Everything You Need to Know about Traveling India By Train

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I have been traveling in trains in India since I was a child and I have been traveling solo for years now.

I haven’t faced any major issue and have found it quite easy and safe to travel by train in India.

Train travel in India is crowded, often messy and loud, but a complete enriching experience in its own.

Railway network in India is one of the largest in the world and employs around 1.4 million people.

With the track length of 115000 km, it runs more than 12000 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily.

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Are wondering if it is safe to travel by train in India? My answer is, Yes, traveling by train in India does come with its own set of problems but it is quite safe to travel as long as you are traveling in a reserved compartment. Staying cautious is the key. You can read this detailed 2500 words post on How To travel safely in Indian trains: 13 Awesome tips

Train travel in India can be confusing and intimidating. In this detailed guide, you will find the answer to frequently asked questions like:-

  • What are the different classes for train travel in India?
  • How to book Indian train tickets from outside India?
  • How to book Indian train tickets online?
  • Can I buy train tickets from any station in India?
  • Can I buy a train ticket at the station?
  • Can I buy a ticket on the train?
  • Can I travel without a ticket on the train?
  • What is a Foreigner Tourist quota?
  • What is the official website of Indian Railways?
  • Are there International tourist bureaux?
  • How to get food and drinks on board Indian trains?
  • What is the condition of toilets inside Indian Trains?
  • What are the provisions for the security of passengers?
  • Do Indian trains run on time?
  • Can I recharge mobile and camera onboard Indian train?
  • Are pets allowed in Indian trains?

8 Classes of Accommodation on Indian Trains

There are 8 classes of accommodation on Indian trains. Only a selection of a few of these classes will be available on any given train. 

Here are the classes, in roughly descending order of cost.

  • Air-conditioned first class (AC1 or 1A)
  • Air-conditioned 2-tier (AC2 or 2A)
  • First Class
  • Air-conditioned 3-tier (AC3 or 3A)
  • Sleeper Class (SL)
  • AC Chair class (CC)
  • Second seating or 2S
  • Unreserved

Air-conditioned first class (AC1 or 1A)

1st class or 1 AC as it is normally called is a fully air-conditioned coach and is the most expensive class with ample facilities and services to give you a great experience.

It could be as expensive as traveling by air but it gives a lot of space and privacy.

  • It consists of 2 or 4 berths per compartment and there is no side upper or side lower berths in these.
  • Compartments having 2 berths are called coupe and the ones with 4 berths are called cabin.
  • The coupes and the cabins are very clean, have a trash-bin placed inside and berths are much spacious and comfortable than other classes.
  • You cannot book a 2-berth or a 4-berth compartment by choice when you book. Even after booking no specific berth number is allocated. The specific berth numbers are reflected on reservation lists at the station before departure of the train.
  • You have separate light provided on each berth for reading.
  • The coupes and the cabins have doors that can be bolted from inside making it very safe and secure.
  • Washrooms are also cleaner than other classes.
  • You get clean bedding and blankets.
  • Food is prepared inside the train in pantry cars and you may have options to choose from.
  • If the train you are traveling in is Rajdhani, Shatabdi or Duronto express, the food is included in train fare.
  • An attendant is there in the coach at your service.

I traveled in AC First Class for my Honeymoon to Rajasthan. One thing we liked the most about AC 1st class was the privacy it provided that is missing in other classes. You can relax and are not be bothered by the hustle bustle of passengers or vendors getting in and out of the train.

Air-conditioned 2-tier (AC2 or 2A)

This is the class having some features less than the first class but is easier on the pocket than the first class.

  • Unlike AC 1st Class, AC2 tier is open-plan with berths arranged in bays of four on one side of the aisle and in bays of two on the other side of the aisle.
  • There is no middle berth like in 3AC.
  • It gives ample space to passengers and there are curtains for privacy.
  • You may order food paying for it separately when the attendant arrives to take the order for meals around an hour before mealtime.
  • You have reading light with each berth and a charging point common for 2-4 berths usually.

Most of the time I travel by 2AC because it’s not heavy on the pocket, it is clean and spacious.

