The Indian Railways: In 1832 the world’s first steam engine appeared in Great Britain. The business men who had built the British Empire into one on which the ‘sun never set’, quickly saw the economic significance of the steam engine and a young British engineer, Graham Clarke, was dispatched to Mumbai (then Bombay). His brief was clearly defined – find a suitable route for a railway track that would transport cheap cotton from the hinterland of India to the Port in Bombay, thence to be shipped to the to the textile mills of England.
On August 1, 1849, the Great Indian Peninsular Railways was established in India and by 1853 the first steam engine chugged out of the railway station in Bombay. It terminated at Thane station not far away. The Indian Railways never looked back. It continued to grow at an astounding rate.
By the end of the century, 24,752 km of track had been laid. Today, this impressive transport system carries 11 million passengers daily, almost equal to the entire population of Australia. Twelve thousand trains ply daily along the 62,725 km of track, linking 6,896 stations.
Booking a Ticket on the Indian Railways:
Advance booking for long distance travel on the Indian Railways begins 120 days before the date of journey. Tickets can be booked offline through the Passenger Reservation System booths or an e-ticket can be booked online through the Indian Railways website, IRCTC.
On April 1, 2015, the Indian Railways sold 13 lakh tickets online accounting for 53% of all long distance journeys booked. Similar sales were witnessed at the various booths of the offline Passenger Reservation booths. This augurs well for the Indian Railways bank balance, but the mad rush creates a situation for those travellers who make their plans even one day after the booking opens. They are sure to be disappointed if they are travelling to any of the big stations. At the same time the extended period of advance booking, means that travel plans will surely change for some and unforeseen events will disrupt the plans of others. Many of the tickets booked will be returned over the course of the next 120 days. The Indian Railways has various schemes to ensure that – using a virtual queue system – the returned tickets benefit those that attempted to book earliest.
The Wait Listed Tickets (WL): All tickets booked are given a unique 10 digit Passenger Name Record (PNR) number. If following this number the letters WL are printed, it indicates that the passenger has a waitlisted ticket. A GNWL ticket means that the passenger is travelling from the originating station or a station close to it. A WL or GNWL 7 means that seven persons, who have confirmed tickets for the same journey, need to cancel before the passenger can avail of a confirmed berth. An e-ticket is automatically cancelled berths do not become available by the time the train departs. The money is refunded into the payee’s account. However an e-ticket can hold six passenger names, if even one gets a confirmed berth all six passengers are permitted to board the train. The Indian Railways web site analyses cancellation trends and predicts a WL passengers chances of getting a confirmed status.
The Remote Location Wait List (RLWL): Between the originating and terminating station of a train, there are intermediate stations. These stations are usually important towns for the area. If a passenger books a ticket from an intermediate station, and does not receive a confirmed berth, she/he is issued a RLWL ticket. These tickets have much less chance of advancing to confirmed status. The passenger charts for these stations are prepared at the station itself. They are posted only two or three hours before the arrival of the train.