How to Book Trains in India – Advance, Tatkal and Just Taking Chances

How to book trains in India is just like how to book trains in the UK or Europe. Wrong. Just because India sometimes appears disorganised, doesn’t mean it always is.

If you want to have  an experience like this…

Note that Indian trains can be booked up to 120 days in advance (it used to be 90). This means that if you arrive expecting to be able to hop on and off them, you may well find yourself disappointed. It isn’t your fault either, you can’t book Indian trains from outside of the country unless you have an Indian SIM card, or a friend there who can work the system for you. But fear not, here are some tips on how to book trains in India when you get there:


Inside the Rail Reservation Centre

  • If you’re going to be in India for a while and have the time to spare, go and purchase an Indian SIM card.You will need a passport photo and your passport to do this. Try an Airtel shop. Without an Indian SIM you cannot book Indian trains online.
  • Once you have your SIM card, register on the IRCTC site. An easier-to-navigate and all round winning site for train bookings is
  • Avoid the tourist booking office in places like New Delhi station like the plague. Okay, not the plague, but this is the difference between two hours queueing in a hot office up some concrete stairs near the men’s toilets, or a ten minute wait in a one-roomed building.
  • Instead of a large booking office, try and locate a railway reservation centre like Nizamuddin Railway Reservation Centre in Delhi:

View Larger Map

  • If it’s a few days or weeks before you are due to travel, it’s more likely there will be space for you on the train. Without betting on a tatkal (emergency) ticket, or worse, a waiting list ticket. The further in advance you book the better.
  • If you are planning to travel imminently and don’t have a ticket, get to a reservation centre, or, in smaller places, a train station ticket office, before 10am the day prior to travelling. Pick up a slip of paper with a checklist on it if you can see one, or ask one of the people queueing where they got theirs. Fill in your details including the number of the train you wish to travel on and the time and date and hand it to the person behind the window. Good luck!
Railway Reservation Centre, New Delhi, India

Railway Reservation Centre, New Delhi, India

From Delhi, I took the train to Agra and the night train to Jaisalmer. Note that there is a New Delhi AND an Old Delhi train station, make sure you check which is the right one:

To Agra

  • New Delhi to Agra Cannt – 2hr journey in the morning – 12002 Bhopal Shatabdi 6.00am arr 8.06am £4 – £7 ($6-$10) rtn depending on class.
  • H Nizamuddin to Agra Cannt – 3hrs (recommended as it’s from a smaller less hectic station) – at 7.10am in the morning arr 10.05am – 12280 Taj Express Superfast less than £5 ($8) rtn.
  • Agra to New Delhi journey in the evening (a trip to the Taj Mahal can easily be done in a day this way) 2279 Taj Express 6.55pm arr 10pm.
  • Agra to New Delhi 12001 NDLS Shatabdi 8.30pm arr 10.30pm every day but Friday

To Jaisalmer

  • OLD DELHI to Jaisalmer – 17hrs leaving in the evening – 14659 Dli Jsm Express 5pm daily £17 ($16) in 2AC or £12 ($18) in 3AC or for the most ‘authentic experience,’ where you might have up to 15 blokes sitting with you playing cards (it happened to me), in Sleeper (SL) at just over £4 ($6). If you can, travel 2AC one way and Sleeper the other to experience both.
  • 14660 Jsm Dli Express Jaisalmer to OLD DELHI 5.15pm arr 11.10am the next day

Additional tips

  • If you arrive last minute you can take a chance that either there will be a spare ticket, or that you’ll get waiting list and the people in your seat won’t arrive. Don’t assume a waiting list ticket is the same as a normal one because you will be sitting in someone elses seat if you do that, however polite they might be about it because you are an idiot tourist.
  • If you are a woman, elderly or disabled, you have your own specific queue at stations and reservation centres. Even if this feels weird, the queue is shorter, so take advantage.
  • 5 rupee masala chai on the train is fine but not everyone gets on with the food, where provided. Pack some food before you go from a restaurant you like.
  • If you manage to get Old and New Delhi stations confused and miss your train (again, it happened to me) you may be lucky enough to get your auto rickshaw driver to take you to the wonderful government information office with a man I hope is still there – ‘you’re in India now, you must be strong’ he said to my friend.
  • There is a restaurant called Umed Marvel Garden Restaurant in Jodhpur where you can order thalis in advance by phone and have them brought to the train in the half hour it stops there on the way back from Jaisalmer (even better if you can get someone to help you order and share it with them)
Agra train