First Class (FC)

The First Class has no AC and has been largely replaced by First AC and Second AC. I wouldn’t recommend First AC as the fares on First Class is higher than even Third AC with much lesser convenience. To find out which trains still have First Class check out this link.

Air-conditioned 3-tier (AC3 or 3A)

This is the most preferred class of travel by the Indian middle-class passengers as it is air-conditioned and cheap.

  • Just like AC2 tier, AC 3-tier is also an open-plan. In AC 3-tier, however, the berths are arranged in bays of six on one side of the aisle and in bays of two on the other side of the aisle.
  • The backrest of the lower berth is pulled up to make the middle berth.
  • You are provided with bedding, blanket, hand towel, and a pillow. Washrooms are okay but not as clean as in 2AC and 1AC.
  • There isn’t too much space to store luggage as all passengers keep their luggage under the lowest berth.

As per the Indian Railways rules, the sleeping hours for passengers have been earmarked between 10 PM to 6 AM. This means that the occupant of the middle berth cannot keep the berth up beyond the sleeping hours. This rule is in place to ensure smooth seating of co-passengers on the lower berth.

Sleeper Class (SL)

This is the actual class where you can see lots of action happening around.

This class has no air conditioning so it very cheap and it has openable windows.

It gets hot during summer daytime and cold in winter nights. Attendants are not available for these coaches and there is no provision for supplying linen/bedroll.

If being in a crowded place doesn’t bother you and you want to hear what’s going around in India from weather, politics, news, Bollywood, festivals AND OF COURSE CRICKET, you can get it all in the Sleeper Class of Indian Railways.

The Sleeper class is lively with people getting in and out at every station, vendors, and hawkers calling out to sell their stuff and so on.

It’s as if this place is never silent except for night.

My experience has not been very good while traveling in this class because it’s very normal here that despite having a whole berth reserved for yourself, you may find it already occupied by someone else and you have to ask them to vacate the seat.

Often they do but if it’s daytime, they would just move to the end of the berth and give you enough space to sit.

I have come to realize that usually, these are people who almost daily travel on these short distances with a pass or unreserved ticket and sit wherever they find a seat.

Once while traveling in this class, it took me around half an hour and a ticket examiner to convince a group of women that I had reserved the seat they were sleeping on and they have to vacate it even if they had arrived before me.

AC Chair class (CC)

This is a fully air-conditioned coach with seating arrangement of 3 and 2 rows on either side of the aisle with a total of 5 seats in a row. This class is available only in select trains like Shatabdi Expresses and a number of other inter-city daytime trains,

  • This is a good option for a short journey for around 5-6 hours.
  • There is space overhead to keep luggage which stays in your sight all the time.
  • Small tables are attached to the back of your front seat which can be opened to have meals or for reading etc.
  • These coaches are very clean, quiet and spacious.

Second seating or 2S

This is a Non AC class coach and a very cheap way to travel by train. This class is common in short route trains.

4 to 5 passengers occupying a bench made for 3 people is a common sight here. Travel by this class is advisable for short journey only. These coaches are mostly filled with daily passengers commuting for work.

Unreserved

There are many trains that have some coaches that are for ticket holders who do not have a reservation for a specific seat.

You can just buy an ordinary ticket from the station ticket counter for your destination and board this coach.

It’s not advisable to travel in this during rush hours, peak season, holidays or festivals. It often gets so overcrowded that you may find people standing or sitting in the passageway and near the toilets.

It can often be full up to double the occupying capacity of the coach.

Passengers arguing and fighting over seats is very common here.

NOTE: At times when you board the train you may find someone else occupying your seat.

If you let the person know that you have a reservation for that particular seat, the person is most likely to get up and leave.

This a common scene in Indian trains.

These are usually commuters of short distance who although have a ticket have no reservations. Since they are traveling short distance they unauthorisedly want to take advantage of the air conditioning Compartments.

Another common scene in Indian trains is getting requests from other passengers to exchange seats so that a family or a group traveling together may stay close.

Hope the above details help you in making an informed decision while booking your tickets so that you have a comfortable journey.

In the following paragraphs, I have tried to reply to frequently asked questions about train travel in India.

Can I book IRCTC tickets from outside India?

