Monday, April 28, 2014

How to book Tickets with IRCTC, Tips for Travelling Smart with Indian Railways.

Indian Railways

Indian Railways is one of the largest railway network in the world, with about 1,15,000 KM of railway tracks. It is also one of the largest employer in the world. IRCTC - Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, is a part of Indian Railways, that handles the catering, tourism and online catering of Indian Railways. Almost anyone who has visited India, and almost all Indians, must have traveled in Indian Railways. It is a fun experience! We love the sleeper coaches in our trains, and we have a reason for that too. Where would you find such 3 layer sleeping berths in trains around the world? We Indians indulge in eating a lot of things in trains like the bhel, the "Cut-les", the VadaPav! And there might be rare people who don't drink "Chai" at the railway station or in the trains. Indian Railways has gone a long change since the first railway line was established in 1853 from Mumbai to Thane.


indian railways logo


Traveling in Indian Railways is fun. But it can be a more pleasant experience if you know some things about it. Traveling smart is very important for everyone, to enhance their experience. Since the last few years, I have been extensively using my computer and internet for planning my journeys. So whenever I travel, I have complete information of the trains, including the make/type of the engine, its capacity, the coach information, the seating layout, the ticket system, station details, route details, and a lot more. So lets see some things which you should know about Indian Railways.

1)Seating Layout

There is a predefined seating layout for all the coaches in the trains. Rajdhani and Shatabdi though have a different layout. Gone are the days, when you need to go the station, and look the number of the seat you want in the train. Today, you can just look for the seat you have got in the ticket, or the seat you want in seating charts/diagrams. You can find the seat charts on erail.in(link). You will need to learn some abbreviations:
W-Window
M-Middle
A-Aisle
SL-Side Lower/ Sleeper
SU-Side Upper
UB-Upper Berth
MB-Middle Berth
LB-Lower Berth
seating layout in indian railways LB MB UB

For example if you get number 13 in a sleeper coach, then by looking at the chart, we can know that it will be a middle berth in the coach. Sometimes though, the numbers do differ from the charts. This usually happens for Chair Cars, and 2 Seater coaches.


2)Coach Composition Placement

Knowing that your coach will be placed where in the train is very important, especially when you have a lot of luggage and people, and you cant afford to run like athletes on the station platform. Go to Indiarailinfo, and enter the number of your train in the train section on the top. After that click on timetable, and you will see the Coach Composition. For example, lets see the image below:
indiarailinfo.com coach composition screenshot

Here we can see the coach composition of a train. We are interested in knowing the placement of engine first. And then looking our desired coach after the engine. As you can see in the image (click to enlarge), ENG is the ENGINE, following it is SLR, it stands for the guard van. So suppose we have a reservation in S1 coach, it is very far from the engine, near the end. At the station, we can ask that from which direction the train will come, and accordingly we can go and stand at the location where our location will come. So in the above case, if the train is coming from east , we would have to go the east ending part on the platform, because the engine is going in the west direction. Most stations do have screens and markers indicating where the coach would come, but some small stations don't have them. 


3)Tickets and Availability

The most important thing for traveling in the train, is a ticket! As we all know, getting a ticket for Indian Railways is sometimes very difficult, specially when you just make a plan and want a ticket. Sometimes there are reservations for months together. First thing I would like to tell you, is to use IRCTC's website for booking tickets. It is very convenient and also provides multiple payment options, including net banking, you can enable net banking for most banks. But if you prefer to book tickets offline, then I would like to give you a tip. Most third party ticketing agents charge a premium of about 20-30 per ticket, depending on the type of ticket, and they charge more during peak seasons. And most people don't want to stand for long hours on the railway stations. So one thing you can do is get a ticket from Post Offices. Yes, the major post offices provide a counter to book railway tickets. Check this at the largest Post Office in your city. Most people don't know about this, so its an advantage, and you will find shorter queues. 



Always check the availability of each train in your route. You can check the availability at erail.in very easily, or at indiarailinfo.com. Just enter the source station, and the destination station, select your journey date, and you have a list of trains. You can sort the list by day, by seating class, by arrival/departure time etc. by clicking on the respective text. It will also show you the availability for all the trains. If the seats are not available, then you can try Tatkal Quota, and see if the seats are available, although tatkal fares will be more than regular fares.

Look for any holiday special trains. Indian Railways puts some special trains for busy routes on peak periods. List of holiday special trains here.


4)Planning your journey

Planning your journey is very important. If you are going for sight seeing many places, or a pilgrimage, or a large tour comprising of many cities, then you can try the Circular Journey Tickets. This are special tickets, which you can buy for a circular journey, i.e. starting at a station, going through many stations once, and ending at the first station. The advantage of circular tickets is that you have a single ticket for the entire journey, and also they have a reduction in fare then individual tickets. More information can be found on the Indian Railways website

Sometimes the place you want to go might not have a station. You can always look for the nearest stations by searching for the place's information on internet. For example we once decided visiting Mahabaleshwar. Now as Mahabaleshwar is a hill station, a train obviously cannot go there. So we searched a bit, and found Wathar station, which was at the bottom of Mahabaleshwar, about 60 kms away. We took a train to Wathar station, and from there took a taxi to Mahabaleshwar. Always look for the nearest station, because if there's a railway station, then there's large possibility that you will find taxis easily.

Also holiday by trains is possible. You can book a complete holiday trip, traveling the major part of it in trains. Check out the available holiday packages here at Rail Tourism India


These were some tips which you can follow, and ride smart in trains. Have something to say? Comment it below in the comment box.