The rail network of India is the third largest in the world, and the rail system is efficient, if not always on schedule. Tracks running well over 60,000 km help connect over 7,500 stations, ferrying nearly 20 million people every day. Although distances in India are long and Indian trains aren't the world's best, travelling on them can add a fascinating new dimension to a visitor's experience. There is virtually no better way to make friends with the local people and see the spectacular and diverse Indian countryside. On many routes the railways are the fastest and cheapest way to get around.
All trains in the national system in India are operated by the government-run Indian Railways (IR).
There are a variety of trains in India, depending on the route you travel and whether you travel during the day or overnight. The more expensive and luxurious trains are as a rule air-conditioned, stop only at major stations, only have reserved seats or beds and in general offer passengers more space. In contrast, the cheaper services are slower, often have no air-conditioning and include non-reserved compartments. With a wide range of trains and accommodation types, you have the choice of travelling in a first-class compartment comparable to first class in a western country, in a more down-to-earth (and likely more adventurous) way or something in between. If you are looking for a really luxurious experience, there are several luxury trains touring popular destinations around India.
IR has some newer coaches (usually updated chair cars) and services (Tejas Express and Gatimaan Express) that make travelling on the rails more appealing, especially in light of increasing commercial aviation. These tend to be more comfortable and faster than other trains, since they are not only meant to be the best on the network but also to be the most modern. However, they aren't as common as other services - they aren't nationwide and mostly run on the Mumbai - Goa route - and tend to have more expensive fares. Soon, there will also be new multiple units introduced (Trains 18 and 20) that resemble certain European trains, with an increase in available features and upgrades.
All regular trains in India are either super-fast express, express/mail, fast passenger, passenger or local/suburban trains. The broad hierarchy from luxurious to normal is as follows:
- Rajdhani Express — These are fully air-conditioned superfast overnight trains, having only AC sleeper accommodation, that run between the national capital (New Delhi) and regional state capitals. They are the most luxurious trains of the Indian Railways. The first AC coaches of Rajdhani Express are most luxurious and they are attached with the pantry car of the train, where you can order food of your choice without any restrictions on the quantity. Rajdhani Express are the fastest long distance trains of India and almost always on schedule. They get priority over other trains on the respective routes.
- Vande Bharat Express — These are fully air-conditioned semi-high-speed, intercity, EMU trains, operated by the Indian Railways only on two prominent routes. They provide modern onboard facilities with doors which are operated automatically. These are among the fastest and luxurious trains of Indian Railways, but only have sitting arrangements(no sleeper coaches). 22436 New Delhi-Varanasi Vande Bharat Express is the fastest train to connect Delhi and Varanasi as it takes only 8 hours for the journey while other trains take a minimum of 12 hours(most of the trains take much more than 12 hours).
- Tejas Express — The Tejas Express is a semi-high speed fully air-conditioned train Introduced by Indian Railways. It features modern onboard facilities with doors which are operated automatically. Tejas Express are sitting trains which complete the journey within the daylight.
- Shatabdi Express — Fast, short-distance daytime intercity trains that connect important cities in a region, for example two adjacent states' capitals. These are fully air-conditioned trains offering sitting accommodation (no sleepers). They are among the fastest trains in India.
- Duronto Express — Fast long-distance trains with a slower speed than Rajdhani Express class and lower priority than Rajdhani Express. Earlier Duronto Express were "point to point" non-stop trains that directly connect, without stopping, two important cities that are far apart. But now they have a few stoppages and no more the non-stop trains. They are air-conditioned or non-airconditioned non-stop trains offering an experience of luxury combined with punctuality and less expensive than Rajdhani.
- Garib Rath Express — These are fully air-conditioned superfast overnight trains, having both sitting and sleeper accommodations, that offer more seats per coach at a lower fare. These are not as punctual as other trains mentioned above and not as luxurious. The priority it gets in Indian Railways is also lower than the trains mentioned above.
Note: Above are fully reserved trains. They do not have unreserved/general compartments (see below).
- Jan Shatabdi Express — These are superfast daytime intercity trains offering both air-conditioned, non-airconditioned and unreserved sitting accommodation. Jan Shatabdi Express are usually very punctual.
- Express and Mail — These trains have both air-conditioned and non-airconditioned carriages, including both sitting and sleeper accommodation, and stops at major railway stations.
