Train Travel in India

Train travel in India is one of the very special experiences everyone should try in his or her life. While I’ll release some more posts about how to book tickets for Indian trains and reviews about the experiences in normal trains and Shatabdi trains, I find it to be useful to give a first overview of train travel in India.

India is the second most populated country in the world, which means that train travel plays a crucial role in India. As the trains in India are the most important means of transport for long distance travel, you may expect the network be very well developed.

India Train First Class

As the trains are slow, you can enjoy the scenery

Sadly, this is not true at all. There are just a few routes and most come with only one or two rails. While there are several daily trains between certain city pairs, the length of the journey can be outrageous.

Where does train travel in India make sense?

It may sound questionable whether it’s useful to take a train in India anyway if the average speed is way below 50 kilometers per hour.

Amber Palace Jaipur

It makes sense to take a train when travelling in Rajasthan

Well, while it rarely makes sense to take a train from Delhi to Mumbai or from Bengaluru to Delhi (besides for the sake of an experience), it can be the only real option for travel between smaller cities like Jaipur and Udaipur or on shorter distances like from Bengaluru to Hyderabad. Also, several cities may only be reached by train at all.

What are the classes of train travel in India?

First of all, it’s worth noting that there are several different travel classes in Indian trains. The most comfortable way to get around is AC First Class, but there are usually just very few seats in this travel class per train.

India Train First Class

First Class in Indian trains is relatively comfortable

Other options with air conditioning include AC 2 Tier, AC 3 Tier and AC Chair Cars, which are not available on all trains. Besides that, but these ways of transportation are rarely used by tourists, there’s First Class (without AC), Sleeper Class and Second Sitting. Be aware that not all service classes may be available in all trains.

What does train travel in India cost?

Train travel in India is also an option for those seeking a low budget way to get around in the country. Even the highest service class AC First Class is available for prices as low as 1.000 INR (~ 13.50 Euro / 15 US-Dollar) on medium-length journeys of four, five or six hours.

Air India A321

Flying is much more expensive than taking a train

For ultra-long distance trains, the prices start at 3.000 INR (~ 40 Euro / 45 US-Dollar), which can still be cheaper than a plane ticket. The lower service classes are approximately 4/5 (AC 2 Tier), 3/5 (AC 3 Tier) and 1/5 (Sleeper) of the mentioned prices, making train travel extremely cheap if you are fine with very low comfort or, again, seek for a very special experience.

Is train travel in India safe?

After taking three rides on Indian trains as a European, I have to admit that I didn’t feel unsafe at a single occasion. While there may be some issues with communication as not many members of the train staff speak English, safety is not an issue at all.

India Train First Class

While a lack of comfort in Indian trains might be an issue, safety is not

Be aware that this may be different for a female travelling solo in India. Generally, it’s safe to say that travel also gets safer the higher the service class you select is as there is more staff and fewer people in one compartment or car.

How about food in Indian trains?

Catering on Indian trains is generally very weak. There are no bistro or restaurant cars and there’s also rarely any included catering. The only remarkable exception are the Shatabdi trains, which come with an extensive catering in First Class. In several normal trains, there’s no included catering even in First Class.

Breakfast Shatabdi Express

Catering in the Shatabdi Express First Class is very good

Sometimes, sellers stroll through the cars and offer something. Another option to grab some food are the train stations the train stops at. As this usually takes up to twenty minutes, you can easily get out the train and buy something at the track, where usually dozens of sellers offer snacks and even some hot dishes like samosas.

What are the downsides of train travel in India?

All the above sounds rather positive. Nevertheless, there are some major downsides of train travel in India. First of all, the train stations are chaotic and it can be challenging to find the right train. Second, buying tickets can be a real challenge for foreigners.

India Train First Class

The sanitary facilities in Indian trains are neither very modern nor comfortable

Third, cleanliness is a real issue in pretty much all trains in India, even in First Class. Fourth, there are no modern toilets in nearly all trains in India. Fifth, the trains are not only extremely slow, but there are also heavy delays, there’s no information at all and there are no refunds for heavily delayed or cancelled trains.

