Train Travel in India
Travelling by train is an essential Indian experience. Trains offer more space and a smoother ride than buses. It is especially recommended for long journeys that include an overnight travel. India’s rail network is one of the largest and busiest in the world, and Indian Railways is the world's eighth-largest employer on earth, with roughly 1.3 million employees.
Train travel in India can be intimidating. It can be confusing to navigate the Indian Railway system, but once you figure it out, it isn’t so bad at all. Here is a guide on travelling by train in India.
- India’s rail network is one of the largest and busiest in the world.
- The Gorakhpur Railway Station has the longest railway station in India.
- The Air-Conditioned First Class coach is found only on the most popular inter-state train routes.
- You can check train schedules at www.irctc.co.in
- The Indrail Pass can only be purchased by foreign nationals and non-resident Indians.
Travelling by train
The best way to see India is not by plane, but by land on their incredible Indian railway system. No visit to India is complete without experiencing the bustle of the Indian railway stations and a safe and comfortable journey on the Indian Express Train.
You can safely forget media images of overcrowded suburban trains with people sitting on the roof-tops. On the long distance express trains in an AC Chair Car or an AC1 or AC2 sleeper, all seats and berths are reserved, inexpensive, comfortable and a safe way to get around India.
A long distance train journey such as Bombay to Delhi, Delhi to Varanasi or Delhi to Udaipur can save costs by traveling on the overnight AC Sleeper Trains. Train travel in India is an essential Indian bucket list experience!
The railway network
With one of the largest rail network in the world, India came up over and over again as a country that is a must-see by train. The rail network in India is the fourth largest in the world after USA, Russia and China.
As of April 2019, the Indian Railways route length network spans over 115,000 km, and runs more than 20,000 passenger trains daily, on both long-distance and suburban routes.
The Indian railway network is not only ideal for long-distance travel but to transport bulk commodities due to it being energy efficient and an economic mode of conveyance. The railway network of India has brought the country closer together, hence creating a feeling of unity among Indians.
Express trains are express rail services of India. Express trains make less stops, unlike ordinary passenger trains. Most express trains have special names to identify them easily. The names of the trains usually denote the regions they connect and the routes they go on.
Duronto Express trains are most likely the fastest trains in India. They provide a non-stop point to point service, connecting the metros and major state capitals of India. They have air-conditioned one-,two- and three-tier seating.
The Rajdhani Express travels at a top speed of 130-140 km/h, with limited stops. It is.a fully air-conditioned, deluxe train, providing you a unique opportunity of experiencing Indian railways at its best. They run from Delhi to Howrah, Mumbai, Bangalore, Bhubaneshwar, Thiruvananthapuram, Guwahati, Patna, Chennai, Securanderabad, Jammu Tawi, Ranchi, Ahmedabad and back to Delhi.
Classes of Train
Indian Railway has several classes of travel with or without air-conditioning. Slow passenger trains have only unreserved seating, whereas Express trains have only air-conditioned classes. Fares for all classes differ and unreserved seating is the least expensive.
Turn up at a booking office without a clear idea of classes, and you’re likely to leave with a headache and no ticket. There are 8 classes of carriages on the Indian Railway. Below is an overview of them.
We recommend 3AC, 2AC, or 1AC for long trips and 1A for short day trips as they provide the most comfort among the other classes.
Unreserved General Class (UR)
The least expensive, no reservation required and for the unfortunate one who could not secure a ticket in the Sleeper Class.
There’s sitting or standing room only, and any spare floor space is occupied by those willing to sleep on it. Most seats are simply wooden benches, although some trains do have padded benches.
Second Class (2S)
Reservations are required in Second Class (2S). 2S is usually found on daytime inter-city trains and is a cheap way of traveling. There are three seats on either side of the aisle, and they do not recline.
Most of them are cushioned bench-style seats, although some newer carriages have individual seats. There are no sleeping facilities in this class and the carriages are cooled with fans.
Sleeper Class (SL)
The carriages in the Sleeper Class are divided into open-plan compartments with six beds in each. The beds are stacked vertically in three-tiers on either side of the compartments. During the day, the middle beds must be folded down flat against the compartment walls to allow passengers to sit on the lower beds.
Fans are provided on the carriage ceiling to produce some ventilation, and the windows have bars to keep intruders out as they are usually kept open. The bathrooms have both western and Indian style toilets.
Three Tier Air-Conditioned Class (3AC)
The Three Tier Air-Conditioned Class, also known as 3AC, offers a significant step up in terms of comfort and quietness. The carriages are laid out in the same manner as in the Sleeper Class.
However, the windows are covered with tinted glass that is unable to be opened, and air-conditioning keeps the carriages cool. Bedding and hand towels are provided for the passengers.
Privacy is the main issue due to the open nature of the compartments. The carriages and bathrooms in the compartments are usually much cleaner than those in the Sleeper Class.
Two Tier Air-Conditioned Class (2AC)
The Two Tier Air-Conditioned Class, known as 2AC, attracts more of India’s upper-class travelers. There’s more space, as there are only four beds in each compartment. The beds are stacked vertically in two tiers on either side.
The best thing about the 2AC is the added benefit of privacy with curtains at the entrance of each compartment, as well as across each of the beds that run along the aisle. The curtains are usually always kept drawn to ensure privacy. Bedding is included in the fare.
First Class Air-Conditioned (1AC)
First Class Air-Conditioned, known as 1AC, is found only on the most popular inter-state train routes. The cost is double of 2AC and is comparable to that of flying. Compartments have lockable doors, carpet, and either two or four beds, stacked vertically in tiers. The beds are wider than other classes. Bedding, towels and room freshener are also provided.
