Why You Should Avoid Travel by First Class on Indian Railways

by Heather Carreiro on January 5, 2010

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Before the days of air-conditioned (AC) coaches, First Class was the most comfortable way to go while traveling in India. Nowadays First Class is best to be avoided even if the weather doesn’t warrant air conditioning. All rail passengers looking to travel comfortably should consider First Class AC, AC 2-Tier or AC 3-Tier instead.

First Class Coaches Are Being Phased Out

When my husband and I were booking our travel from Amritsar to Dehra Dun, we decided to treat ourselves with First Class tickets. Our journey was in March, so it wasn’t going to be warm enough to require air conditioning. Being a light sleeper, I preferred having a private two or four-berth cabin with a lock on the door to the regular AC 2-Tier and AC 3-Tier coaches.

Well, it wasn’t much of a treat when we arrived at Amritsar station to find that there was NO First Class car on the train. We had already booked and paid for our tickets months in advance, but there was no First Class car to be seen! We went to the Station Master and were told that “First Class is being phased out, and many of the First Class cars are no longer in use.” Fortunately we were able to get berths in an AC 3-Tier car instead. As these berths were less expensive, we applied for a refund of the difference online through IRCTC and received it after a month’s time. Since the First Class (non AC) cars are being phased out, there is no guarantee that the car you booked will actually be attached to the train.

First Class Coaches Are Not Kept Clean and Offer No Services

All AC cars (First Class, 2-Tier and 3-Tier) are generally kept fairly clean. Regular First Class non-AC cars are not kept clean at all. When my husband and I did travel on First Class, we found a dirty, mostly abandoned car without any railway personnel aboard it. In the AC classes, including the AC Chair Car, vendors come aboard the train to sell drinks and snacks. Since the First Class cars have locking doors, vendors do not bother to come aboard. AC sleeper classes provide pillows and clean blankets, while First Class doesn’t provide anything.

First Class Coaches Are Not as Safe as AC Classes

As not as many people sign up to ride in regular First Class, the car can be mostly abandoned. We rode in a First Class car, with our door locked, for over ten hours on an overnight journey. During the night, Second Class passengers kept boarding our car looking for seats, because they thought it was a Second Class coach where the seats are not reserved. At around 3:00am one man was banging on the door to our compartment. Another man informed him, “Yih first class hai.”

The man replied, “Yih first class hai? Koi faraq nahin hai!” which translates to, “This is First Class? There’s no difference!”

Because of this confusion, anyone and everyone can and will board your First Class car during the day and night. The majority of Second Class passengers can’t read, so they just board the car if it looks like it’s a Second Class car from the outside.

“First Class, Just Forget About it!”

When we first saw was First Class consisted of, we tried to change our tickets to AC 2-Tier or AC 3-Tier. These AC classes are less expensive, and although they do not offer the locking compartments (provided the locks are functional), they do offer a safer and cleaner alternative. Unfortunately all the AC berths were booked, so we had to stick with our First Class berths. The Station Master’s advice was “First Class, just forget about it! Nobody goes by First Class anymore. Everyone goes by AC classes. AC classes are the new First Class.”

I would urge you to follow his advice the next time you are booking tickets on Indian Railways!

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