Booking a train ticket on IRCTC is a rite of passage. It's one of India's leading e-commerce destinations, and it's quite a quaint thing, once you really dig into all the pages and get to know the names of the servers. Despite the fact feels like you're stepping into an Internet time machine dialled back to 2000, the service works, and there's no avoiding it when you need to book a train ticket.
The first thing you need to know, are the rules, and they are vast and numerous. Do you know the rules of a Tatkal ticket, all the classes available, the difference between a sleeper and a seater, the best trains to take, and what your chances are of booking a ticket? Good. Here's a quick refresher course that will greatly enhance your odds of having a 'Shubh Yatra' when using IRCTC to book a train ticket or any of other related services that it offers.
1) Plan your journey ahead of time
This one is pretty basic, but you can greatly improve your chances of getting a reserved ticket by booking at the earliest available time slot. Train tickets are usually available 120 days in advance, and there's a website called Ticketdate that lets you calculate the earliest booking window, based on the kind of train you're taking. Some trains have a 10 and 30 day advance booking, and then there are Tatkal tickets, which cost a premium but open up a day before the date of travel.
2) Still on the waiting list?
Calculate the odds with Trainman This really cool third-party tool can predict the likelihood of a waitlisted train ticket, based on historical booking data for that route. Trainman keeps a track of the initial and final status of waitlisted tickets, the number of days between the two, and expresses it in the form of a percentage. You can also enter your PNR number to calculate the odds.
3) Know your station codes, schedules, and routes
There are many questions one need to ask in the process of booking a ticket, most of your questions can be answered at Indianrail.gov.in, which gives real-time data on seat availability, fares, schedules and routes. The website may not pretty to look at, but will help you arrive at a decision. Protip: You do not want to take a mail train, unless you have time to kill.
4) Book Tatkal tickets quickly using this autofill tool
Booking ticket for a family on Tatkal? The Magic Autofill button, developed by Amit Agarwal will greatly enhance your chances of getting confirmed tickets when the gates open at 10:00 AM. It lets you pre-enter passenger booking details and have them filled up on the browser at the tap of a button.
5) Book tickets on Cash on Delivery via BookMyTrain
Don't have any online payment options at hand? The BookMyTrain app, available on all major smartphone platforms gives you the option for cash on delivery in over 200 cities in India. Check our our review of the app for more details.
6) Waitlisted? Convert your train ticket into a a flight ticket
IRCTC tied up with low-cost flight operators which lets you convert your waitlisted ticket into an airline ticket, available on the day of the train journey or the day after that. According to an IRCTC spokesperson, the service will be priced 30-40 percent cheaper than regular flights, but the scheme only applies to tickets booked at least three days prior to the date of travel.
7) Use Railyatri to find out if your train is on time
Want to make sure you're not spending hours on the platform due to delays? For wannabe train-spotters, Railyatri has an excellent Live Train Status feature that lets you track where a train is, in real-time. The website has a couple of other amazing map based features that tell you where you're likely to find and lose cellular connectivity in your train route and which trains to avoid, based on average delay times at a particular station.
8) Didn't pack food? Have it delivered to you
You need to have a cast iron stomach to be able to handle pantry food, for those with more cultivated tastes, or delicate constitutions, there's Travel Khana, which has a selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner meals in over 2000 trains, covering all the main train stations in India. The service runs on cash on delivery and can be booked from the app or over the phone.
9) Keep a map handy
Sometimes, a map can be the best app of all, especially when you are at places with limited connectivity. For travellers with no fixed plans, this railway map is a useful and handy reference point that will help you figure out the closest railway station, no matter where you are.