Yes, it is possible for foreign tourists to book train tickets from outside India for traveling in India. You can register with IRCTC at www.irctc.co.in and go ahead with bookings using international cards. For verification, while registering on IRCTC site, use your email id

Which are the other Sites from where online tickets can be purchased?

12go.asia is an easier way than IRCTC to book tickets online.

They do charge an additional fee but that’s nominal considering the time and frustration of booking through IRCTC for foreign tourists.

They sell for top 1000 most popular train routes and they sell only confirmed tickets not waitlisted or RAC.

There are many other apps these days through which train tickets can be booked like cleartrip, yatra, and makemytrip.

Are train tickets in India cheaper online?

Train tickets are not cheaper online but some apps provide cash-back when you book through them.

Ticket booking at railway counter is cheaper but it’s a tiring and time-consuming process not worth the money you save standing there in the long queue.

Tickets can also be purchased through travel agents on an additional fee which saves a lot of time and hassle.

In such case, the best thing is to check the fare online and then book through agents so that you have an idea what’s the actual price of the ticket and how much additional charges you are paying.

Can I buy train tickets from any station in India? 

  • Yes, you can buy tickets at almost all the stations (an exception being stations in small towns/villages) for any destination all over India. Reservations are now completely computerized.
  • There is usually a separate counter for current tickets (unreserved) and a separate counter for reservation.
  • You can fill the reservation form and book your ticket.
  • It’s better to check online in advance regarding the trains and seat availability.

Can I travel without ticket in train? 

No. If you travel without a ticket in train with the intention of defrauding the railway department, that would be an offense.

What Fine will be Charged if a traveler is found Travelling without a pass or ticket?

You can not travel without a ticket by train. If you are caught traveling without a ticket, you will need to pay the fare from the station you boarded the train or from the station which the train originally started or from the checking point with an equal amount of excess charge subject to a minimum of Rs. 250/- up to the point of detection.

Foreigner Tourist quotas

There’s a special Foreign Tourist quota on many trains. A foreigner quota means foreigners may find a limited number of places available on trains which are sold out for Indian travelers.

Tickets under this quota can be booked up to 365 days in advance.

All the details regarding the booking charges, cancellation, refund, etc of the foreigner tourist quota can be found by clicking here.

The International Tourist Bureau

The International Tourist Bureaus are located at various important cities all over India at New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Secunderabad, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Varanasi, Agra Cantt.

These provide assistance to foreign tourists and NRIs regarding enquiries, booking, reservation, and travel planning, etc.

International Tourist Bureau at New Delhi has started functioning round the clock w.e.f. 12-12-2014.

International Tourist Bureau, First Floor, Station Building,
New Delhi Railway Station, New Delhi- 110055
Phone : 91-11-42625156, Fax: 91-11-23343050

The Official website of Indian Railways

Indianrail.gov.in is the official website of Indian railway department which gives the details of all the trains, seat availability, fare, etc.

  • To find your train, you click on “reserved train between station” and choose your journey date, source station, destination station and click on GO.
  • The list of all the running trains on this route would be displayed.
  • Click on the train number to get the schedule of the train and on the available classes to check seat availability and fare of the various classes.
  • Sometimes direct trains are not available between two places so you have to search for the nearest major stations or you can look for connecting trains and change the train during the journey.
  • If you are looking for a seat under a particular quota, you select that from the drop-down list and then search.
  • Ticket Booking cannot be done at Indianrail.gov.in
  • You can book tickets at https://www.irctc.co.in/nget/train-search.
  • If you have a waitlisted/ RAC ticket and want to see its status, use PNR inquiry tab, enter your ten digit PNR number and submit. The current status of your booking would be displayed.

Food and drink on trains

Many Indians carry home made food while traveling in trains.

In some trains like Rajdhani, Shatabdi, and Duronto, food is included in train fare and is served at your seat.

In most of the long route trains, attendant arrives in the AC coaches sometime before the meal to take the order for the food.

The only food option that you can choose is whether you want a vegetarian meal or a non-vegetarian meal. The meals are pre-decided set menus.

Food is simple and not expensive.

Though the Indian railways are improving a lot on its cleanliness and food people sometimes prefer ordering online.

