See the article in French on this web site for further and better information
This famous train was called « The king of trains, the train of kings », but the number of mistakes that anyboldy can read of hear about it is incredible: everbody thinks to have « read a book » of « heard something » about the Orient-Express, and so many authors, writers for one book of one day, one article in one newspaper, have one opinion, generally never checked, with no technical knowledge, about this most famous train in the world.
This train was, in fact, not an « express »… and never went to Orient, stopping it’s travel in the station of Sirkecy in Constantinople, later Istanbul, on the European bank of the city. The passengers had to cross the Bosphore on a boat for reaching Asia and the mysterious « Orient ». But this has no fundamental importance.
The locomotives hauling the Orient-Express.
There were no special locomotive hauling the train, and no locomotive could be able to run the whole journey of 2000 miles during 3 days: the coal and water only allowed some 150 to 200 miles as a maximum. So each country and each railway company supplied it’s own locomotives and more than some 20 locomotives were used the one after each other, with locomotive changes especially at the borders or according to the gradient profile on the line. Here are some stars:
Who created the Orient-Express ?
One man, Georges Nagelmackers (1845-1905) who founds the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits in 1876 (or International Sleeping-car Company) and who will run about one hundred trains across Europe untill the end of the century, and even reach Asia with the Transsiberien-Express or Egypt with the Sunshine-Pullman-Express. The Orient-Express is launched in 1883 on the Paris-Constantinople travel. All the rolling stock is standard for all the trains: sleeping-cars, dining-cars, luggage vans for the long distance trains such as the Orient-Express, and Pullman or saloon cars with or without kitchen, bar-saloon cars, luggage vans for the short distance trains with one half-day or one day travel only.
The reality of the Orient-Express train in the great 1920s to 1950s period
The sleeping-cars, restaurant cars on the Orient-Express are at their summit in the 1930’s period. After the teak-wood period (1875-1921), the CIWL builds a new rolling stock in steel from 1922 on, giving the « S » and « Z » class, and later the « LX » class, all which will last until the end of the great adventure of the CIWL. This new rolling stock is painted in dark blue with yellow linings and even the old bogie cars of the previous period, mostly built in 1920-1921 are overpainted in dark blue, this to match with the all-steel cars. All this blue rolling stock will be used for all the long distance trains such as the Orient-Express ans Simplon-Orient-Express and its long 3 day travel needing sleeping cars (WL) and a restaurant car (WR) The number of such vehicles was near to 3.000, during the golden age of the late 1930’s.
The Pullman trains on the CIWL: only 4% of the trains.
A little 4% exception : the Pullman cars (WSP). First, beside the Orient-Express and other long distance trains, there were some short distance trains, with no night travel, said “Pullman trains” on the CIWL time-tables, travelled during some hours from Paris to Deauville, or like the day train to the Côte d’Azur “Côte d’Azur Rapide”: for these short journey trains, the CIWL built some Pullman cars. These few cars, specially made for short travels, were called in CIWL French language “Wagon Salon Pullman” (WSP). These were brown and cream until 1932, and blue and cream later. All these cars are, like all the 3000 cars of the CIWL, on the same chassis and bogies than the others (length: 23,45 m). Amongst the 103 trains running for the CIWL in the 1930’s to 1950’s, there are only 4 trains using currently these Pullman cars: « Sud-Express » (though it is a long travel train), « Flèche d’or », « Etoile-Du-Nord » and « Côte d’Azur Rapide». In these WSP Pullman cars, there are no compartments but one big unique « salon » and some added two little compartments or « coupés » with 4 seats, one at each end. The only seating consists of individual and very comfortable armchairs . You understand that it is impossible to travel overnight in an armchair, and that the “Orient-Express” did not need and had not such cars.
No need of Pullman cars or saloon cars on the Orient-Express train.
There is no Pullman car (WSP) on the Orient-Express and other “Grands Express Européens” because there is no need. You must understand that the compartments of the sleeping car are convertible in either a “night position” with beds extended, or a “day position”, with the beds folded up and becoming a comfortable sofa. There is an additional armchair in the compartment. On the splendid “LX” cars, the compartment may be twinned, this giving a “suite” like the rooms of the most luxurious hotels. For a long distance travel like on the “Orient-Express”, people had first to eat, to wash, to sleep, then to dress and undress for the sumptuous dinners in the restaurant car: so the Orient-Express offered only sleeping cars with closed and private compartments.
The luggage vans of the CIWL.