The only problem with 1AC is that it is not possible to specify if you want a two-bed or four-bed compartment when you book. However, couples are normally allocated in the two-bed compartments, while singles and families are accommodated in the four-bed compartments.
Air-Conditioned Chair Car (CC)
Air-Conditioned Chair Car carriages or CC are commonly used for travel between major cities, especially those sectors that are frequented by business travelers. They have three seats on one side of the aisle, and two on the other.
The seats recline, there are overhead space for luggage, and bathrooms tend to be relatively clean. It is a comfortable way to travel for any day trips.
Executive Air-Conditioned Chair Car (1A)
Executive Class is only found on Shatabdi Express trains, which are premium super-fast passenger trains that run between major cities such as Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, as well as selected Duronto Express trains. It is Indian railways' version of an airline business class.
Carriages have only two seats on each side of the aisle. This makes them less crowded, and provides more leg room and luggage space. This class is well maintained, clean, and making it a pleasant day journey. However, its cost is significantly more than the Air-Conditioned Chair Car.
Timetables & Booking
Most stations in major cities such as Mumbai and Delhi operate 7-days a week. The most common trains that leave these stations are the Rajdhani Express trains. Most trains leave the stations in the mornings between 6am to 10am and in the evenings between 4pm to 8pm.
You can always check the train schedules at https://indianrailways.info.
There are many ways to book a train ticket in India. Booking online should be the easiest way to buy tickets, although it may not be as straightforward as you would expect. The reservation system is open every day, so keep this in mind if you are buying tickets from abroad.
Online reservations can be made on the official Government Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Online Passenger Reservation website (www.irctc.co.in). Using the site can involve a frustrating and complex registration process.
Unfortunately the website is not user friendly. It is slow and temperamental; often the service is unavailable although if you keep trying it will work eventually!
A much easier way to arrange your train travel in India and book trains, even from abroad, is to use a website like Cleartrip.com to search and book trains. Their website is much more user friendly and easier to use. You can also pay with an international credit-card. However, they do charge a small service fee and not all trains are displayed.
Depending on where you are traveling to and what class of train you are choosing, the train fares will vary. The usual fares for AC1 trains are between US$40 to US$60 and between US$10 to US$40 for AC2 trains.
Reservations of train tickets can be booked 120 days in advance. Some short distance trains or day time trains have lesser advance reservation periods of 60, 30, or 10 days. With Asia Highlights, we can help arrange your train ticket bookings as well assist you with an itinerary to explore India..
To explore India, the Indrail Pass provides an excellent value for money way to travel, and enhances the charm of holidays for visitors from abroad. The Indrail Pass offer visitors the facility to travel as they like, over the entire Indian Railway system without any route restriction within the period of validity of the ticket.
These pass can only be purchased by foreign nationals and non-resident Indians on payment of US Dollars, Pound Sterling or any other convertible foreign currencies. The Indrail Pass has now been made more attractive for transit and short stay visitors. It is available for a duration ranging from 1, 7, 15, 21, 30, 60 and 90 days.
India is a hot tourist destination with its majestic monuments, breathtaking scenic beauty, rich flora and fauna, and as a shopping arcade. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation along with the Indian Government have started some special trains to provide a comfortable journey to the tourists. These trains are generally termed as luxury trains.
This is one of the most luxurious trains of the world. Complementing its name, Maharajas Express comes with stunning interiors and best in class amenities.
The suites are equipped with antique furniture, wall-to-wall carpets, rich paintings, soft beds draped in silk bed linens, and other facilities like free WiFi and LCD television sets.
Palace on Wheels
This is one of the oldest luxury trains in India. Palace on Wheels is renowned for its warm hospitality and high quality amenities. Each coach is decorated to suit the ambiance of a palace while the food served brings to you the real taste of Rajasthan.
On board medical service, free internet, television sets and individual attendants are some of the services available.
Golden Chariot luxury train takes you to the off-beaten destinations of South India. It covers all important tourist spots in Karnataka, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu with Pondicherry. The Golden Chariot travels through the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa.
You can experience world-class facilities ranging from personal wardrobes to writing desks, 5-star hotel accessories to electric sockets.
Best Railway Stations
Most people may not be aware of the grand and exotic railway stations which India treasures. There are quite a few railway stations in India which are architecture marvels. Have a look at these beautiful railway stations in India.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is a classic structure of Victorian-Gothic style architecture in India. In 2004, it was named a 'UNESCO World Heritage Site'. The iconic train terminus is well-connected to all parts of the country. Being the icon of Mumbai, this railway terminus is a very vital part of the city’s life and growth.
Ghum, North Bengal
Ghum Railway Station is of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and is the highest railway station in India. It is situated at an altitude of 2,258 meters, and is a UNESO World Heritage Site. From Ghum there are roads that connect you to different places such as Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Mirik and many more.
The Dudhsagar Railway Station is small and south of Goa. The majestic Dudhsagar Falls is to the left of the railway station giving this station a pleasant outlook.
Char Bagh, Lucknow
The Char Bagh Railway Station in Lucknow is considered to be one of the most beautiful railway stations in India. The architecture is a blend of the Awadhi, Rajput and the Mughai styles.
Howrah Station, West Bengal
Built in 1854, the Howrah Station is the oldest railway station in India. The station is situated on the banks of the River Hooghly and it is linked to Kolkata with the help of the Howrah Bridge. It has the highest train handling capacity of any railway station in India and it has 23 platforms to serve the people.
Explore with Asia Highlights
As the Indian railway system can be very confusing, travelers can found themselves in a hard place to pick the right trains. With Asia Highlights, we can help you arrange your Indian train experiences so that you won’t have to worry of booking tickets on your own.