- Fast Passenger — These trains have only non-airconditioned carriages,including both unreserved sitting (mostly) and sleeper (sometimes) accommodation. They stop at almost all stations on their route.
- Passenger — These trains have only non-airconditioned carriages offering only unreserved sitting accommodation.
- Local or Suburban — These trains offer both sitting accommodation as well as standing room and grab rails, and operate within and around big cities.
The IR uses two types of coaches. ICF coaches were the mainstay of IR passenger services. As they were developed in the 1950s, they were rather antiqued and have interior facilities worn-out. LHB coaches, which were developed in the 2000s, are largely air-conditioned and have better interior facilities. In general, LHB coaches are more comfortable than ICF coaches. As of 2022, Rajdhani Expresses, Tejas Expresses, Shatabdi Expresses use LHB coaches, Duronto Expresses and Jan Shatabdi Expresses varies, and the rest are most likely using ICF coaches.
Indian Railways operates trains to various hill stations in India. Travelling on them is a delightful experience, with the tiny trains passing through tunnels, over bridges, around curves and loops amid spectacular scenery. The three mentioned below are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) —Winding its way over the steep and torturous foothills of the Himalayas, the 'toy train' takes six hours to cover the 83 km (52 mi) distance from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) Station in Siliguri to Darjeeling. Completed in 1883, the railway follows the road (and mostly shares the same bed) and uses an interesting system of reverses (the trains climbs into a sliding and then goes into reverse to climb up the next section of the hill, sort of like a sideways V) and loops (the track loops around and crosses itself) to navigate the steep climb. Batasia Loop, at a tor point near Darjeeling just beyond the town of Ghum, is the most famous because of its great views. After departing NJP Station, the train also makes a stop at Siliguri Junction and Sukna stations in Siliguri.
- Kalka–Shimla Railway —The railway from Kalka to Simla (Shimla) was completed in 1903, the final stage in the connection of Calcutta (Kolkata), then the winter capital of British India, with Simla, then the summer capital. The 96 km (60 mi) railroad runs through the magnificent scenery of the Shivalik Hills, up valleys ringed by high mountains, across 864 stone bridges built like Roman viaducts, and through 107 tunnels, the longest 1,144 m (3,753 ft) in length.
- Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) —The steepest mountain railway in India, the NMR climbs the 6,159 ft (1,877 m) from Mettupalayam to Udhagmandalam (Ooty) over a distance of 46 km (29 mi), with gradients of 1:12 in some stretches. Completed in 1899, it is the only railway in India to use a rack and pinion system to climb the steep gradient. The train passes through 16 tunnels, over 250 bridges and around 205 sharp curves, with the breathtaking scenery of the Nilgiri Hills visible all along the way.
One of the luxurious ways to explore the most prominent tourist destinations and attractions in India is to opt for luxury train travel. The history of luxury train travel in India dates back to the days of erstwhile maharajas who used to travel in opulent personal carriages for purpose of state visits, hunting and personal occasions. In the year 1982, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation launched the Palace on Wheels in collaboration with Indian Railways to revive the art of elegant traveling in India. The Palace on Wheels was launched to promote tourism in Rajasthan and cater exclusively to the overseas traveler and offer them a hassle free, all-inclusive and opulent option of traveling to the royal destinations in Rajasthan. The Palace on Wheels is still the most revered luxury train in India. Nowadays there are a total of 6 luxury train plying different routes and offering a total of 11 pre-packaged itineraries.
- The Palace on Wheels— Although the history of luxury train travelling in India dates back to the time of maharajas during the days of British Raj, the modern history of this mode of transportation dates back to 1982 with the introduction of India’s first luxury train. It was introduced as a joint venture of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote Rajasthan as a global tourist destination. The venture turned out to be a great success among overseas travellers and a few decades later more such train journeys followed. India’s most authentic luxury train, the Palace on Wheels does an eight-day loop from New Delhi with stops and sightseeing tours in Jaipur, Ranthambore, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, and Agra. The train is equipped with modern amenities such as internet connection, live television, dining cars, bar & sitting lounge, guest cabins with attached bathroom and even a spa. The all-inclusive prices of the Palace on Wheels start from US$340 per person per night on triple occupancy basis in the lean season and US$450 for the same in peak season (October–March).