Strictly according to the colour of the train (brown/cream, or blue/cream or blue/blue), these luggage vans are in all the trains, one at each end for protection reasons, and needed for the hugh amount of luggage practiced in that period. The large shunks and suit-cases couls not be place in the sleeping cars, and the travellers had a permanent access to the luggage vans (corridors) for gathering their night belongings, or dinner clothes, books, hair-brushes, etc and bring them back for use in the compartment. There were long luggage-vans with 8 doors on the standard 23,45 m châssis said « DD4 » class, and shorter luggage-vans with 6 doors on a 20,8 m chassis said « DD3 » or « type Orient-Express ».
Chronology of the Orient-Express:
1882 october 10th:
Georges Nagelmackers tries the « Train Eclair » (Lightning train) between Paris and Vienna, 1350 km in 27 hours 53 mn, this being 4 hours less than the fastest trains of that time on this route.
1883 June 5th :
First travel of the « Train-Express-d’Orient » through eight countries of Europe, between Paris and Constantinople in 81 hours and 30 minutes, gaining 30 hours on the traditionnal rail and road travel on that time.
1883 october 4th:
First official travel of the « Train-Express-d’Orient » with politicians, journalists, VIP invited, etc. The train is back on October 16 th.
The « Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits » is now the « Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens » with trains running to Brussels, Francfort, Brunn-Badenbach, etc. The meals are not yet cooked in the wagons-restaurants
1884 June 1st:
Daily service between Paris and Budapest. The first CIWL luggage vans are put into service. Cholera panic leads to travel restrictions and border closing.
The Paris-Constantinople service is run via Belgrade and Nis, this needing an end travel by horse stage-coach on 335 km after Plovdiv.
The Pullman Company leaves Europe and gives a free future to the CIWL
Troubles in Bulgaria impeach the opening of the line between Serbia and Turkey, this damaging the good service of the « Train-Express-d’Orient »
The « Train Express d’Orient » reaches Salonique, in Greece. The Paris-Sofia line is, at last, totally open.
June 1st The Budapest-Belgrade-Sofia line is open. The Paris-Constantinople travel by train needs now 67 hours 35 minutes for 3186 km.
The « Train-Express-d‘Orient » is now, officially, the « Orient-Express ». The CIWL has 776 own coaches and 120 luggage vans.
May 31 Near Cerkeskôy (Turkey), the train is attacked by thieves who take £ 40 000. And some £ 8 000 are paid by the CIWL for the liberation of 5 German passengers.
1892 September 12th:
The » Orient-Express » is stopped at the Turkish border for sanitary (cholera) reasons. Only the mail can keep going on..
The CIWL opens great hotels at Constantinople, such as the « Bosphorus », the « Summer Palace Hotel » and the famous « Pera Palace ». In first class, the return ticket costs £ 58. In second class, for the servants traveling with their masters, the return ticket is £44.
Inauguration, in November, of the « Oostende-Vienna-Orient-Express » train which is, on the CIWL network, the first train with direct cars joining or leaving the train “en route”.
In Austria, the « Orient-Express » leaves the route by Simbach and goes by Salzbourg.
First direct sleeping-car between Paris and Karlsbad (now Karlovy-Vary). On December 1st 1901, the locomotive runs into the station buffet at Francfort.
Death of Georges Nagelmackers at Villepreux les Clayes, in France. Nicolas Schrœder, his now General Manager of the CIWL.
Creation of the « Simplon-Express » for the service on Calais-Paris-Milano, this by the Simplon tunnel. The tunnel is 20 km long and will change completely the railway services in Europe.
The « Simplon-Express » reaches Vienna.
Daily service Paris-Budapest, and three times per week for Paris-Bucharest-Constanza and Paris-Budapest-Sofia-Constantinople. The « Orient-Express » may use, after Subotica (near Belgrade), two different ways with the same name for the train. The travel to Costanza is 2747 km in 63 hours, that one to Constantinople is 3043 km in 76 hours. These are speed records for that time…
August 4th The First World War stops the « Orient-Express ».
1916 January 16th:
The « Balkan Zug » of the German Mitropa, the brand new competitor to the CIWL and great enthusiastic “borrower” of CIWL cars, takes the place of the « Orient-Express » on the Berlin-Constantinople service. This train has carriages in the three classes, added to sleeping or dining-cars, this making the difference with the CIWL trains. The “borrowed” CIWL cars for that train disappeared.
The French « Train de Luxe Militaire » runs on the Paris-Vienna-Linz-Prague-Bucharest-Warszawa service. Ordered by the French War ministry, this train takes only military and authorised travellers.
1919 April 11th or 15 th.
The second train with direct cars is the « Simplon-Orient-Express », nicknamed the « Entente-Zug » by the Germans. It follows the « Simplon Express » route but goes, now, to Trieste where one has to change the train for Bucharest, Athinai and Constantinople. Budapest is not reached directly, the bridge on the Danube being destroyed.
