Indian Railways provides the facility of advance reservation so that one can plan the journey comfortably. These reservations can be made from any Indian Railway Reservation counter that operate between 8 am to 8 pm. In large cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai there are multiple centers all over the city to make booking easier and more comfortable.
Reservation can be made 60 days prior to the date of journey. People have to stand in long queues for hours for making advance booking. They have to fill in a reservation form stating the train number, class of accommodation, journey date, destination and the originating station. In a single form reservation can be applied for maximum of 6 persons provided that they all have the same destination. Allotment of the reserved ticket is done by computer as per pre defined logic. There are some authorized agents who can also issue tickets. Different agents charge different fares over the actual fare of the train ticket as their service charge. So if you want to save time you can contact any of the authorized travel agents for tickets.
The passenger trains are usually crowded so while making advance booking one may get a confirmed ticket or the ticket may be RAC (Reservation against Cancellation) or wait-listed. Confirmed reservation allows the passenger to travel by that train in the allotted seat number. With a RAC ticket a passenger can board the train and have reserved sitting accommodation. Above and all the wait-listed ticket does not permit passengers to board the reserved coaches. Reservation closes 4 hours prior to the train departure so if you want to make a booking in those 4 hours you have to contact the current reservation counter at the station.
Apart from the ordinary reservation system there is an emergency reservation scheme in some selected trains. This is called the Tatkal system as tatkal means immediate. The reservation of these tickets start 5 days before the date of the journey and the reserved accommodation is allotted on first come first basis. All these tatkal tickets come with a premium of Rs 50 to Rs 200 added to the actual fare of the journey depending on the class. For reservation of these tickets you need to produce your photo identity at the reservation counter and even inside the train to prevent bogus booking and black market sale of hot tickets. Tatkal tickets canot be cancelled or refunded.
There are different reservation rules for children and senior citizens. Children below 5 years are permitted to travel for free and children between the age group of 5-12 years are charged half the fare for the journey. Since 2001 30% deduction is given on the actual fare of the ticket to senior citizens. For handicapped people a special quota of two berths are earmarked in the sleeper class of almost all the trains. Some trains also have reserved accommodation exclusively for ladies but boys below 12 years can travel in these reserved coaches. Railways also give concession to students.
There are some rules for the refund as well. If a confirmed ticket is cancelled more than one day in advance of the scheduled departure then the cancellation charges are as follows:
Rs 50 for AC First Class/Executive Class
Rs 30 for AC 2 tier Sleeper Class/3 tier Sleeper Class/AC Chair Car
Rs 20 for Sleeper Class
Rs 10 for Second Class
Cancellation can also be done after the train departs. 50% of the actual fare of the journey is refunded on cancellation after the departure of the train. If the ticket is wait-listed then only a nominal charge of Rs 10 is deducted and rest is refunded.