These days you have many apps and online options to order your food such as railmitra.com, railyatri.in, railrestro.com, ecatering.irctc.co.in.

All you need to do is to choose your food, enter your PNR/seat number, choose the station where you want your food to be delivered, pay online or choose COD and it would be delivered at your seat.

It’s a good option as you get to choose out of many options of fresh food at a reasonable price.

Even Dominos deliver pizza in train these days at selected locations.

At most of the stations, one can also find hawkers getting on the train to sell tea, water, cold drinks, snacks, etc to the passengers.

Cleanliness, toilets & crowding 

There was a time Indian trains were dirty and smelled foul but things are improving these days.

AC coaches are quite clean as the cleaning staff comes regularly to clean and take out the trash.

Unreserved/general compartments are the ones that usually get overcrowded so it’s always better to travel with a reserved seat. Toilets are not squeaky clean but just clean enough to serve the purpose as it depends a lot upon the class you are traveling in and how many co-passengers are using it.

Recently during my journey, I noticed a train attendant coming with a feedback form regarding cleanliness and asked a few passengers to fill it.

There are both western and Indian style toilets in AC coaches.

It’s good to carry a toilet paper roll, wet tissues, hand sanitizer, paper soap, etc with you as per your requirement while traveling.

Only AC coaches are the ones not usually frequented by random people or passengers traveling with unreserved tickets and thus are not as crowded as other classes.

These posts will help you plan your trips so that you stay safe and healthy.

Security on Indian trains   

Though there is an attendant in AC coaches, most of the trains do not have staff that you can contact immediately in case of security or safety issues but there are helpline numbers that can be contacted in an emergency.

  • Customer care can be reached at number 139,
  • for grievance and complaints 138 and
  • 182 for safety/security issues.
  • It’s best to reserve upper berth if you are a woman traveling alone.

Read my tried and tested 13 awesome safety tips on traveling in Indian Trains.

You should be careful about your belongings all the time and not blindly trust strangers. Keep your money and important documents etc with you all the time.

Do Indian trains run on time?

Most of the Indian trains run on time or are late by a few minutes to half an hour. You can always check for the latest updates on apps like railyatri.in, runningstatus.in which provide live running status of the trains.

Do check the reviews on these apps before choosing one to rely on.

Recharging mobile and camera

Charging points are available in trains where you can easily charge your phone and camera. Usually there is one or two charging points per cabin. The sockets may need adapter sometimes. It is always good to carry a fully charged power bank with you.

Are pets allowed in Indian Railways?

Yes, you can take your furry companions with you when you travel but it comes with many terms and conditions.

You can only keep your pet with you only if you book a complete cabin of AC first class. If any co-passenger has an objection to traveling with a pet in the coach, the pet will have to be shifted to the brake van/luggage carrier.

Pets cannot be taken in any other AC, Sleeper or chair car classes.

You need to go to the railway parcel/luggage office to pay for the charges for your pet according to its weight. The pet should be healthy/not suffering from any disease.

If you want to put your pet in the luggage van, you have to keep it in a cage/pet box and it is your responsibility to feed it.

I hope this post of mine with 3366 words has answered most of your questions about train travel onboard Indian Railways. If you still have questions I would highly recommend seat61.com for more detailed information. I have myself referred to this post (amongst few other) for collating information.

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There are around 8000 railway stations in India and Indian Railways has been emphasizing a lot on their cleanliness for the last few years.

A lot has improved for train travel in India during the last few years and the process is still on, making it a pleasant and memorable experience for travelers.

I hope this post helps you in planning your train travel in India.

If you have already traveled onboard Indian trains, is there anything you would like to add? Don’t forget to mention it in the comments.

If this is your first trip to India you will find these posts helpful:-

  1. When is the best time to Visit India?
  2. 30 Breathtakingly Beautiful Destinations in India that you should not miss visiting!
  3. 15 Most Popular Festivals in India (with 2019 dates).
  4. Visiting India? Here’s What should tourists wear in India?
  5. Should you tip in India? Read when, whom & how much to tip.
  6. 13 tried and tested Safety Tips for Train Travel in India
  7. Curious about Indian Culture? Learn how to drape a perfect Saree – Step By Step Tutorial.

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