India Travel

Indian Railways: What the Different Classes Mean

Indian railway is very extensive and the major transport that connects the entire country. In fact, one of the best ways to travel India (after car or bike) is on a train. Travelling in an Indian train can be a little uncomfortable for you on the first day, but slowly, you’ll come to love it (sometimes even more than airlines).

As much exciting as it is to travel through India in a train, Indian railways can be very confusing. From selecting the train of your choice to booking the tickets and finally preparing to have a comfortable journey is all very different from the usual process of Western countries. Here, I decode it all for you. At the end of the article, I also give you some personal tips that’ll definitely help you!

The Different Classes

Coaches extending to a large length
Coaches extending to a large length. Photo by Belur Ashok

If you’ve already been to India and tried to book a train ticket, it might have been a nightmare. You may not have fully understood the various classes in the trains and which one would be the best for you. But if you’re someone who is planning to travel to India for the first time, it is essential that you clear all doubts regarding the trains and coaches here because it’s the most affordable and comfortable transportation option in the country.

Before I start with the explanation, you have to understand that some classes may not be available on some trains. So you’ll have to select your train accordingly.

1. AC First Class (AC 1)

AC First Class from outside
AC First Class from outside. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Let’s start with the most expensive and comfortable class of the Indian railways. AC1 is most luxurious that you can get on any Indian train. Honestly. If you like the idea of ultra luxurious trains, then Take a Ride on the 5 Most Luxurious Trains in India.

As the name suggests, this entire class is air conditioned. If you’re someone who values privacy more than anything, then this is the best option for you. That’s because they have separate lockable cabins. Each cabin has two or four berths.

Now the thing is that while booking tickets, you don’t get to choose whether you’ll like to be in the two-berth cabin or the four-berth one. Unfortunately, that’s decided by the railway authorities but their criteria most of the time is two for couples and four for families. If you’re single, your fate is in their hands.

Washrooms are available on both ends of a coach (just outside the doors of both the exits). Things like towels and pillows will already be provided to you. Inside the cabins, you can expect all sorts of facilities, even a washbasin! Since you’re in the first class, the service will always be nice. All the cabins are on one side of the aisle while there is plenty of space to walk comfortably outside the cabins.

The price is almost similar to that of airfare because here, first class in a train is like the business class of flights. Also, Tatkal booking (reservations at the last moment) is not allowed for the first class, so you’ll have to decide a little early.

2. AC 2-tier

The name sounds confusing, but I’ll make it simple for you. Some people (like my mum) also call it 2nd AC. Its rates are lower than first AC, and if truth be told, it’s better than that as well.

The only reason I can say that it’s better than first AC is because anything can happen in the latter and no one would know because everyone would have locked their cabins (although there haven’t been many cases of stealing or other danger). But again, it’s everyone’s personal choice.

In AC 2-tier, there are berths on both sides of the aisle. It’ll be a little less spacious but yet very comfortable. There are no cabins here. On one side, there’ll be four berths (two above and two below) and one the other side there’ll be two berths. Both of these sides will be separated by curtains, so there is privacy.

You will not have a washbasin in the coach and only outside it. Other than this, individual reading lamps are available which is a big plus. Sheets, towels and pillows are also provided. Socialising amongst passengers is easier in this class.

As I mentioned earlier, the fare for seats in this class is much less than AC First Class. But one advantage here is that tatkal booking is allowed.

3. AC 3-tier

Two berths one the opposite side and four on this side
Two berths one the opposite side and six on this side (middle ones are folded down). Photo by Pratik12259

It’ll be a bit more crowded because instead of four berths on one side, there’ll be six. On the other side, there’ll be two itself. Besides more people, the other problem here is that on the side where there are six berths now (two below, two on the top and two in the middle of these), the middle berths have to be put down in the morning. They are put up by hooking them onto hinges attached on the top berth. You’ll not fall off, but then you can also not sleep when you want in the afternoon because people are sitting on the lower berth.

Tip: Most of the time, you can ask the passengers who are with you if you could use their upper berths to sleep in the afternoon. They’ll usually allow as most passengers are very helpful. Also, there are no curtains here so no privacy.

There are no reading lamps in AC 3. Other facilities are available just like in the above two classes. Rates are just a little less than 2nd AC. Not a big difference though. Tatkal is available.

4. Sleeper

Sleeper Class from outside
Sleeper Class from outside. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Now this one class here is probably in which half of the Indian population travels. Sleeper class is not air conditioned. Its seating arrangements are just like AC 3-tier. Pillows and sheets are not provided.

