If you are just booking a simple journey and you know exactly what you need, IRCTC or Cleartrip will be sufficient for your needs. But for complicated itineraries and trips to unusual destinations, or if there is no availability to your destination, there’s another site you can check out before you book. It’s called indiarailinfo.com.  It works best on Chrome and Firefox, where you can install an icon in your browser bar. If you do a lot of train travel, you must check it out.

I love this site! It has lots of really cool features, like an interactive atlas; but it also lists every train in India in a couple of formats. Start playing with it, and you’ll see how incredibly useful this is. Start your search in the upper left corner. Click on any train name and get an amazing amount of information about it, including how many coaches of each type and their order in the rake. You can also get availability in every class on any train for any given day. And because of the way it’s organized, you can check many trains at once. Brilliant!

Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 4.03.24 PMNo availability on a particular route? They give alternative routings and suggestions. You can also see all departures or arrivals for any given station, which helps you get really creative with your plans. Playing around with these features, you can come up with some really great itineraries that you wouldn’t think of if you are just focused on getting from point A to point B. See a place you’ve never heard of? Well, look it up and see what it has to offer. You may find that it’s worth a stop.

You can’t actually book your tickets on this site, which is about the only thing you can’t do here. I like to keep this site and IRCTC’s site open side by side when I’m trying to make a difficult booking.

If you have a waitlisted ticket, there’s a forum you can post your info on where people discuss the probability that it will clear. Accuracy is not guaranteed, of course, but this can be really helpful.

Photo Credit: Milo & Silvia (Creative Commons)

I end up with waitlisted tickets most of the time because I don’t tend to book far ahead and I’m not on a Tourist Visa, so I can’t use the Tourist Quota. I only book trains where the number is low. There have been one or two occasions, where the waitlist didn’t clear and it was a bit of a problem, but generally it works out. If I feel unsure about it, I book tickets on more than one train. I’m on a train right now as I write this that was the third ticket I’d booked. In this case, I got the ticket on a special temporary train (going to Allahabad for the Kumbha Mela), and there were actually a few empty berths. Probably, most people don’t know of its existence.

Indians seem to use this strategy a lot, booking more than one ticket. Many people like to leave their options open until the last minute. If I’m booking waitlisted tickets I’m unsure about, I usually do it, too. Once I’m sure of the reservation, I go online and cancel the one I’m not using. Incidentally, if the IRCTC website is down, which it often is, it’s possible to cancel by sending an email to <care@irctc.co.in> with the PNR number and all the relevant details. Just be sure to do it before the charting is done. If the charting is done already, you have to file a TDR to get a refund.

On one Shatabdi train I take often, I always get a waitlisted ticked, and it always clears, usually with quite a few empty seats. This is especially common on the Shatabdis, I’ve noticed, which makes me think that businesspeople often make backup plans. All the Shatabdis leave early in the morning and return in the evening, timed for day trips from the metros to outlying destinations.

If you book a waitlisted e-ticket, it will get cancelled if it hasn’t cleared by the time the chart is prepared. For this reason, it’s better to have a normal paper ticket. If there are no-shows, which there often are, you can still board the train. With the cancelled e-ticket, you can’t.

Another cool feature of this site is that it gives a lot of info about how much any given train tends to be late. In the winter, when there is fog in the northern states, that’s especially useful. 

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