- The Deccan Odyssey— Second luxury train introduced in India after the huge success of Palace on Wheels in Rajasthan, the Deccan Odyssey was a joint initiative of Maharashtra State Tourism Development Corporation and Indian Railways to promote tourism in Maharashtra. The itinerary of this luxury rail tour was designed to offer the cultural and historical insights to the guest at some of the most significant destinations in Maharashtra. The 7 nights/8 days itinerary beginning from Mumbai crisscrosses some of the most mesmerizing landscape along the verdant Western Ghats and the Konkan Coast. This luxury train tour package also includes 2 days halt in the tiny emerald of Goa, which is a very popular global beach destination. The Deccan Odyssey fare starts from US$315 per person per night on triple occupancy basis in the lean season (April & September) and US$425 for the same in the peak season (October–March).
- The Golden Chariot— Named after the famous Stone Chariot in Hampi, a World Heritage Site, the Golden Chariot offers two weeklong itineraries across destinations in South India. Golden Chariot is the only luxury train in India offering luxury tours in South India. This Indian luxury train does two eight-day loop from Bangalore. There are two journeys offered by the train named Splendor of the South and Pride of the South. Whereas the Pride of the South covers destinations in the Southern State of Karnataka, the Splendor of the South cuts across the state borders and covers prominent destinations in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry and Karnataka. Some of the facilities offered in the train include restaurants, bar, lounges, gym, business centre, spa, Wi-Fi internet, cabins with attached bathroom and disable friendly coaches. The Golden Chariot Pride of the South itinerary begins from Yeshwantpur Station in Bangalore and covers Mysore, Srirangapatna, Kabini, the historical sites of Shravanabelagola, Belur, Halebidu, Hampi, Badami, Pattadakal, Aihole and finally the beaches of Goa during its 8 days loop. Prices of Golden Chariot Pride of the South starts from US$440 per person per night on triple sharing basis and reaches as high as US$754 for the same on single occupancy basis. The Golden Chariot Splendor of the South itinerary take the guests on voyage across Bangalore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Madurai, Poovar, Thiruvanathapuram and Kochi. The attractions of this luxury train tour include Auroville, Vidhan Soudha, Rock Fort Temple, Kumarakom backwaters, Meenakshi Temple, Chinese Fishing Nets, Jewish Synagogue and UNESCO World Heritage sites Group of Monuments at Mamallapuram and Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. This prices for Golden Chariot Splendor of the South starts from US$545 per person per night on triple sharing basis and reaches as high as US$831 on sigle occupancy basis.
- Maharajas' Express— Latest luxury train in India, Maharajas' Express is touted as the India’s answer to the Orient Express. This luxury tourist train offers 5 itineraries 3 of which are pan-Indian tours and 2 are golden triangle tours. The Maharajas’ Express journeys are named the Heritage of India, the Indian Splendor, the Indian Panorama, Gems of India and Treasures of India. Maharajas Express also happens to be one of the costliest luxury tourist train rides in the world with fare starting from US$3580 per person per journey and reaching as high as US $22000 per person per journey for Presidential Suite.
India has seven classes of train travel to choose from. Not all classes are available on all trains: for example, Chair Cars are usually found only on short-distance daytime trains, while the sleeper classes are only found on overnight journeys.
- AC First class (1A), the most comfortable class to travel in, includes lockable four-berth and two-berth (coupe) compartments. The carriages are clean (and carpeted) and the toilets are much cleaner than any other toilets you get to see on Indian trains. Sheets, pillows and blankets are provided (an attendant makes the beds at night). AC First Class carriages are usually found only on important overnight trains and are the most expensive class.
- AC 2 Tier (2A) Passengers sleep on four berths in an open cabin or on two berths that are positioned lengthwise along the side of the carriage. Each cabin has a curtain for privacy and each side berth has its own curtain for privacy. There are four toilets, two at each end of the carriage, and usually include a mix of western and eastern style loos, spottily provided with toilet paper. An attendant brings around blankets, sheets and pillows.
- AC 3 Tier (3A) is similar to 2 Tier, the significant differences being the additional middle-bunk in the cabins (but not on the sides). There are curtains in each cabin for privacy and each side berth has its own curtain for privacy similar to AC 2 Tier coach. This can make it uncomfortable to sit up straight during the morning if the person in the middle-bunk is a heavy sleeper. An attendant brings around sheets, blankets, and pillows in the evening. Because there are more people around, AC 3 Tier tends to be noisier than AC 2 Tier.
