the stations also! No one locks up them at stations.
There are two latches for the toilet. One is a twin latch that can be opened and closed from both inside and outside. The other can be operated only from inside the toilet. Lock this one when you are inside and leave the other one open. This gives the indication from outside that it is occupied. Try to occupy only the toilets with the twin latch in the closed position, meaning no one is inside.
Early mornings are a bit crowded at the toilets. You use the washbasin located outside the toilet for brushing, face wash etc. The toilets are more or less similar for all the classes.
Your name is listed on the chart stuck next to your coach’s door outside. A copy of the same is displayed at the departing station “”Reservation Chart” notice board also about and hour before the departure.
These coaches are indexed as S1,S2,…S10.Lookout for a square white paper label stuck on the side of the door with the coach number marked on it. The same is printed on your ticket also. Most of the stations have a notice board indicating the position of the coaches from the engine. If this is not displayed ask any staff you see on the station for your location. If you could find out the location of your coach prior to the arrival of the train you can avoid those mad running up and down along the length of the train with your huge backpack.
Bring your own bedroll for the II class sleeper travel. A thick blanket and an air pillow is not a bad idea.
The middleclass mass of India travel by this class. Next to your seat will be a newly married Tamil couple (who can speak reasonably good English), An old lady (who is not very happy with you in the beginning), her middle-aged daughter (who speak only Hindi) and her inquisitive young boy (who want to know where are you from). For a budget traveler Second Class sleeper is THE most suitable mode of transport.

AC 3-Tier Sleeper (3A) - This is the AC version of the Second Class Sleeper. Most of the express trains have about 2 to 3 coaches of this type. More comfortable than Second Class Sleeper and also a bit more spacious.
The windows are covered with the non-open able tinted glass. You may not be able to enjoy the sights outside like in the Second Class Sleeper..
For approx. 34USD you can travel about 3000 kilometer eg Trivandrum to New Delhi in this class. This is recommended if you need to travel in a bit comfortable way especially during the summer. Bedroll available inside the coach free of cost. Most of the facilities are comparable with the Sleeper Class.
Here again you will find the Indian middle class as your co passengers.
Don’t get upset if someone requests to share the magazine you have been reading. This is a very common practice in Indian trains. After reading a magazine if you have kept it beside you some one will just take it to have a look. And from him this goes to a third person without anybody’s permission. The magazine will enjoy a mini reading tour within the compartment and return to you through the same trail.
For a newspaper the story is still more dramatic. If you are reading the news headline, someone will hold the middle papers are pull it gently! You are expected to release the tight hold so that he can pull out the middle section of the newspapers easily. This is treated as absolutely courteous! Here again the newspaper travel in loose sections and comeback to you after a well read tour.
Generally people won’t request your books for reading. If you are a ‘selfish’ person keep your magazine inside your bag immediately after you read it.
AC 2-Tier sleeper (2A) – Many express trains have a couple of this class coaches. Luxurious than the 3A. At a cost of about 48 USD you can travel about 3000 kilometer e.g..Trivandrum to New Delhi in this class.
You can find the well to do Indian class in these coaches. This is a good asylum for those who cant join the crowd or expect luxury than economy. All the facilities available in SL is available here also. Bedroll available inside the coach free of cost. Like in any other AC coaches here again you can't enjoy the outside view due to the dark window glass. Tell that coach attendant to reduce the CHILL if you feel that you are inside a freezer with berths & wheels!

First Class AC (1A) - The highest luxury class in the regular routes.
Cost comparable with economy class airfare. For about 150 USD you can travel from Trivandrum to Delhi. A number of important long distance trains have these coaches. The elite class and business executives travel by 1A.
Once I’ve met a businessman in this and he said he is afraid of flying and therefore travel only by train. You can travel in this train for days without even having eye contact with the co passenger. People tend to mind their own business (the usual stuff of newspaper reading, staring at the laptop screen, acting sleepy etc). This peculiar difference I’ve noticed almost in all of my train journeys.
The personal interaction barrier increases with increase in luxury! Somebody tried to explain that this is due to the physical distances in the luxury classes. In a Sleeper class you are more physically close to the co passengers and this increases the drive to interact with others.

AC Chair car (CC)- Generally attached to the day running trains only. Looks more like an economy class seat in the plane. A bit wider seat but. Cost a bit less than the 3A. OK for a decent day travel. Many day running express trains have this class.