Toilets are just outside both the exits like it is in all other classes. But the toilets of AC coaches are considerably cleaner than sleeper class. This could be because anyone can get in the sleeper class for selling stuff when the train stops at a station. Also, people without a reservation get on in this class.

To be honest, I’ve travelled in sleeper class about five times (after which we started booking in AC coaches). Sleeper class can make your trip more fun if you don’t mind all the noise, vendors and a lot of passengers. You can keep the windows open unlike in the AC coaches and definitely have a better experience of the surroundings. Also, when the train stops at stations, you can call out vendors from your window (I always do that to buy stuff).

The fare will never exceed beyond Rs. 1000 and this class is present in all the trains of the country.

5. First Class

Don’t confuse this first class with the other one because this one isn’t air conditioned. It’s actually not even built in most trains now. In some older trains though, it’s still present.

It’s just like the AC First Class regarding facilities and service with all the compartments and stuff. The only trouble is that it isn’t air conditioned. If that doesn’t pose a problem for you and you still need privacy at lower rates, go ahead with this class.

Although, you’ll have to check in advance if the train you’re going to be travelling in has this class or not.

6. Second Sitting

Well, this one is like a compartment for local travellers; the ones who are travelling for shorter distances (within the same city or to nearby states). People also stand and travel in these coaches most of the time if they don’t get a seat, so it’s usually very crowded.

The seating arrangement is also very basic. The coaches are separated into two rows with three cushioned seats on each row.

7. AC Chair Car

AC Chair Car
AC Chair Car. Photo by arunpnair

This is the last class there is, and it’s like Second Sitting but air conditioned.

Now this one can be a little uncomfortable if you plan on travelling to another state altogether because sitting in one place for that long can be pretty annoying. You can tilt your chair back up to an extent, but it’ll still be uncomfortable.

The price for this one is 3x the price of the Second Sitting.

Amazing landscapes
Amazing landscapes. Photo by Belur Ashok

Tips for Travelling by Train

Now that we’re done with the different classes, here are some tips that could come out to be useful.

  1. Always lock your suitcases and keep your handbags or purses with you, especially if you’re travelling in Sleeper Class.
  2. Bring an extra pair of clean sheets with you in case the one you get on the train is dirty. Also, if you’re in Sleeper Class, it can sometimes get cold at night, so it’ll come in handy.
  3. The toilets of the Sleeper Class and sometimes in AC 3-tier can be very unclean. The washbasins could be dirty as well. So always take a small pouch with you to keep your toiletries. In this way, you don’t have to keep your things on the bench tops there. Also, try to use the toilet in the early morning before everyone starts to crowd near it.
  4. It’s safer to buy certain food items from stations than from the vendors who sell it in the coaches. I don’t mean packaged items but freshly cooked food items.
  5. Talk with the fellow passengers. You never know who might be of help to you. Besides, you’ll get to know a lot about the country from them. Also, if they belong to the state that you’re travelling to, then they can recommend places to you.
  6. If you feel like someone is troubling you or you’re suspicious of them, don’t hesitate to contact the police. Their contact numbers can be found on walls of the coaches itself when you enter.
  7. Bring a good book with you as you can get bored if it’s a long trip. Some vendors bring books, and there are many book shops on the station platforms. Different genres are available, mostly bestsellers. Also, keep lots of change with you because packaged snacks and drinks are often brought in the coaches, and they ask for change always.
  8. Meals provided on the trains can be very tasteless and if you go walk a few coaches down you’ll be able to see where they’re cooked – that will be enough to put you off eating them. Most Indians bring their own food.
  9. Enjoy!

Now you’re ready to book your tickets!

A vendor in Jaipur Railway Station
A vendor in Jaipur Railway Station. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

By Merlin Chacko

Currently studying English Literature at Delhi University. Obsessed with Harry Potter and NOT Shakespeare. I believe that nothing nourishes the soul like books and travelling. Constantly amazed by the Indian culture and its history. Personally feel that the old forts and ruined palaces in India are almost magical.

3 replies on “Indian Railways: What the Different Classes Mean”

Hi Karl,

What considerations should foreigners make when deciding whether to check larger luggage on a train in India?

Hey Garrett. I use a padlock and chain to lock my bags under the seats. Then I don’t have to worry so much. And I sleep with my backpack with my valuables next to the wall of my bed (so it can’t be taken at night).

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