- AC 3 Tier Economy (3E) is generally found in Garib Raths and a few Durontos - it is similar to AC 3 Tier but with the presence of a middle berth on the side too making it 9 berths in a bay. Denoted by "G". 3E is cheaper compared to 3A.
- Sleeper class (SL) is the way most Indians travel and is an inexpensive way to get around the country. Berths are arranged in the same pattern as AC 3 Tier, six berths in a cabin and two along the side of the carriage, but there is no air-conditioning. The downside is that it can be hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable inside. The toilets are sometimes dirty and, in some parts of India, you'll find yourself sharing your cabin with passengers without a reservation. For the adventurous, this is the way to see India. Chai-wallahs and hawkers selling all kinds of items and food (mostly local food) roam the carriages and you'll find yourself sharing food and life-stories with the lower-middle-class families that travel on this class.
For typical layouts of the different classes, you can refer to these unofficial diagrams.
With the new coaches and services that were made and established in the last few years, the quality of these "daytime" coaches can vary immensely, even in the same class.
- Anubhuthi (EA) is available on a few Shatabdis. It is essentially a modernized version of EC (see below), with new coaches that have updated seats with a screen for each passenger. It is similar to Tejas Express chair cars.
- AC Executive Chair Car (EC) is only available on some Shatabdis and Durontos. It is extremely comfortable, and is the most comfortable way to travel during the daytime.
- AC Chair Car (CC), found on most daytime intercity trains, is also quite comfortable, but the seats are not as wide as EC. It is advisable to travel on this class wherever possible, as 2S (see below) can get quite crowded, particularly on busy routes.
- Second seater (2S), available on most daytime intercity trains, is reserved seating in carriages without air-conditioning. Seats are comfortably padded, but the heat and dust outside can make it an uncomfortable ride in summer. Also, it is usually used by the passengers with a "general" ticket and use the seats by paying the fine (usually ₹20) to the TTE. There is every chance that you may end up in a seat with four people which is actually meant for 3. Also, if you find that there are too many empty seats while booking online, don't expect the compartment to be empty.
Unreserved/General compartments (UR/GEN) have padded seats but the carriages are often packed with people sitting on the aisles and luggage racks. Not an advisable way to travel, even for short distances, except for the exceptionally tough and the curious that are in it for the experience alone.
If you are female and taking the train, look for the compartment labelled Ladies or Men Not Allowed to enjoy a more comfortable and hopefully less crowded ride. Men must not enter such compartment, even as a family, as such are treated very negatively.
Log on to IRCTC for details of trains and fares. Alternatively (and especially if you do not have an account yet), you can find trains, fare details and ticket availability on the Indian Railways section on Fare Enquiry.
Despite the numerous types of trains and classes, the fare system is quite logical.
- Shatabdi, Rajdhani, Jan Shatabdi and Garib Rath trains have fixed point-to-point fares. The fare one-way may be slightly more or less than the reverse-fare, due to different catering charges.
Different types of trains
Basically, there are five types of trains:
- Passenger Trains are slow trains that stop in all stations including very small stations.
- Fast Passenger Trains are passenger trains that skip smaller stations and offer the same fare structure.
- Express Trains stop only at major railway stations and charge higher than Passenger trains.
- Superfast Express Trains skip some of the major stations and charge even higher than Express Trains.
- Rajadhani and Shadabdi Trains are elite trains that offer only air-conditioned coaches. They stop only at selected stations. The fare is quite high because all food is included.
Before booking a ticket, do visit the Indian Railways website on Fare Enquiry for information including finding a train, fare and ticket availability.
Alternatively, you can get a copy of Trains At A Glance, the national rail timetable, from any railway station. This is updated every July and remains valid until the end of the next June. It allows you to choose the best train for your needs, and find the name and number of the train for your destination. However, this is a general guide and does not contain a detailed list of all stations, neither does it contain every train on a route. A more specific guide depending on the "rail zone" is available at important stations on that zone. For example, a detailed guide on trains plying in West India (i.e. the Western Zonal Timetable) will be available at all major railway stations in West India.