End of 1919:
An international congress puts the « Orient-Express » into service and the « Simplon-Orient-Express » reaches Turkey.
1920 May 1st:
The « Train de Luxe Militaire » still follows the foot-steps of the « Orient-Express », but the lack of coal forbids the reopening of the CIWL services until June 1920.
1920 June 20th:
Reopening of the « Oostende-Vienna-Express » (which loses the word « Orient »), and present on the time tables as a simple « Boulogne-Paris/Oostende-Strasbourg-Vienna-Express ». Having many direct carriages for European towns, this train is for British travellers.
The « Simplon-Orient-Express » starts no more from the gare de l’Est in Paris, and moves to the gare de Lyon à Paris. The train only runs through « politically correct » stations such as Dijon, Vallorbe, Lausanne, Milano, Venice, Trieste, Belgrade. Direct cars run to Bucharest by Orsava.
The German « Mitropa » runs direct carriages such as Calais-Constantinople or Oostende-Constantinople by Basel and Milan, these cars being incorporated in ordinary Deutsche Reichsbahn trains, closing Germany to the CIWL opportunities. The « Simplon-Orient-Express » runs from Calais to Vinkovci, a Yougoslavian town becoming a real « hub » for the Balkans. Two direct sleeping-cars run to Bucharest, and three others to Belgrade. At Nis, other direct cars are detached for Constantinople, or Salonique and Athinai.
The Paris-Bucharest service is so difficult that the CIWL thinks about a service through the Arlberg, Galicia (now a Polish county) and Lvov, and, then, a long way to the south fir reaching Bucharest : this very long and hazardous route will never be used.
March A train Paris-Berlin-Warszawa is created, but a small success brings a change of direction for Karlsbad as soon as May.
The first all-steel cars of the S or Z types appear on the CIWL trains, painted in the famous all dark blue CIWL colour with yellow linings. They leads the « Calais-Méditerranée-Express » train to take the « Train-Bleu » name. The old wooden varnished teck cars will be repainted in blue for matching with the new all-steel cars. This superb dark blue colour will be the emblematic colour and “success story” for the CIWL.
1923 January :
As a consequence of the occupation of the Rhine by France and Belgium, the « Orient-Express » has to avoid Germany and to divert by Basel, Zurich and Innsbrück. So appears the « Arlberg-Orient-Express », the third train of the « Orient-Express » family.
1924 November :
The CIWL finds again it’s historical route, starting from the gare de l’Est in Paris, going by Munich and Germany again, and by Zürich and Innsbrück, but under the name of « Arlberg-Orient-Express » since the true « Orient-Express » is, theorically forbidden in Germany. Locomotives are electric in 1925, between Munich and Salzbourg, using the 16 2/3 Hz system of Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Scandinavian countries.
1924 November :
A new « Suisse-Arlberg-Vienna-Express » runs now and will have, in 1927, a direct sleeping-car for Bucharest
The « Oostende-Vienna-Express » is created, with a direct sleeping-car for Istanbul attached in the « Orient-Express » at Vienna. An other direct sleeping-car Oostende-Istanbul is run through the St-Gothard and attached to the « Simplon-Orient-Express ». These cars run only in summer
The historical « Orient-Express » is reborn, on the Paris-Vienna-Budapest-Constantinople (now Istanbul) route. The train is stopped by the snow during 5 days, not far from Istanbul. No traveller wrote a protestation on the road book…
November 2nd The british « Imperial Airways » opens a line between the United Kingdom and Germany, Greece and Turkey, through the Balkans. The Köln (Cologne)-Athinai service has the worse effect on CIWL trains.
The « Orient-Express » is, once again, stopped, as the « Taurus-Express » waits in the asiatic Haydarpasa station of Istanbul for the « Orient-Express » (then absent). As soon as the « Orient-Express » runs again, the travel Tehran, Bagdad, Beyrouth, Cairo will be possible, but with some junction services by road between unfinished railway lines…
September12th The only sad and real «Murder on the Orient-Express » happens with 20 travellers killed by Hungarian terrorists, on the viaduct of Biatorbagy.
May 22th The « Orient-Express » and the « Arlberg-Orient-Express » work alternatively everday.
Times are changing and trains are running less. The « Simplon-Orient-Express » still runs daily, but the « Taurus-Express » runs three times a week to Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and two times a week to Bassorah where one can take a ship to India. Electric locomotives run through Europe more and more.
1934: April 19 th
Carlo Abarth, a race-car builder, runs on a motorcycle from Vienna to Oostende, on 1372 km and he is 20 minutes faster than the train.
