Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Train Tickets in India

Donna and I have taken trains trips twice before in India. In each case someone else bought the tickets for us. On our last trip, which was partly by train and partly by plane, I used the IRCTC (India Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation) online reservation system. Although I read the online tutorial, this still required searching the internet for answers to questions like "What does 'RAC 4' mean?". I found all the information I needed on a helpful discussion group about India.
The website asks for where you're leaving from and where you're going to, what date and what class of ticket. There are eight classes of ticket, although not every train has cars of all eight classes. There is first class AC (air conditioned). In the movie "The Darjeeling Limit" the brothers traveled first class(AC). There is also first class--which is not air conditioned, but this is disappearing. There is AC 2 tier and an AC 3 tier. We have described these in an earlier post. Sleeper class cars have the same layout as AC 3 tier, but no AC. Also the railroad doesn't provide any bedding, so you need to carry your own. There are also AC chair cars, which is what Donna and I took from Chennai to Vijayawada, a trip of about 450 km which took about 6.5 hours. The cars have rows of seats, two abreast on one side of the aisle and three on the other side. Seats are similar in size to coach class airline seats, but are spaced to give a little more leg room than that. They have a rack for luggage above the seats on either side. On some trains there is an executive chair class and finally, there is 2nd class sitting class.

After answering all the questions, the system will find all the trains on your route, on that day, with that class of car. You can select one and pull up the availabilty of that class ticket for the selected day and the next 6 days. It will have indications like "WL 7 / WL 2". There is a key at the bottom of the pop-up which tells you that WL=wait list and RAC=reservation against cancellation. So WL 7 means that there are 6 people on the wait list and you can buy a ticket and be number 7 on the wait list.

It doesn't explain why there are two designations for every train. It turns out the the first one is a running count ignoring any cancellations which have already occurred. Once you buy a ticket you will be WL 7 on that train and that number doesn't change. The second number accounts for any cancellation which have happened. Once you buy a ticket you can track your progress on the wait list (using the website or by phone). Hopefully it will go from "WL 7/ WL 2" to "WL 7/ WL 1" to "WL 7/ RAC 4" ... to "CNF". CNF means confirmed--you will get a set or a berth on a sleeper.

So what is RAC 4. "Reservation Against Cancellation" means you can get on the train, but you and someone else have both been assigned the same berth. So you can both sit on it but you can't lay down on it and sleep.

By the time I went to buy tickets (about a week before departure) there were no tickets with status "available" in any class on any of the trains from Bangalore to Chennai. So I actually bought two tickets. One in Sleeper Class with status "WL 2 / RAC 3" which meant I would definitely be able to get to Chennai. This ticket, for the 200 km trip, cost 176 rupees (about 4 dollars). You can cancel tickets up to 24 hours before the train starts its run with no charge. When I canceled the day of the trip I got 126 rupees refund. I also bought a ticket in AC2 (air conditioned with bunks stacked 2 high.) This level of luxury cost me 676 rupees (~$15) My ticket was "WL 7/ WL 3" which my friends assured me that it would be confirmed by train time and it did but not until the day of travel. My sleeper ticket became confirmed a day after I bought it.

My train started its run in Mysore and was schedule to stop at my station just before midnight. It was a little late so I had time to wander around the platform and snap these pictures.
My cell phone camera does not have a flash so the pictures are not that good. The first one is a close-up of the print-outs on a bulletin board. The second contains the names and car/seat assignments of everyone on the wait list/RAC list. They are arranged in order of the first number in our status when you first bought the ticket. I got to the station knowing my seat assignment because I checked the website before coming to the station. Otherwise you can find your seat using these boards.

The second picture shows the board which shows the order of the cars in the train. For example, I was in car A2, which was in position 9 (counting from the engine). These positions are marked on the platform and the train stops aligned to these marks, so you can wait for the train at the point where your car will stop.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating descriptions, Joe.
Tiny glimpses of life so very different from what we're used to in US - yet congenial people and intriguing conversations.
Makes the world seem not quite so huge.
Thanks for making time to chart all these adventures.


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