This private webpages like India Rail Info, Confirmtkt Trainman etc. also lets you search for trains, fares and ticket availability and route maps (no account necessary). Only use this site for your information, but always book online tickets, etc. via the official webpage (IRCTC) as stated under Ticketing.
Tickets can be purchased online or from counters at railway stations. If bought online, the ticket can be printed instantly or mailed to you. Availability of tickets depend on when you travel, how early you book and which class you want to travel in. On busy routes and dates you may end up on a waiting list and will get on the train only if there are cancellations, or you may have to travel in a rather uncomfortable general compartment.
It is necessary to reserve tickets in advance in order to travel by any of the classes listed above (except UR/GEN). Tickets can be booked in two ways:
- An e-ticket (short for electronic ticket) is a ticket that is booked online and printed instantly. Valid proof of identity (voter ID card/ PAN card/ passport/ driving license) of any of the passengers should be produced along with the ticket on the day of the journey. The procedure for booking an e-ticket is as follows:
- Log on to the IR Online Passenger Reservation Site. Additionally, there is an official app available in both the Google Play store and the Apple app store.
- Login with your username and password. If it's the first time you're using the site, you need to sign up first, by providing your name, email id, residential address, mobile and occupation. (Note: they also take mobile numbers from outside India, but the mandatory verification - via a one-time password - of international numbers does not work reliably.)
- In the left section 'Plan my Journey', type the station names of the originating and destination stations and select the station codes from the autocomplete list that will appear. Select the date of the journey and press the submit button.
- The page will reload and show you the results. If no results are returned, try different station names (for example, from Agra city to Agra CANTT).
- Results will list available trains ordered by departure time. Ih the last part of each result, there are the classes (for example AC1, AC2, AC3, SL). Click the wished class and, on top, additional information will appear.
- The site will display information for that train, class and day, and will show other times available for that particular day and class for upcoming days. Search for AVAILABLE-XXXX. That means you can book it right now. Other words like WL-XX mean that you can join a waiting list. Click the 'Book now' link. (X refers to the number of seats)
- A Ticket Reservation form will open on the page. Fill in the details and preferences of all the passengers (a maximum of six in a single booking), check the appropriate address box and click on the Next button.
- A copy of your ticket with the details will appear on the screen. Click on the Make Payment button.
- A list of payment options will appear. Choose your preferred payment option. If you are using a foreign credit or debit card, select the option 'Payment Gateway / Credit Card' and then 'International credit cards - Powered by Atom'. Click the Make Payment option.
- The copy of your ticket with the details will reappear on the screen. You can carry the printed copy/SMS sent on your electronic copy on iPad, mobile phone, laptop etc. as well as a valid proof of identity with you on the day of your journey.
E-ticket is considered to be the fast, secure and best way to book tickets (especially Tatkal tickets).
Tickets are also sold at most railway stations and at Indian Railways' 1000-plus computerised passenger reservation centres located across the country. For reservation at a counter, you need to fill in a paper form and submit it to the clerk at the counter (occasionally, after a long wait in a queue) along with the payment in either cash or by credit card. Credit cards are accepted at most important stations. Counters in the metros and other important cities accept Visa, MasterCard, AmericanExpress and Diners Card, as well as cards of most Indian banks. There are generally 1 to 3 counters where credit card payment is allowed, depending on the station.
- Avoid travel agents, touts, or anyone else who offers to book your tickets for a fee. It is usually much easier and cheaper to do it yourself.
- If you are booking from abroad, the easiest is to use the online service and print e-tickets at home. i-tickets can also be sent by local courier to addresses in India (not abroad) and most hotels willingly accept delivery if notified in advance.
- Train tickets are in high demand, especially during the summer (April–June) and winter (December–January) breaks. This means that without careful planning, it may be next to impossible to get tickets for long distance travel (for example from New Delhi to Mumbai). You can book up to 120 days in advance, but during the busy season, the tickets may get sold out quickly. So, plan your journey well in advance.
- Foreign nationals can get tickets from a quota reserved for them. In big cities, you have a specific counter or even a special office for them.
- If you plan to travel in 1A or EC, tickets should be easier to get - they are generally in less demand. However, in view of the increasing tourist population, even those seats are hard to get unless booked at least 5 days in advance.