First Class (FC)- This is the legacy first class coach. Only a few meter gauge express trains have this. This is first class but non-AC! Cost between Second class AC and Third class AC. Spacious. You need to inform the station in charge prior to get inside the train for a bedroll. Cost Rs20 per bedroll.
There are a number of special trains called Rajdhani (means capital) and Shatabdi (means centenary) express. These trains have only the luxury class coaches. And they are the fastest of all trains in India. Rajdhani Expresses run between Delhi and many important cities .Shatabdi Expresses run between important cities. Shatabdi is a day running (no sleeping berth) train. Domestic airlines are their main rivals!
Break Van - These are the luggage van attached at the end of each trains. If you have any JUMBO size articles (bicycle, Motorbike, camping equipment. etc) you can carry in the same train you are traveling.
Luggage need not have to be booked along with your reservation. Just come to the boarding station a bit earlier than the departure time and book the luggage in the break van. Luggage Office is located near the platform. You need to show the ticket as proof that you are traveling in the same train. Go personally to the break van to supervise the loading and unloading of your luggage. This helps you to avoid any ‘miss’.
Even if you are not having any thing to put in the luggage van and your luggage is more than the free allowance you need to pay the additional charge at this office.
Typically the frees allowance are 35kg for second class, 40kg for II Sleeper & III AC sleeper, 50kg for II AC sleeper, 70kg for I AC. About 10kg more than this is OK. If you exceed above that the extra luggage charges to be paid.

Pantry Car - Most of the long distance trains have this facility. You can get meals, snacks, coffee, tea (chai), cool drinks etc in this. Staff comes to your seat with supply. Also you can go the car and order directly. You need to pay for what you buy.
This is basically a vegetarian facility with egg omlate (I don’t know the exact spelling). Chicken curry + meals available at stations for about a USD per head. Prices are slightly higher for food than the local restaurants. You can get a decent food in an express train.
TTE - You have to show the ticket to the TTE (Traveling Ticket Examiner) on request. He wears a dark blazer with a name badge over his white shirt and always carries a chart board with a huge clip over it. He talks the native version of English!
You can see a beeline of passengers behind him at the beginning stations asking him questions about the status of their waitlist.
You can ask him any questions from swapping your seat to the next coach where your friend’s berth is, arrival & departure ‘timings’, which train is the best to reach Shimla. How many children he has (you will be appreciated!) etc etc.
If you want to extend your journey in the same train he can do the same and give you the receipt. He can also upgrade your class based on availability and you can pay and get the receipt during the journey itself.
If there is a medical emergency within the train inform the TTE. He along with other key staffs are trained to administer the first aid. Also he can easily locate any doctors from the passenger list.
Indian railways encourage Medical patricians to prefix their name with Dr. when doing the reservations. All the passengers are insured by the railways against accidents within the railways premises as per the rules.
Typically a TTE is in charge for about 4 coaches. He travels along with you. For very long distance trains a new TTE takes charge every day. He locks the coaches from inside during the nights. Many night running trains have a few policemen as night guards. For any complaint or request during your travel approach the TTE.

