Every day, Indian Railways sell millions of railway tickets for thousands of trains, considering how vast and complex the Indian Rail network is, I think they have devised an easy to understand system to ensure maximum occupancy in all classes on all bookable trains.
Most trains can be booked 91* days in advance, some short distance trains, normally daytime trains, can only be booked 30 days in advance, there are a few trains with even shorter booking periods, but none on the main tourist routes. (*details and example later)
If you book early (the earlier the better), you’ve got a good chance of getting a confirmed seat/berth in the class and train of your choice, this becomes more difficult the later you try to book your train. (and very difficult if your train departs during the Indian holidays)
This is when you start seeing some strange letters and numbers when you try to book a ticket, for example...WL 21/RAC 10 or WL 10/WL 4
explanation of RAC and Waitlists
A very quick explanation of RAC (much more details, diagrams & photos at the bottom of this article.)
WL = WaitlistRAC = Reservation against cancellation
An RAC ticket gets you on the train (A WL ticket doesn’t) and in your chosen class, but there’s a chance you could end up with just a seat. (very unlikely if you book early)
A berth is split into 2 seats for 2 RAC ticket holders, if there’s any last minute cancellations, or if any quota allocations remain unsold, or if any confirmed ticket holders are given a free upgrade (more later), an RAC ticket holder is given the empty berth, the other RAC ticket holder can then convert the 2 seats into a berth.
RAC tickets are only issued for 2-tier air con (4 seats per carriage), 3-tier air con (6 seats per carriage), non air con First Class (4 seats per carriage), and non air con Sleeper Class (up to 12 seats per carriage).
How do RAC and Waitlists all work?
When all the available seats/berths in an individual train/class have been sold, the railways start selling RAC tickets (2A, 3A, FC & SL only), when all the RAC tickets have been sold, then a waitlist is started for all the train classes, and you’re sold a waitlisted ticket.
As people cancel tickets, a RAC/WL ticket will move closer to a confirmed berth. Also, when the final reservation chart is prepared, any un-sold quota berths will be used to reduce the RAC/waitlist.
Tickets will be sold in the following order....(4 RAC places in this example)
WL 02 ....
How can I check if my RAC/WL position has improved?
For any RAC/WL enquiry, you will need the PNR (passenger name record) number, this is a 10 digit (3+7) number and is located at the top left of your ticket (top right on an e-ticket).
You can check the current status of your ticket by one of the following methods:
Click on the following link and enter your PNR number.
Online PNR enquiry service is available 04:00 - 23:30 IST (09:30 - 05:00 GMT)
If in India, telephone 139, this number can be dialled from anywhere in India, you’ll need your PNR number.
there are also PNR machines in most of the big railway stations, but they’re a pain to use.
Remember, the 2nd number is your new position, and CNF = confirmed.
Indian Railways use the following letters to identify their carriages.
H = 1st class air con (1A)
E = Executive Chair Class (air con)(EC)
A = 2-tier air con (2A)
B = 3-tier air con (3A)
C = Air Con Chair Car (CC)
FC or F = First Class non air con (FC)
S = Sleeper Class (SL)
D = Bookable 2nd class seat (2S)
HA = 1st class air con/2-tier air con combination
AB = 2 & 3 tier air con combination
G & J are used for Garib Rath trains, G for 3 tier air con, J for Air con Chair Class
What if I want to cancel my ticket?
Charge for cancelling confirmed ticket (more than 24 hours in advance, not including day of journey).
1A/ECC = Rs 70
2A/3A/CC/FC = Rs 60
SL/2S = Rs 40
RAC/WL cancellations = Rs 20 per passenger (all classes)
The cancellation charges increase massively (up to 50%) if you cancel later than the above stated time.