- If the Indian Railways website seems to daunting, consider using Cleartrip.com or MakeMyTrip.com: Both offer comfortable booking for a small fee and will keep you updated on your waitlist status. However, these pages require IRCTC accounts.
- 12Go Asia offers a ticketing service for Indian trains that comes without the need of creating an IRCTC account. However, the service does not cover all the routes in India.
If you do not get a Confirmed (CNF) ticket, you may get one that is Waitlisted (WL) or in the Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC) status. If you've booked your ticket in advance, it will probably move from WL to RAC status or even to CNF status as time goes by (because of cancellations), so it is a good idea to check it periodically and keep your plans dynamic. Use the 10-digit Passenger Name Record (PNR) number, printed on the top right-hand corner of your ticket, to check the status of your ticket at any point of time, either on the website or by phone (dial 139, from any Indian mobile number). You can also get your PNR status by asking in the Enquiry officer. The number will read like WL32/WL14 or similar, with the structure being WL (original position)/WL (current position).
You cannot get on to a reserved compartment if your ticket is waitlisted (you can only enter a General Compartment if available). Waitlisted caught entering the train are treated as non-ticket holders and fined. But if you have an RAC ticket, you are allotted 'sitting' berths i.e. in a Sleeper Coach, you and a fellow RAC ticket-holder share a berth so that both of you can travel sitting instead of sleeping. The Ticket Examiner then allots you a CNF sleeping berth as and when one is available due to last minute cancellations, no-shows etc. Depending on the train, the route and the season you are travelling in, the RAC ticket may get upgraded to CNF either as soon as the journey begins, mid-way through the journey or not at all. If you do not move up past a wait list (WL) ticket before the train leaves, you can apply for a refund, but only up to a maximum of a few hours after the train leaves (3 hours for short journeys, up to 12 hours for long journeys). If you bought your ticket online, a WL tickets receive an automatic refund.
Final berth listing will not be completed until at 4-hours prior to departure. Once the checked list is posted, often final cancellations and government official reservations are re-positioned which allow WL and RAC to move up in the queue. It is also possible that the list moves downward as officials are granted priority seating, and later confirmed seats become non-confirmed. Booking non-confirmed is really a gamble, but more often than not the seat will become available, especially if your earlier in the queue.
If you arrive at the station while still waitlisted, wait until the train arrives. A reservation list will be posted at the beginning of each class or tier. Locate your name according to reservation number. If your name is not listed, your ticket remains non-confirmed.
All reserved trains keep a small quota of seats known as Tatkal (meaning 'immediate', abbreviated as CK) for sale one day before the departure date. There is an extra charge for these seats. This option is also available at the time of booking online. Even with this extra quota (about 4% of the seats on a train) it can sometimes be difficult to get the train you want when you want it. If you cancel a Tatkal ticket, you won't get any refund. Only four tickets can be booked at time. ID proof is must for Tatkal ticket booking.
What is PNR It is a record in the database of Indian Railways computer reservation system (IR-CRS) which saves the journey details for a passenger or the group of passengers.
How to check PNR status: There are many different ways to check your PNR status among which popular ones are listed below.
- Through websites.
- Through mobile application.
- Reservation status checks using SMS service.
- Railway enquiry counters in your nearest railway stations
- After final chart preparation
PNR status check online
- Indian Railways This is the official portal of Indian Railways. It is designed and maintained by the Centre for Railway Information Systems.
Foreign tourist quota
Many important trains also have a foreign tourist quota (abbreviated as FT) available for foreigners. This is a small number of seats reserved, on some trains, specifically for people traveling to India on a tourist visa. The price is the same, but if the train is full, there's a chance that there will still be FTQ tickets available, and vice versa. There are very few seats available for this quota, so it is best to try for a seat at least 2 or 3 days in advance.
Payment must be in foreign currency, usually US Dollars or Pound Sterling, or in Indian Rupees (₹) backed with adequate proof of foreign exchange conversion (an ATM receipt is usually acceptable). A passport may also be required. Tickets on the foreign tourist quota cannot be booked online.
The larger cities in India are generally served by more than one railway station. Most trains might halt at only one station, while others may stop at two to three.
Local rail network
Local rail networks are often crowded but are generally the fastest and cheapest way to get around cities which have them. Those who are not accustomed to it are advised not to travel in local trains as it might be quite troublesome for them to alight from the train at the correct station after pushing through a large crowd of other commuters. IR runs intracity suburban railways in Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai and Pune.
