How to a Make an Indian Railways Train Reservation

Man traveling on Indian train.
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Confused about how to make an Indian Railways reservation for train travel in India?

Indian Railways requires reservations on all classes of travel except general class. There are a few ways you can go about making a reservation -- online, or in person at a travel agency or Indian Railways booking counter.

Online reservations are carried out via the cumbersome and slow IRCTC Online Passenger Reservation website.

Alternatively, travel portals such as Cleartrip.com, Makemytrip.com and Yatra.com now offer online train reservations. These websites are much more user friendly, although they do levy a service charge and not all trains are displayed.

As of May 2016, foreign tourists are able to reserve and pay for tickets on the IRCTC website using international cards. This is facilitated through Atom, a new online and mobile payments platform. However, foreigners must have an account that's been verified by Indian Railways (either by emailing passport details or via an Indian cellphone number). Also, do note that there's a service charge of 4% of the transaction value. In addition, the option may not be available for Tatkal reservations, or reservations made less than 48 hours in advance.

This step by step guide will help you through the reservation process using Indian Railways facilities.

First, Find Your Train

  1. Find the name and number of the train you want to travel on by going to the Indian Railways Passenger Reservation Inquiry website. Click on "Train Berth Availability" at the bottom of the "Services" section on the left hand side. An Indian Railways Trains at a Glance timetable is available to assist you, although it requires quite a bit of navigating!

  1. Enter the details of the station you want to depart from and the station you want to travel to, your journey date, class of accommodation and type of train that you want to travel on. (Hint: select all classes and trains to keep your options open as some book up more quickly than others).

  2. If there are no trains running directly between the stations you've selected, you’ll get an error message and will need to go back and try some different station names. Otherwise, you’ll be presented with a list of trains. Select the desired train and class you wish to travel by (and quota if relevant), and check the availability of beds. You can also check the train fare and route at this point.

  1. If there are no beds available on your particular train, the availability will show as Reservation Against Cancellation (RAC). You can still book a ticket and you’ll be given a seat on the train, but not necessarily a bed unless there are enough cancellations. If the train is fully occupied, availability will be shown as Waitlist (WL). If you book a ticket in the waitlist queue, you won’t be allowed to board the train unless there are enough cancellations for a seat or bed to become available.

  2. Once you've found a suitable train to travel on, make note of its name and number.

For Reservations Over the Counter

If you're booking over the counter, print out the reservation form. Complete the form and take it to a reservation office. Alternatively, you can obtain a reservation form at the office and complete it there. If you're a foreign tourist, try to go to one of the International Tourist Bureaus in major cities. These places are much more efficient and customer friendly. Be aware that you must pay with US dollars, UK pounds, Euros, or Indian rupees and an Encashment Certificate if purchasing a ticket there.

For Reservations Online

If you're booking online go to the IRCTC website and register.

Log in and click on the "Quick Book" tab on the left side of the screen, next to "Plan My Journey". Enter train number, station details, date of travel, quota, and class of travel. Select e-ticket (electronic ticket) and click on "Submit". Complete the electronic reservation form and then scroll down to the "Payment Option" section at the bottom of the page.

Choose how you want to pay and click on "Make Payment". If paying by international credit or debit card, select the ‘International cards power by Atom’ option under ‘Payment Gateway/Credit Card’. Your transaction will be processed and you’ll be provided with a booking confirmation. Print this out and carry it with you when you travel.

Tips for Making Reservations

  1. All reservations, made both over the counter and online, are assigned a 10 digit PNR number. If you’re in the RAC or WL queue, you can check the status of your booking on the IRCTC website by clicking on "PNR Inquiry", then entering your number and clicking on the "Get PNR Status" button.

  1. Cancellations happen often, particularly in the 24 hours up to departure. If you’re waitlisted, you’ll have the best chance of getting a bed in sleeper class as the majority of beds (and therefore cancellations) are in this class. Find out: Will Your Indian Railways Waitlist Ticket Be Confirmed?

  2. The IRCTC is closed for maintenance daily from 11.30 p.m. until 12.30 a.m. IST.  Services are unavailable during this time.

  3. Bookings should be made as far in advance as possible (up to 120 days before departure), especially during the busiest traveling times. Otherwise, you’ll need to be prepared to be flexible about your travel dates and times, and class of accommodation. You may even find yourself on the waitlist, as demand greatly exceeds supply.

  4. It's recommended that you book your tickets online to avoid the often frustrating Indian bureaucracy and disorderly crowd. However, the IRCTC website can be temperamental. If you happen to get an error message (such as "service unavailable"), try refreshing your browser or go back to the start and re-enter your transaction. Patience is the key here.

  5. Sometimes the station name doesn’t reflect the place name (for example, the main railway station in Kolkata/Calcutta is called Howrah), so it pays to do a little research. You can do this by using the Indian Railways Trains at a Glance timetable.

  6. Indian railways operates a number of quota schemes. Last minute bookings are allowed through a "Tatkal" quota on some of the most popular trains, whereby beds are released for reservation 24 hours in advance (previously 5 days). Foreign tourists can avail of a special tourist quota, which can also help in getting a bed during peak times. The availability of both quotas can be checked when you check the availability of your desired train on the Indian Railways Passenger Reservation Inquiry website. Unfortunately, the website's capability for bookings using these quotas is limited so it's best to make them over the counter. Taktal bookings open at 10 a.m.

What You Need

  • Details of train name and number, boarding and departure points, and class of travel.
  • Passport or other suitable identification.
  • Credit or debit card (for online bookings).
  • Reservation form (for over the counter bookings).