Get Back On Track With India’s Trains: FAQ for the Indian Railway System

6 Mar , 2017  

Travelling by train in India is without a doubt the way to go. The vast distances involved make driving tough and any internal airport visits slight overkill (sometimes); but there are a few things to know before you arrive.  Some priceless information I would have loved someone to have told me before I arrived and tried to get my first train in India, including what on earth Tatkal is! Here I will be going over some of the key questions many travellers have whilst doing their best to decipher the sometimes, hieroglyphic environment that is the Indian Railway system.

Will I have to/can I sit on the roof?

Okay, okay – we’ve all seen the symbolic pictures of Indians clambering on to every nook and cranny that can be found on the outside of a train. In reality, while I am sure this does happen on occasion, I’ve not witnessed it in my time in India. Instead you’ll find varying levels of luxury for your train travel – from first class to general, there are seats and spaces for every budget. As for those asking ‘can I sit on the roof’; u alwight m8?

Can I book tickets online?

Yes. That’s the short answer.

Long answer is that while you can most definitely book tickets on the IRCTC website – the process, just like the majority I have encountered during my travel in India, can put off even the most stubborn online bookers! Most of the other travellers I’ve met purchase their tickets in advance, or via the train station ticket office closer to their travel dates. Personally, I got lucky as an Indian friend topped up my PayTM account in return for cash. This means that I can book trains directly through the app, though it’s worth baring in mind that I am limited to booking just 3 journeys a month via this method.

What is the best class ticket to go for?

This all depends on your personal preferences, wants & needs. Initially I booked a sleeper class, this then changed to 3AC and even more recently I took my first 2AC. For me the jump in price from the general/sleeper class to the AC carriages is well worth it. You have more space and without wanting to sound like a snobby gapyaaaar Eton boy, the higher ticket price means that you tend to share your train experience with higher class Indians (this can come in handy when you need to find someone who speaks good English). I spent 24 hours on a train from Varanasi to Jaipur talking to an 8 year old girl who spoke perfect English who was travelling with her Uncle, a final year medical student who was studying in some obscure Chinese city and could engage in conversation with me just as well as he could the Chinese family in the next carriage, humbling really.

In answer to the question: stick to the air-con carriages and the slight difference between 2 and 3 AC in cash is worth the extra head and bum space.

Are the trains always delayed?

Pretty much, but not as bad as people told me they would be back home. Obviously, people’s experience will vary greatly on this one – mine involves every train I have frequented being delayed to some extent. The key for me is that I don’t mind the delay once I am on the train, it’s the standing around at the station that grinds my gears. The 24 hour train I spoke about above was the worst I have experience, delay-wise. The journey should take around 17 hours, but the delay meant I had spent a whole day on board (though as I was on the train playing games with my new 8 year old best friend, all was good!).

The biggest lifesaver with the delays is a website called etrain. You can enter in your train number, select your day of travel and track the train before it arrives at the station you intend to board at. This saves the completely unnecessary wasted time at the station in the rare, but always possible scenario where the train is completely cancelled.

What do all the shortcodes mean?

This is one thing you need to pay attention too, I didn’t and that resulted in a last minute sleeper bus which wasn’t the best experience. Avoid the mistakes I made and listen up.

There are a lot of shortcodes associated with the Indian Railway system. Don’t miss the ones about waiting lists.

Download the PDF file here: Indian Railways Acronyms

What is ‘Tatkal’ and how can I use it?

Simply put tatkal is a pool of last minute tickets that can be purchased at any railway station over the counter, online or through third parties. We’ve found Tatkal to be extremely useful in our travels around India and while it is inherently risky, we have always managed to secure if 2AC or 3AC beds using the service. Some key bits of information to know when booking Tatkal are:

  • Booking starts at 10:00 AM on the day before the journey. 10AM for air conditioned coaches, 11am for sleeper coaches.
  • No entire trains are defined as Tatkal trains. Unsold Tatkal tickets are released to passengers on a waiting list. Confirmed Tatkal tickets can be cancelled, but no refunds are given. Tatkal tickets on the waiting list may be cancelled and refunded.
  • You do pay a slight premium on Tatkal, but we’ve always found it to be very reasonable.

That’s it for now!

Maybe you want a particular question answered, or perhaps you have some information you think would be useful for others? Let us know on the comments below and I will update the post if some good ones come in!

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By  -    
25, but still just a big kid. Travel enthusiast. Chelsea fan. Beer lover. Developer @

1 Response

  1. Prashant says:

    Will I have to/can I sit on the roof?
    I don’t know where those pictures comes from, It may be from Bangladesh or may be from Pakistan who knows?. But I never saw it in my entire life time in reality. May be it is from the State of Bihar not Entire India as most of the areas has been Electrified by Government and Increased the Average Speed. In that Situation who would want to sit on the roof? In Some Occasions like festival the train gets full but they don’t climb up. If you want confort book 2AC or 1st Class AC. Express Trains Delays because Indian Railways Gives First Prefrence to Super Fast Express they clear the Line for Super Fast Express and delays the Normal Express Train. And if any train Get Delayed, Then the Train will be delayed further because the train is already delayed so they will first clear the line for the Train which is on Time. And Delays can be happens by freight train too. So the Indian Railway is Building Seperate Tracks to freight train. In Coming years Talgo Train will be Running in India.

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