Agra train

2AC Jaisalmer Express

2AC Jaisalmer Express

The Man in Seat 61 is the best resource for researching train travel in India, along with’s Indian site. itself is pretty good for searching the routes and train numbers, as well as prices, even if you aren’t looking to book through the site.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Explore Canada By Train

Saturday 18th May I’ll be going to explore Canada by train with the Canadian Tourism Commission and twelve other bloggers.

Via Rail

It’s all very exciting. The most exciting part is that a lot of the trip from Vancouver to Toronto will be by train. It’s a trip that you can book with my friends at International Rail and if we were doing it the usual way, would cost around £451. We are stopping off along the way at Jasper and Winnipeg. There will be videos, Instagram pictures and blogs along the way. I’ve made a pre-trip video:

This trip will be interesting from a blogging perspective too, as I’ll be trying to figure out what people who might want to go on the train themselves want to know. Do they want videos of the train journey? Interviews with people on the train? Links to where they can book? I should think so, but I’m about to find out.

You can follow the trip on here, on Twitter using the hashtag #ExploreCanada, on and on the tumblr

Sophie Collard on Google+

Happy New Year and Avoiding the Train Fares Hike

Three being the magic number makes 3rd January the perfect day to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Happy New Year Everyone! The year began with an announcement that rail prices are going to rise (no surprises there then). It’s a little unfair that price hikes get reported in the same breath as bad weather causing signal failures – as that’s pretty irrelevant. Bad weather can also cause cars to crash, planes to stay grounded and me to stay indoors, but it has little to do with fares in the short term. An average 6% rise in commuter fares was reported by the Press Association as well as more than a 5% rise in fares for the London Underground and London buses. As ever, people commuting into London will be the most affected.

But alas, the deed is done. Aside from protesting about it, it might be wise to have a go at saving money on regular train journeys. One of the ways of doing this is to buy two tickets for one journey. So if the journey begins during rush hour (peak), you purchase a ticket to get you as far as the stop you’ll be at when the fare switches to off-peak, and a second ticket to cover you from that stop to your final destination. Technically you’re supposed to get off the train and on to another so you are not ‘cheating’ by staying on the same train, but I’m not the train police.

Another recent revelation I had was that you can get an open return to Bristol from London and break a journey at Salisbury at no extra cost. This was brilliant, because I wanted to visit a friend’s new baby and her in Salisbury then see other friends in Bristol, before returning the next day.

It’s really worth having a look at places that are on the same route as the final destination you want to get to – if you’re doing a round trip – so you don’t end up with multiple tickets you don’t need.

‘And what did the new baby receive as a gift?!’ I hear you cry.





February 28th 2011 | Last Week in Trains

I begin this sombre Monday morning with news that Arriva Trains Wales are striking. They’d threatened to strike during the rugby but had been criticised to the point of calling it off. The two-day strike was announced yesterday and officially began this morning. There will be disruption to the services until Tuesday, with no extra services put on.

Drivers argue that despite the offer of a 12% pay rise over two years, it’s not enough, and that they are paid less than their English counter-parts. To read the BBC report, which also has a video, click here.

On Friday there was a fire at Manchester Piccadilly station causing rush-hour delays:

© Joel Goodman. 'Police close roads around Piccadilly train station in central Manchester during the morning rush hour, after a fire in tunnels underneath the railway station, where a new tram extension is being built. Platforms at the station were also closed and trains rerouted to other stations, as smoke bellowed from the tunnels on to surrounding streets and in to the station.'

