Fares and ticketing
Fares on the Indian Railways across categories are among the cheapest in the world. In the past few years, despite a recessionary environment, the Indian Railways have not raised fares on any class of service. On the contrary, there has been a minor dip in fares in some categories.
Ticketing services are available at all major and minor railway stations across India. In 2003, Indian Railways launched online ticketing services through the IRCTC website. Apart from E-tickets, passengers can also book I-tickets that are basically regular printed tickets, except that they are booked online and delivered by post. In July 2011, Indian Railways introduced Virtual Reservation Message (VRM), which allows passengers to display a screen-shot of the e-ticket through laptops/palmtops/Mobile-phones, instead of a printed E-Ticket. According to comScore, the Indian Railways website was the top visited Indian travel site in April 2010, with 7.7 million visitors.
India has some of the lowest train fares in the world, and passenger traffic is heavily subsidized by more expensive higher class fares. Until the late 1980s, Indian Railway ticket reservations were done manually. In late 1987, the Railways started using a computerized ticketing system. The entire ticketing system went online in 1995 to provide up to date information on status and availability. Today the ticketing network is computerized to a large extent, with the exception of some remote places. Computerized tickets can be booked for any two points in the country. Tickets can also be booked through the internet and via mobile phones, though this method carries an additional surcharge.
Discounted tickets are available for senior citizens (above sixty years) and some other categories of passengers including the disabled, students, sports persons, persons afflicted by serious diseases, or persons appearing for competitive examinations. One compartment of the lowest class of accommodation is earmarked for ladies in every passenger carrying train. Some berths or seats in sleeper class and second class are also earmarked for ladies. Season tickets permitting unlimited travel on specific sections or specific trains for a specific time period may also be available. Foreign tourists can buy an Indrail Pass, which is modeled on the Eurail Pass, permitting unlimited travel in India for a specific time period.
For long-distance travel, reservation of a berth can be done for comfortable travel up to 90 days prior to the date of intended travel. Details such as the name, age and concession (if eligible) are required and are recorded on the ticket. The ticket price usually includes the base fare, which depends on the classification of the train (example: super-fast surcharge if the train is classified as a super-fast), the class in which one wishes to travel and the reservation charge for overnight journeys.
If a seat is not available, then the ticket is given a wait listed number; else the ticket is confirmed, and a berth number is printed on the ticket. A person receiving a wait listed ticket must wait until there are enough cancellations to enable him to move up the list and obtain a confirmed ticket. If his ticket is not confirmed on the day of departure, he may not board the train. Some of the tickets are assigned to the RAC or Reservation against Cancellation, which is between the waiting list and the confirmed list. These allow the ticket holder to board the train and obtain an allotted seat decided by a ticket collector, after the ticket collector has ascertained that there is a vacant (absentee) seat.
Reserved Railway Tickets can be booked through the website of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited, and also through mobile Phones and SMS. Tickets booked through this site are categorized in to iTickets and eTickets. iTickets are booked by a passenger and then printed and delivered to the passenger for carrying during journey. eTickets are printed by the passenger and carried while traveling. While traveling on an eTicket, one must carry one of the authorized valid Photo Identity Cards. Cancellation of eTickets are also done online, without the requirement for the passenger to go to any counter. Unreserved tickets are available for purchase on the platform at any time before departure. An unreserved ticket holder may only board the general compartment class. All suburban networks issue unreserved tickets valid for a limited time period. For frequent commuters, a season pass (monthly or quarterly) guarantees unlimited travel between two stops.