Metro systems and monorails
Major metropolitan cities in India have rapid transit (metro) systems. As of 2022, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kanpur, Kochi, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, Noida and Pune are served by metro systems. Delhi Metro is the largest metro system which connects to a few other cities nearby.
Mumbai is also served by a 20-km monorail line and it is the only city in India with a monorail system. Although other Indian cities have planned monorail projects, they are under reconsideration as the Mumbai Monorail failed with multiple issues.
Tram systems in India were built by the British in Bombay (Mumbai), Calcutta (Kolkata), Cawnpore (Kanpur) and Madras (Chennai). As of 2022, only the Kolkata trams remain and all other cities have phased out trams. Although appreciated for being emissions-free, they are not very popular due to their slow speeds.
Eat and drink
Also eating and sleeping much depend on the type and class of the train. Cuisine in India is very diverse, and as food is usually prepared on stations the train stops at and served on board, you'll have a chance to experience the local cuisine when you travel! In the lower classes such as Sleeper Class there are often also hawkers selling food.
Hot food is available at mealtimes on almost every train in India. The food is mostly prepared in kitchens at railway stations and then loaded onto the train, either onto a pantry coach attached to the train (on most important trains), or just brought on board by waiters and distributed directly to passengers. In some trains food is cooked in the pantry coach of the train. In most cases, a waiter collects orders an hour or two before mealtimes and if you don't place an order, you may be left out in the cold, or if you are lucky, you can get some food at many railway junctions. However, in trains having a pantry car, breakfast is prepared on board the train and you do not have to place an order beforehand. You can tell which trains have a pantry car because there is a P listed with the classes available in Trains at a Glance. Meals available for lunch and dinner are generally vegetarian and non-vegetarian thalis (rice, dal, a vegetable (chicken or fish curries for non-veg thalis), yogurt (often sour), chapatis and occasionally, a sweet dish) or (veg/egg/chicken) biryani. Chilli chicken (sweet and sour chicken wings with chillis) is often available. Breakfast normally onsists of vegetable cutlet and bread, or omelette and bread. Pantry car service always includes the sale of tea, coffee, cold drinks and "namkeen" (chips and other salty snacks). Note that while pantry cars mostly re-distribute food, they do have a small kitchen and, if you're sick of the daal/chappati that shows up in the thali, it doesn't hurt to visit the pantry car and see if they can rustle up an omlet or some fresh chicken curry with parathas. The quality of food varies, with the fare being better in the South, North and West. The concept of hygiene, taste, and cuisine changes from region to region.
Most pantry cars and restaurants at stations are now managed by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC). IRCTC provides satisfactory quality and hygienic food aboard trains and at stations. IRCTC kiosks are ubiquitous where one can find snacks/breakfast/packed foods/ biscuits/ cookies/ mineral water etc. At major stations, IRCTC has licensed Comesum to open fine-dine restaurants. There are also Jan Aahar outlet at many junctions which provide tasty and healthy food at affordable prices.
On the Rajdhanis, Shatabdis and Durontos, all meals are included in the fare and are served at your seat at mealtimes.
If you are finicky, bring enough food and bottled water for the journey including delays: bananas, bread and chocolate bars are good basics to have. Most important stations will have vendors selling all kinds of edible stuff, but the usual caveats about eating in India apply. Often, snacks and food reflect local specialities.
In the train
Some places in the compartment are better than others for sleeping. In addition, the cheaper trains, often rather crammed, without air conditioning and stopping at every station may not offer an optimal environment for a good night's sleep. If you will stop for the night at a railway station you may not need to worry about finding a hotel room as many stations offer accommodation in retiring rooms.
The top ('UB) and side upper (SU) bunks are best if you are the sort who likes to sleep early or late. The middle (MB) and bottom (LB) bunks are converted into seating area, so you will be forced to stay awake if everyone else in your compartment wants to stay up. Side lower (SL) and upper (SU) bunks are a great idea if you want a window seat, but they are a bit smaller than the other bunks, so don't choose them if you are a tall person. Note that 1A and FC classes do not have MB, SL or SU bunks, while 2A does not have MB bunk.
