This one is going to be a quickie about transporting your motorbike via railways in India. I’ve heard some bad stories, some good experiences and a lot of questions regarding this topic so here goes: Firstly, its a breeze. Secondly, to make it a breeze you’ll need to avoid people who want their palms greased. At face value, the task will be a lot simpler if you just shell out a couple of Rs. 50 notes at the right places but do you really need to? Cover photo courtesy of Musafir Hu Yaron.

India, just like any other country, is a big and well oiled machine. The citizens of this country are the oil pumps and the green in your wallet is the oil. If you’re looking to transport your bike, everyone involved expects a cut. The packer, the loader and the clerk. The process itself is simple enough and if you’re a little enterprising, you could do most of it yourself. You could check out this website for the do’s and dont’s, charges and general instructions. What follows is a more personalised mock up based on my experience.

There are two basic methods of transporting your bike via train – luggage and parcel. Simply put, luggage is loaded into the same train you are going to use to travel from A to B. Parcel is loaded into any train going from A to B regardless of whether or not you travel.

I was travelling from Mumbai to Kolkata. This was the first leg of the motorbike trip through Bhutan. I had planned and booked the train tickets well in advance. The Duronto Express was my train of choice. Due to minimal halts enroute, it reaches Kolkata in just over 26 hours. The next quickest train takes 37 hours. This train also has the added advantage of not picking up passengers or mail anywhere except the station of origin. This means that the luggage van isn’t opened anywhere enroute which in turn means that heavy, share edged boxes will not be piled on your bike due to lack of space.

The luggage office is supposedly open 24 hours a day everyday – feel free to verify this fact, I didn’t. Mine was an evening train so I arrived at the railway station in the morning and set about getting everything done. Bookings are not accepted until 24 hours before the departure time of your train. I made enquiries and learned that there were 3 distinct processes – packing, booking and loading. I contacted the concerned people at all 3 legs and gleaned whatever information was necessary. The rule of thumb is to start bargaining at  50%  of their quote and then agree eventually.

Packing involves emptying your bike of petrol completely and is usually carried out by individuals unaffiliated to the railways. Even the carburetor/fuel injector should be empty. Take no chances in this regard as the authorities are very strict about this particular point. They may even ask for the bike’s keys to check for themselves. Once devoid of petrol, your bike is wrapped up and you can request extra cardboard or foam to keep things safe from impact. This shouldn’t cost you more than Rs. 200 in a metro city as of the day of publishing this post. Needless to say, be sure to have minimal fuel in the tank at the time of packing so that you don’t end up giving away several litres.

Booking is quite straightforward. They check if your bike is packed properly and empty of petrol, then process your paperwork. If the bike is in your name it’s much simpler as you’ll need to show them your license and the bike’s paperwork – registration and insurance. If its not your bike then they may ask you for letters of authority and such. The charges are also simple enough and not extravagant at all. They have a base fare for transporting from A to B and to that is added 1% of your bike’s declared value. Now you can save money here by stating that your bike is worth Rs. 5,000 instead of its actual value (usually well over 50,000). The flipside is that in the event of a disaster like the a train crash or a fire in the luggage van, the amount of compensation will be the declared value. You’ll be given a booking receipt to validate the transaction. Don’t chuck it in the bin.

Loading is carried out by railway employees only. Tipping is not mandatory, however, if you decide to do so, your bike is likely to be treated with care and placed in a safe position inside the luggage van. Just be around when your bike is being loaded or unloaded. Be sure to keep the booking receipt handy, you’ll need to show it to the officials to claim your bike at the destination.

So I followed all the steps described above, my bike was loaded safely with minimal fuss and I was on my way to Kolkata. The train arrived on time the next evening and I set about claiming the bike. I expected the bike to arrive at the luggage counter but the folks there told me to collect the bike from the train itself. A bit scary considering the fact that my bike was lying unattended on the station. I handed over the booking receipt to this chap who was nice enough to not demand a bribe directly or indirectly. Pushed the bike out of the station and paid a guy Rs. 50 to cut open the packaging although if you carry a pocket knife you can do this bit yourself.

Now comes the daunting bit. Finding a petrol bunk. I didn’t have anyone waiting for me at the railway station hence did not have the pleasure of a jerry can filled with petrol. If you can, tell someone you know to be ready with petrol when you arrive. At least enough of it to get you to the closest petrol bunk. I inquired about the whereabouts of a petrol bunk in the area but most people were of the opinion that they would have shut down as it was late in the night. A chap who had transported his bike in a different train offered almost half a litre of petrol to me. Shock and surprise! Gratefully accepted the gift and the bike started no problemo. The entire process was easy as cake. I had a good experience probably more so because metro cities have more organised transportation processes. At lesser known stations, the task could get harrowing. Do keep in mind that every railway station has its own management and culture and rules will vary from place to place. Anyhow, that’s it for now. Comment if you have any questions.