Vendors – Any thing is available for sale inside a train and at stations.
From safety pin to quiz books to banana to shoe polishing service to dried fruits…you name it! But all of them may not be the railways approved vendors.
A train is a big bazaar on the move. They are the part and parcel of the system. When a train reaches a station the vendors cover the windows like bees on the honeycomb, everyone shouting what they sell. All the services are thoughtfully customized that it can be easily sold through the 4inch or so gap of the window grille!
If you are sitting at the window seat a co passengers may request to pass their buy. Generally the train stops for two minutes at a station.At key stations this can be up to 30 minutes. Shift your huge backpack close to the exit door when trains is about to reach your destination .
All frenzy activities of buying, selling, getting in getting out takes place in two minutes time before the train slowly start with a long whistle. Carry a bunch of coins and small changes during travel.
Reservations over Internet - You can do it yourself at any of the Indian Railway reservation counters in India. There are 100s of them all around the country. Cities have such counters located at multiple places for the passenger convenience.
Booking from abroad is a bit difficult affair if you are totally new to the whole scheme of things. Through Internet you can directly book most of the trains.
But you have to collect the ticket manually from the office near the Delhi railway station. These tickets need not be for the trains originating from Delhi. You need to produce the proof such as the credit card used to book the ticket copy of passport etc. Your representative can also collect the ticket if you can give an authorization letter with details and a copy of your passport. Presently only at Delhi this collection facility is available.
But tickets can be couriered to many important towns in India. Lists of such towns are listed in the site. They don’t courier abroad. You need to provide a local address to collect these tickets (a friend, hotel (check with them beforehand), an institution etc). Also you need to allow about 2to3 days as delivery time. Extra service charge (1.8%) is levied on the total cost of ticket for Internet booking of tickets.
You have to do a small online registration at the railway site before enabling you the booking. VISA and Master Cards are accepted. Refund is made on the card if you cancel the ticket later. Note down the 10 digits PNR and the Transaction ID. You can do a maximum of 4 bookings a month. Each ticket can be for a maximum of 6 passengers.
It is possible to check the availability status of seats before you go to India over the net to get an idea about it. There is an Indiarail pass available for foreign tourists. This is available abroad. If you are not traveling so much this is not worth.
Larger hotels in India have travel desk attached to it. They collect about Rs30 per seat for standing in the queue and booking it for you. This is an easy way to book tickets if you are not curious to go to the reservation counters personally and stand in queue. There are special quotas for foreign tourists. Enquire about this at the reservation enquiry counter for availability in your route. Counters are open 8.00am-8.00pm weekdays and 8.00am-2.00pm on Sundays.
When searching for the availability of a particular train you may encounter a result like WL 40/WL 10. This may look a bit confusing for a new user.
If you know the Indian reservation system this is a useful bit of data. There are two kind of waiting list in Indian trains. Seats(with berth) are reserved on a first come first served basis. Once this is over you are under the ‘ Reservation against Cancellations’ category popularly known as RAC.
This is nothing but a waitlist in the conventional sense. You can still get inside a train with an RAC status ticket. You are having a confirmed seat. But the berth will be allotted based on the availability due to the cancellations. After such ‘seat only ‘ seats also got over booked the real waitlist (WL) come into picture. WL40/WL10 means your actual waitlist position is 40th .Due to the cancellations of tickets booked before you the current status of your waitlist position is reduced to 10. In other words 30 bookings are already cancelled before your enquiry/reservation (40-10=30).
Now you may ask why should you know how many seats got cancelled?
Good question.
Based on the experience a regular traveler knows how many sets get cancelled in a route. A bit chancy issue. But about 200+ seats get cancelled for a Second class sleeper for train. You can take a chance accordingly.
When you are searching for the seat availability if you come across with something like AVAILABLE- 0068 means 68 seats are available for the day indicated.
Check the status of your ticket just before getting inside a train if you are having a RAC or WL ticket. You can do this through internet, reservation enquiry counter or phone (Interactive Voice Response System ),You can see the telephone numbers at the reverse of the ticket.
You need to use the 10 digit PNR printed on the upper left hand corner of the ticket. You will not have a seat allotted for you if the status is still under the WL. Contact the TTE for knowing your chance of getting a berth. However you can travel with this ticket in the General Compartment.
Cancellations- You can cancel a reserved ticket and get the refund across the reservation counter. Generally the cancellation charges vary from less than ¼ USD to slightly more than a USD depends on the class.
If you cancel a reservation at least a day (excluding the day of travel) before the start of journey only the cancellation fee mentioned is charged.
If you cancel within one day but 4hours before the train departure 25% of ticket cost plus the abovementioned cancellation fee is deduced in the refund amount.
You can cancel the reservation even after the train has left without you! But the refund amount varies accordingly. Typically you will loose about 50% of the ticket cost.
For a waitlisted ticket no the cancellation fee is charges if cancelled in advance.
A chart for this is displayed at all the reservation counters showing various refund % based on class, time of cancellation, distance etc.
Tickets reserved at one station can be cancelled at another location also. If you have booked over Internet or through credit card the refund will be credited only to your card account. Lost ticket will not be refunded.
You can get a duplicate for a lost or torn ticket if you know the details such as the 10 digits PNR and other details. A charge from 10% to 25% is collected based on the distance for the duplicate ticket. And if you got back the original you can claim the refund of additional money you paid for it with a 5% charge! Produce both the tickets at the reservation counter.
For cancellation and reservation of tickets the same form can be used.
Tatkal Scheme —This is an emergency reservation scheme introduced in selected (about 100) trains. Such trains are indicated with a T at the end of their train number.
The reservation for these seats starts just 24 hours (8am to be specific) before day of journey. These are in fact the same express trains with 2 or 3 such special reservation coaches attached to it.
All the Tatkal (means immediate) tickets come with a premium of Rs50 to 200 extra depends on the class. You need to produce a photo identity card (passport, Driving license, Credit card etc) at the reservation counter. The same will be asked for in side the train also by the TTE. The ID number is noted on the ticket. This is basically to prevent the bogus booking and black-market sale of hot tickets! If you are booking the Tatkal for a group of people (max 6 per ticket) any one member’s ID is sufficient.
These tickets can’t be cancelled for refund. This is really a boon for the emergency passengers.
You can use the Credit cards also for booking tickets at the reservation counters. Lookout for the special Credit Card counters at the reservation office. You need to pay Rs.30 additionally as service charge. But generally the credit card queues are shorter than the pay cash queues. Use your discretion.

Read my article here for getting real time info on Indian Railways train status and position.


Pnr Status said...

Indeed a great post! I just came across your site and find it so informative that I subscribed the same in my reader. Hope you will be posting sure worthy stuff in the coming days. Thanks

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