IR operates two hotels in Delhi and Howrah. Passengers can book independent rooms or dormitories on production of tickets. Known as the Rail Yatri Niwas, the facilities are very basic and the rooms are quite shabby. There is a self-service restaurant.
Retiring rooms are available at most major railway stations across the country. They offer basic facilities including a bed, mattress, blankets, drinking water, closet, toilet (and in the case of air-conditioned rooms) a television. One has to produce a reserved journey ticket in order to be able to book retiring rooms.
Dormitories, both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned, are available at almost all railway stations in India.
- 1 Rail Yatri Niwas, New Delhi railway station (Metro: New Delhi – ), ☏ . Dorm ₹145/bed, Single Non-AC ₹265, Double Non-AC ₹385/₹450, Double AC ₹850.
- 2 Sampath Rail Yatri Niwas, New Complex, Howrah Junction railway station, ☏ . Contains dormitory, single room, and double room accommodation. First-class passengers can wait in an air-conditioned area with balcony views of the Kolkata skyline and the Howrah Bridge. Dorm ₹100/bed, Double Non-AC ₹350, Double AC ₹550, Triple Non-AC ₹400.
- 3 Railway Hotel, Puri railway station, ☏ , fax: . Single ₹400/₹600, Double Non-A/C ₹/750/₹1000/₹1200, Double A/C ₹900/₹1500, Triple Non-A/C ₹850/₹1700.
- Always watch your bags, especially in and around train stations. Once on a train, chain and lock your bags to the hooks provided under the lowest bunk, or keep them at your head. Make sure to also lock any exterior pockets (keep your toilet paper, and anything else you'll want on the outside). You can buy chains from chain-and-lock sellers who walk around train stations and trains.
- Do not take food or drink from any unknown passenger if they insist to do so. Politely decline their offer. There is a small chance the food or drink may be drugged so they can steal your belongings.
- Contrary to common belief, it is uncommon for passengers to hang on and sit on top of crowded trains in India (such images are mostly taken from Bangladeshi trains). However, Indian trains often leave train carriage doors open, even on high-end train services, so mind your step when passing through doors. Indian Railways have imposed strict laws to prevent opening doors on a moving train.
- It is also common among Indian travellers to board on and alight from moving trains. Such moves are obviously risky and travellers should wait until the train has stopped.
- India has two separate police forces for railway policing, namely the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and the Government Railway Police (GRP). Crimes that occur on trains and at railway stations should be reported to the GRP, as the RPF has no investigation power.
- Smoking and consumption of alcohol on all trains and at all railway stations is prohibited. There is a steep fine for violation of these rules.
- Bigger Indian train stations offer a standard set of facilities including cloak rooms to leave your luggage (slow and bureaucratic but cheap and reasonably safe; you must lock your own bag and show a ticket), First class waiting rooms (no touts or beggars), a computerised reservation office for advance bookings and a booking office for unreserved/same-day tickets. Restaurant facilities vary widely.
- Several railway stations also have touchscreen kiosks which help you track your train (real-time running information) and also provide a host of other details regarding bookings, schedules etc.
- All railway stations in India have signs in English mentioning the station name and details of facilities at the station. If you are still in doubt, asking around might be a bit of a problem because of the language barrier. In such circumstances, and in case of an emergency of any sort, contact the station master or the station superintendent for assistance. All station masters and superintendents speak English and will help you out.
- Don't just look at a map and assume a short trip, it's best to check Trains at a Glance before making your plans.
- Restrooms on Indian trains are usually of the squat variety (most carriages have two squat-type and two sit-down type toilets), and are serviceable at best. The cleanliness tends to deteriorate over the duration of a journey, and the toilets may even be broken, but on longer trips toilets are cleaned at intermediate stations. Washbasins are provided both inside and outside the toilets. Shower cubicles are available only on AC First carriages in Rajdhani Express trains.
- Enjoy the train, and speak to your fellow passenger. You may meet fascinating, wonderful people.
- In all the states, all the non-AC coaches (especially second class/general compartments) can be over-crowded because of local ticket-less passengers. At the time you may not find an authority to complain. So, better to adjust in the situation and try not to argue and complain. AC coaches are fairly safe from this problem.
- In all reserved classes, every passenger needs to carry a form of ID, though whether your ID will actually be checked depends on the serving Traveling Ticket Examiner (TTE).