Indian railways are a unique experience in themselves. So, if you’re planning a trip to India, you should definitely think about taking the train at some point. 

India is an enormous country, and making use of the trains will save you a LOT of money.

Considering it takes hours to get anywhere in India it can be tempting to take internal flights. But as quick and easy as this may seem, when you start to add up the costs it gets expensive.

Indian train going over bridge at sunset

Indian Railways: The Most Affordable Mode of Transport

The Indian railways are without a doubt the cheapest way to travel around India. Unfortunately, though, they aren’t the easiest to understand.

Booking trains in any foreign country can be tricky, but India definitely takes the lead here.

Choosing the right class and carriage for one, will make or break the journey for you. We’ll try and make this as easy to understand as possible so you don’t make any massive booking mistakes!

Indian Rail App

The first thing you need to realise, is that most of the ticket officers don’t speak English. That’s why booking your train online is the easiest option.

Using a rail app will save you a load of time and definitely make booking an Indian train a LOT less stressful. 

This app was actually recommended to us by a lady staying in our hostel in Jodhpur. It really is a gem of an app, and by far the easiest to use.

Search options on IXIGO train booking app

Not only can you book trains, but also flights, cabs and hotels. Just type in the start and end destinations, choose your date and the number of people, and press search!

You can check the live status of your train and even track the train as you’re on it. Which comes in VERY useful when you’ve been asleep for a few hours and don’t have a clue where you are when you wake up.

Read this article for A Step-By-Step Guide to Using IXIGO to book a train in India.

A really useful feature on the IXIGO app as well, is the PNR status. The PNR number is the passenger name record, and you normally receive this unique 10-digit number through email or SMS. 

Checking your PNR Status

PNR updates can be very confusing, but basically it’s quite common for you to be wait listed when you book a train. Especially if you book last minute.

You need to check your PNR status on the app before travelling, to see if your tickets have been confirmed or not.

Look Before you Book

Indian railways are used by an estimated 17-20 million people every day. So it’s ALWAYS busy.

PNR status check on Indian trains with IXIGO app

If you haven’t booked your ticket yet and you see figures like ‘Availability75’, then that means there are 75 seats available and you can safely go ahead and book. 

However, if you see a figure like ‘RAC87/RAC74’, then this means that although you are definitely guaranteed a seat on the train, you may not get a sleeper bed. You will only be allotted a sleeping birth if enough passengers cancel.  

If you see a figure like ‘GNWL54/WL4’ this means that all allotted seats, beds, AND all RAC seats have been taken and you are NOT guaranteed a seat on the train. ‘GL’ refers to the general waiting list. If you see this then I really suggest you don’t book!

After Booking

Perhaps you’ve already booked your tickets however. You can still check your PNR status right up until you get on the train.

You may have a different PNR status to the examples I’ve used above. If so, then try this article on understanding availability figures. It goes into more detail and gives more PNR examples.

Indian Rail Websites

If you’ve decided to travel without a smart phone, or just don’t have the storage space for another app, then these online websites are pretty easy to use. 

  • IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Ltd)
IRCTC website logo for booking trains online in India

This is the official website set up by the Ministry of Railways in India. It’s relatively simple to use and there is a live help pop-up if you get stuck. You can book tourist trains on this website as well as the normal trains.

cleartrip logo for booking trains in India online

Clear Trip is a really reliable and easy to use website. They charge a very small fee of R20 to book through them, but it’s worth it. 

You must have an IRCTC account to book trains online with Clear Trip so make sure to note down your username once you’ve made an account. You’ll need this to complete the booking.

Train Carriages Glossary

Perhaps the most confusing thing about booking Indian trains is choosing which class and carriage to book.

Unlike UK trains, the differences between each of the classes is huge. 

1AC – 1st class with air-conditioning

This is the most expensive class. There are usually 2 or 4 birth compartments. Doors lock, and compartments have curtains for privacy. Meals are included.

2AC – 2nd class with air-conditioning

Again, there are usually 2 or 4 birth compartments, but are usually 2-tiered beds. Compartments have curtains for privacy and the beds convert into seats for those that would rather sit up-right.

3AC – 3rd class with air-conditioning

3-tiered beds arranged into groups of 6, in an open-plan carriage. This is the carriage we recommend if you want to budget but still want a bit of luxury.

AC Executive Chair

Comfortable seating carriage with reclining chairs. No beds but plenty of space.

Sleeper Class

Open-plan carriages with 3-tired beds. No air-conditioning, however the windows open fully.

Unreserved 2nd Class

This is the cheapest carriage. Lots of chairs crammed in and lots of people in general. Cheap but maybe not the best for a long journey! Consider one of the other carriages. They are still very affordable!C

Things to Bear in Mind

That’s all the vital stuff you need to know before booking a train on the Indian railways! It won’t hurt to bear these things in mind though so you’re fully prepared for your trip.

  • In the higher sleeper carriages (1AC, 2AC, 3AC) bedding is provided.
  • There is often someone walking up and down the train with chai tea, water and snacks in the lower classes but not the higher classes. Even so, the train journeys are LONG so make sure to take lots of water and food. 
  • Occasionally the trains stop for 20 minutes around half way through for you to get off and get food. But be speedy if you do, they won’t wait for you if you’re not back in time!
  • There aren’t always announcements on the train to say which station you are approaching. So, if you can track your journey on the IXIGO app, it’s worth wile.
  • It gets pretty chilly in the AC cabins so make sure you have a jumper or blanket on long journeys.
  • Train classes vary on some trains. Certain trains have seating only, such as the Shatbdi express
  • In New Delhi, Mumbai, Colcata and Chennai Indian railways have allocated 8 carriages as women-only carriages. If you’re a solo female traveller it might put your mind at ease reserving a seat in one of these carriages.
train crossing bridge next to waterfall
Train ride across Dhudsagar Falls

Do you happen to be travelling on the Indian railways to Goa? Check out these articles!

One of the founders of People of the Planet. Psychology graduate, digital marketer, and lover of travel and exploring new places!

Author Samantha Walker

One of the founders of People of the Planet. Psychology graduate, digital marketer, and lover of travel and exploring new places!

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