Indian Railways - Travel Classes
INDIAN RAILWAYS - TRAVEL CLASSES
When preparing for an Australian Cricket Tour to India, there is strong chance you will be surfing the migraine and excitement inducing Indian Railways website to build your trip.
Like many things in India, it is not straight forward and can be rightly confusing. When selecting an Indian Railways train from a lengthy list, you are met with a string of abbreviations at the top of each train option. This is the Train Number and Train Name, which is often the start and finish stations.
For example, we’ll search Mumbai to New Delhi.
One result is BDTS HW SPL, which translates as Bandra Terminus to Haridwar Junction Special, with these available ticket types 2S / SL / 3A / 2A. This train is not terminating at New Delhi so don’t worry about the abbreviations, instead focus on your boarding and alighting stations. Not every train terminates in your arrival city.
Another choice was NDLS DURONTO SPL terminating at New Delhi Railway Station (NDLS). New Delhi – Mumbai would be BDTS DURONTO SPL.
Enlighten yourself with:
DURONTO is a special express train, with limited stops, only offering only AC Class; 1A / 2A / 3A. Abbreviations of Duronto (DURNT or DNTO), Rajdhani (RJDHNI or RAJ) or Shatabdi (SHTBDI or SHT) and others listed on 'Indian Railways - Types of Trains' will tell you, albeit vaguely, the type of train you are booking, which is reflected in the fares.
In 1996 we had the choice of taking a MAIL, EXPRESS, or SUPERFAST EXPRESS as the fast, mildly faster, and mildly-faster faster lumbering long-distance trains with sleepers (SL). There were a few Shatabdi Express; ‘luxury’ chair car for 4-6 hour round-journeys from New Delhi to (Agra) Bhopal and Lucknow, and a few other train types we didn’t have to know about such as the ‘Flying Ranee’. This daily (now) double-decker has run between Mumbai and Surat (263km north) since 1937 but following the Australian Cricket Tour to India in 1996 this was far from relevant.
Now we have 30 including suburban passenger trains, city metro trains, 'bullet trains' (in 2024), and gorgeous UNESCO heritage protected mountain railways. Before searching for a train, understand Indian Railways - Types of Trains. Once you have selected your cities to depart and arrive at, your search results will list trains and prices as per the follwoing travel classes.
INDIAN RAILWAYS – TRAVEL CLASSES
First Class or 1A:
This is the top shelf with fares equivalent to flying between the same cities. Considering your journey will be overnight it is worth saving a night in the hotel to enjoy this luxury. 1A carriages have just 9 compartments, to sleep 18 persons. If you book only one seat you will (may) share the compartment with another single, same-sex traveller. First Class carriages are airconditioned, have attendants, entertainment, complimentary food, and importantly bedding.
This simply translates as 2-tier. Where in 1A there are only two persons per compartment, in 2A there are 4 with two upper bunks, and two berths running the length of the carriage, with curtains providing privacy for each berth/bunk. Bedding, an attendant, and reading lights are included though there is no entertainment, but you are sharing the compartment with 5 more people to create more fun on the rails. 2A is of course airconditioned along with 3A.
This translates as 3-tier, so you will travel overnight with 6 persons in your air-cooled carriage, as well as 2 persons on the side berths. 3A does not have the space of the classes above, because there are 64 persons in the carriage. There are no privacy curtains or reading lights, though bedding is included. This is ‘premium economy’, one step up from the mass-market ‘sleeper’ (SL) of Indian Railways, which accommodates 72 passengers in 9 compartments.
It is rare you will find this class of travel, but it is available on select trains when Indian Railways want to ‘pack them in’. Each 3E carriage accommodates 81 passengers with Indian Railways cheekily squeezing in one more compartment, and a third passenger into each of the 9 side berths. This is airconditioned however no bedding is provided.
'Chair Class' is exactly as you may think. No chance of laying down to sleep on these 6-8 hours day journeys to or from ‘important’ cities. You are seated 5 to a row, with 3 on one side of the aisle, and 2 on the other in airconditioned comfort for the duration. Some of these trains are ‘double-decker’ to really pack in the masses headed to Nan’s house for dinner. CC trains are available on Shatabdi Express, Vande Express, and prime intercity routes. The type of train determines whether food and other amenities are included your CC seat.
The mighty Sleeper Class is Indian Railways bread & butter work horse. 10 or more carriages on each train rake sleep 72 ticketed people (with often a few non-ticketed friends & family) in 9 compartments. There are 6 berths in each main compartment, divided into lower, middle, and upper berths (you will be asked your berth preference when booking), with two side berths (upper or lower) running the length of the train.
Sitting at a ‘side’ window, in a solo seat, is preferred but when sleeping, if you are 175cm or taller, you are inhibited by the wall separating compartments, which may make sleeping uncomfortable. If you are ‘nimble’ or not, request an upper berth so you can sleep whenever you like, as this is a static berth hanging from the roof. In the day everyone is ‘sitting’ on the lower berth, and leaning against the middle berth, which folds up at bedtime.
The ‘sleeper’ is very grubby thanks to ‘non-glassed’ windows allowing a steady flow of fresh air as you thunder on the rails that also brings a steady flow of filth, noticeable after a good 24+ hours stint.
There is no bedding, so you need a sleeping bag or blanket for cold nights, knowing the windows do not close! We won’t talk about the toilets, except to say there is one western-style (chair) toilet and one Indian squat toilet per carriage. If you want to get overnight cheaply and reasonably comfortably, join the mass market in this quintessential Indian Railways travel class.
These chair cars are exactly like the CC’s above but without air conditioning.
The cheapest of the cheap seats. Once you buy an unreserved/general ticket you have 24 hours to use it on any train with an unreserved car. Without any seat guaranteed, get to the station early and fight for your space. Indians have tremendous tolerance for what we may call discomfort, thus expect one or more persons to politely ask you to ‘move up’ so they too can sit in an impossibly small square of your bench that should only seat 6, but already has 8 wedged in for the duration.
Now you understand the different travel classes, choose your preferred on the plethora of Indian Railways - Types of Trains. Not every train has every class available so if you are determined to travel 1A, use the filters when searching on IRCTC understanding not every train goes so high up the caste system!