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The wait list concept in Indian Railways reservation is a bit sophisticated and a bit confusing for the novice user.
Instead of indicating a simple wait list (WL) number , say WL 50 or WL 81 , one can come across a rather confusing wait list status like WL/25 WL/10 . Even more confusing could be the reservation status indications like WL/25 RAC/10 .
What are these jargons mean ? And more importantly “What exactly is my wait list status ?”
Well, we’ll try to understand by taking one issue at a time. First let us see what does it mean by WL and RAC?
WL is acronym for Wait List and RAC means Reservation Against Cancellation. The RAC is a peculiar system followed in Indian Railways , in order to offer reserved accommodation to a larger number of passengers. Each coaches has a series of seats meant for RAC listed passengers ( something like 15 seats kept for RAC status tickets against the regular berths of 72 for the confirmed in a Second Sleeper Class coach) . The RAC status guarantees you a seat but not a berth for sleeping. So with an RAC status , you can enter the coach and occupy your seat.
So when you reserve , you would be straightaway allotted a proper accommodation (seat with berth). If that is already over booked , you would be allotted a RAC status number. When RAC status too is filled out, you would be assigned a wait list (WL) status number.
You would have reserved and got any of these status for the train leaving next day or a day in the next month or even beyond. Whatever it is , your RAC or WL status keep improving as there is progress in cancellation of reservations done ahead of you. As long as there are cancellations, your WL status slowly improves to RAC status and then to a reserved status with berth & seat.
If you check online at the Indian Railways website the status of your WL or RAC ticket , you can see this progress with time. This automatic updating of the status continues online till a point where what the Indian Railways calls – Chart Preparation . What it means is a passenger list is printed for the particular schedule of the train and the online accepts no more new reservation. This is the chart that goes to the TTE and also stuck on the respective coaches. A list showing the latest WL and RAC status is displayed on the notice board of the railway station too.
If you are lucky – generally you would be lucky if your RAC status is say within 10 – the Traveling Ticket Examiner (TTE) allots you a full accommodation . If you are not so lucky , you can still travel in the reserved coach with a confirmed seat and no berth. In other words no place to sleep. In some newer type coaches even RAC status tickets are provided with berths.
What if your status is still WL even after the chart is prepared? The chances of getting a reserved accommodation is grim , especially if your current WL status is say within 5 or so. The best way is to approach the TTE of the train to check your chances of getting a seat. A TTE is typically responsible for a few coaches. He first verifies all the passengers by going from one end of the coach to the other end. Once he completes this , he would have a list of vacant accommodation ( passengers who has not turned up or canceled their tickets after the list was made ) . Now he allots the vacant places. The RAC status passengers list is first cleared in order. If still there are vacant accommodation , the WL passengers who approached him would be served.
The whole process may take a couple of hours once the train has left the departing station. So the best strategy would be to approach him first at the station and get an idea, and then a little later when he is about to complete the passenger verification. If in doubt just look around , you would see a number of passengers with WL tickets buzzing around the TTE. Follow the mob!
A WL passenger is not allowed to travel (as there is no seat no marked on the ticket) in a reserved coach. However they can travel in the unreserved coaches attached. Some upscale trains ( like Rajadhani and Shadabdi Express) doesnt have unreserved coaches. So WL status passengers can not travel in these trains.
That is about RAC and WL. As promised in the beginning , now let us look at way WL and RAC is mentioned on the ticket. The confusion mainly arise from two sets of WL or RAC numbers sometimes printed on the ticket. For example WL/25 WL/10 .
The question is “What exactly is my WL status, 25 or 10 ?” . The answer, “Both!”.
WL 25 indicates your original wait list position. Because of ( 15) cancellations WL25 has been advanced to WL10. These cancellations happened even before you’ve made your reservation. In other words, in the queue your current position is 10, which was being advanced from position 25.
Now if three more cancellations happen , your current WL position would further improve to WL7 from WL10.
This is a simplistic way of looking at the whole scheme of reservation, RAC and WL . You can find the more comprehensive details and the up-to-date official information from the Indian Railways website.