Gates and railings may be installed at Harrow and Wealdstone station to prevent people committing suicide there. There have been 10 suicides there since 2007. The Samaritans back the move to have the railings installed at the grade II listed building. Full report here.

Finally, train driver Richard Niven, who works for CrossCountry trains will be ‘swapping his driver’s seat’ for a motorbike and riding 20,000 miles for nine weeks beginning in Ushuaia, Argentina and ending in New York, passing through Alaska. I really don’t blame him. He’s doing the trip in aid of wildlife charity David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.

Read the full story here. Dream about Ushuaia here.

Monday 21st February | Last Week in Trains

It gives me great pleasure to begin with a lighter piece. This is the news that last week, a train driver was attacked by a seagull as he walked along the platform to his train. First-aiders were called to the scene. An announcement was made. Commuters standing on the platform at Tonbridge station burst out laughing. The Guardian asked readers for their own stories of excuses. Click the image below to link through to the Comment is Free page. Amongst the ridiculous comments and those from people who seem to have misunderstood the premise, are such gems as, ‘The train has been delayed due to the collapse of a Roman sewer at York,’ and

‘We apologise for the poor service this evening, this is due to the new boss of London Underground being an accountant. Thank you,’ and

‘We don’t know what we’re doing.’

Photograph: Dimitri Messinis/AP

In other news, the final stages of the £30m East Midlands Trains refurbishment has begun. When it is completed all the trains will have been refurbished. We also learn from the article, that the East Midlands Trains MD is called Tim Shoveller. I hope he drives steam trains sometimes, I really do. See full report.

Finally, East Coast Trains have announced a timetable shake-up which will free up three million extra seats a year. Changes include more trains to London from the north-east, daily services from Lincoln and a train every 30 minutes from Leeds to King’s Cross. See full report.

Monday 7th February | Last Week in Trains

Bonjour. Nothing to report about French rail, just mixing things up. So. took a rather damning view of Arriva Trains Wales ‘climbdown’ from its threat to strike on the day of the England v Wales Six Nations Rugby match. I’d provided some information about places to stay for people wanting to re-arrange to travel the day before and felt decidedly fallible as a result – though I guess you can hold onto the information, should you fancy staying in Cardiff at any point in the near future.

The site reported that the union is accused of using Welsh rugby fans as  ‘“pawns” in its industrial dispute over pay and conditions and said had the strike gone ahead it would have caused ‘major disruption to more than 30,000 fans travelling by train.’

In the end Arriva Trains Wales in fact put extra services on that day.

The second piece of news comes from the BBC, which reported that Passenger Focus thinks we need a review of train company punctuality. Interesting, I thought, not least because I recall reading a very similar article on the site last year. But also because increasingly I’m hearing that trains are getting better at arriving on time and the article even says:

‘Passenger Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Punctual trains equal happier passengers. The good news is that the industry’s current measure shows that punctuality is getting better with more trains running on time.”‘

Hopefully the ever increasing popularity of rail travel in the UK will raise support for continuing all round improvements to rail travel.

What else? Oh yes – an Italian kid could have died at Milan station last week after becoming too absorbed in his PSP game and falling onto the tracks. Luckily, there was a policeman there to save him. The media in Italy must have gone wild for this one, if the reaction to on-board air conditioning malfunctions in summer is anything to go by.

Sunrise and Sunset Through Train Windows | #FriFotos

Jeremy Acklam, MD of Quno, took this picture of the partial eclipse at sunrise on the morning of 4th January 2011 through the window on the Pendolino from Manchester to London - at Cheddington, Buckinghamshire

Helpfully, I appear to have deleted a lot of sunset photographs without saving them to my computer. Rookie mistake… So here’s one. It pales in comparison to Jeremy’s. Shows that sunrise is sometimes worth being awake for now don’t it.

Self Portrait At Sunset Pulling Into Temple Meads (An Ironic Exploration of Phone Photography)