Would I recommend train travel in India?

Train travel in India was a real experience for me. I’m kind of a sucker for trains and love to take these in Europe and even in the USA. In India, the experience is totally different and definitely nothing for weak nerves. If you are able to stand this, you’ll get a real impression of how life in India really is.

Shatabdi Express

Train travel in India definitely is a unique experience

While taking a plane definitely is the more convenient and comfortable option for longer rides, I’d definitely recommend taking a train for shorter rides. Nevertheless, I’d recommend to plan some extra time or even some extra days due to the heavy and often occurring delays.


22 Comments on “Train Travel in India”

  1. Indian Rail travel is for the adventurous but why else bother to visit India? You neglected to mention India’s pride, the Rajdhan Super Fast Express trains that only provide AC accommodation and include all meals and snacks. The Rajdhani leaves New Delhi at 16:45 and arrives at Mumbai Central the next morning at 8:15, making only 5 stops along the way, saving you the price of 1 night in a hotel. In the winter when all of Delhi’s flights are either cancelled or delayed because of fog, this train will leave on time.

    • Thanks for the mention! It’s always interesting to get more information from users. The Rajdhan Super Fast Express Train sounds indeed amazing! Will definitely give it a try and review it for the blog when I’m in India the next time 🙂

  2. Cool post!

    I backpacked solo in India for a month back in 1985 (mostly in Rajasthan). Can you imagine what train travel was like back then? I didn’t travel 1st Class as this was for the elite foreigners. As it was a long trip and I’d just hurt my back in Egypt, I didn’t want sit for the whole way so to I did have a ‘bench bed’ with a piece of foam, a curtain to draw across for “privacy”, and not much sleep at all; still an experience I won’t forget in a hurry!

    There is no comparison for train travel in India to Europe or the US. One day I’ll go back to India…

    • This really sounds like even more of an interesting experience! Train travel in India is indeed quite backwards till today, but with the Shatabdi there’s some change coming. Let’s hope it won’t take too long till the quality gets to Western standards!

  3. Train traveling is one of the best and affordable ways to get around in India. Being an Indian and traveling via trains countless times, I second every issue you’ve stated in this blog post. But there are trains coming up in the recent times which offer a much more comfortable journey to the passengers tackling all the issues that you’ve mentioned here 🙂 There’s the rajdhani express for the North side and the most recent one being the duronto express for the South.
    Also a few tips for all the travelers wanting to take a long distance train journey in India:
    1. Carry or pack your own food for long distance travels. Cause sometimes, getting something good to eat can be an issue.
    2. While traveling by AC, I would suggest you traveling your own blankets even if they are offered on the train. You may sometimes have an issue with the neatness.
    3. There is no easy way to say it but yes, toilets are a problem on trains. Carry lots and lots of tissues.
    4. Getting off at stations to buy things to eat is one way of experiencing how food changes through the states in India but always keep the train’s itinerary in mind & look out for stations where the train doesn’t stop for longer than 2-5 minutes.
    That’s all for long distance travel.

    As for traveling in Mumbai, around the city, in local trains? Braise yourself for a challenging yet fun time! I believe that if you learn to travel by local trains in Mumbai, you can travel anywhere in the world easily. You need to experience it to believe it 😉
    – Sincerely,
    A person living in Mumbai 😁

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  7. You really had wanted to experience India then you really did the great job. But rather than traveling in AC, you should have taken a seat in general reservation board. In that way, you could experience it in more amazing way. There are other trains though which someone mentioned above, those are the pride of India,but without having a taste of local lifestyle, your adventure couldn’t be more fun.Am I right? I’m just adding one more point to this comment to just people know about other special trains that India have. Those are really royal and off the charts. Come sometimes again and aboard these trains.

    • Thank you for your comment! I really experienced India through train travel. Without AC, it would have been a litte more “special”, but yeah 😀 I’ll definitely give the really expensive trains a try sometime as it sounds very appealing 😉

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