The « Orient-Express » has more and more empty sleeping-cars, and even the Budapest-Istanbul has no restaurant-car, except a Bulgarian restaurant-car attached to the train at Svilengrad.
1939 September 4th :
The Second World War stops the « Orient-Express », but « Simplon-Orient-Express » seems to be far away. There are only direct sleeping cars from Munich or Zurich to Bucharest.
September 7th The king Carol of Romania travels safely and incognito to Switzerland on the « Simplon-Orient-Express ».which will run until
1942 March 16th. 1945 September 27th:
The « Arlberg-Orient-Express » runs again, in a « Third Man » (Troisième homme) mood at Vienna : even a dead American diplomatic Attaché falls from the train in a tunnel…
1945 October or November 13 th:
The « Simplon-Orient-Express » runs again between Paris and Istanbul, but, now, with some ordinary coaches amongst the CIWL ones: times of decadence are coming.
The « Orient-Express » runs again from Paris to Vienna, with some direct Paris-Prague (Praha) cars, or even to Warszawa, or other Paris-Baden-Baden, and Paris-Innsbruck cars detached from the train en route. The « Orient-Express » starts three times a week from Paris (Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays), and from Prague, Innsbruck and Baden-Baden (Thursdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays). 1946 October 7th The « Simplon-Orient-Express » is, again, daily.
The « Alberg-Orient-Express » reaches Bucharest. The « Balt-Orient-Express » runs from Scandinavian countries to the Balkans, with sleeping cars from Oslo to Prague (Praha) and Stockholm to Belgrade.
June 1st The « Orient-Express » is no more, on the time-tables, a “train de luxe”. It runs from Paris to Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, but the CIWL has no contract with the Romanian Railways
The Paris-Budapest- Belgrade service is cancelled, and the communist Czecoslovakia and Hungary has not signed any contract with the CIWL. A Basel (Bale)-Vienna Pullman car is exceptionnaly incorporated in the « Arlberg-Orient-Experss » untill 1957. Direct sleeping-cars run on the Prague-Sofia-Istanbul service.
The « Orient-Express » avoids Czecoslovakia between Bratislava and Hegyeshalom. The « Simplon-Orient-Express » runs again from Paris to Athinai.
The « Simplon-Orient-Express » stops at Sofia or Svilengrad : the borders of the communist coutries are closed.
The Paris-Istanbul has to avoid Bulgaria and run by Salonique and Greece. But the train must stop for a safety night at Alexandroupolis station, under the police survey : the thieves are so numerous…
The « Simplon-Orient-Express » car run again through Bulgaria, but with goods wagons added to the train !…
1956 The « Orient-Express » cannot run further than Budapest for political reasons.
The Paris- Budapest sleeping-car is cancelled for political reasons.
1962 May 21th
The old names of the CIWL trains are cancelled. The « Direct-Orient- Express » replaces the « Simplon-Orient-Express » and has many non CIWL cars, but still runs from Paris to Istanbul. The « Arlberg-Express » Paris-Vienna replaces the « Arlberg-Orient-Express ».
The « Orient-Express » has, again, a Paris-Budapest sleeping-car.
The Paris-Bucharest service restarts again, this for 20 years.
The « Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits » has lost it’s « et des Grands Express Européens », replaced by a « et du Tourisme ». This is the end of 83 years of an emblematic name. The CIWL is now the CIWLT.
The direct Paris-Athinai sleeping-car is cancelled : the travellers, now, take the plane. But a new train appears, set with CIWL cars (many LX) : here is the « Nostalgie-Orient-Express » created by Albert Glatt, running between Zürich and Istanbul or Athinai through the Simplon, the Arlberg or by the historic route of the Danube valley.
1977 May 20th:
Last official departure for the Paris-Istanbul or « Direct-Orient » train direct sleeping CIWL coach, and, on May 22 th last return of this car to Paris. No direct travel in a CIWL sleeping-car is possible from Paris to Istanbul.
2007 June 9th :
The last « Orient-Express » (train N°263) leaves Paris for Vienna, set with ordinary Austrian cars
2009 December 13th. The train N°468/9 called «Orient-Express» running from Strasbourg to Vienna, is cancelled. This is the real end of the « Orient-Express ».
Some books for further knowledge :
The History of Wagons-Lits, by Georges Behrend, Modern Transport Publishing, Londres, 1959 (in English)
Orient-Express de Werner Sölch, Editions Alba, 1974 (in German))
Histoire des trains de luxe, de Georges Behrend, Editions Office du Livre, 1977 (in French)
Le Carroze Pullman by Renzo Perret (in Italian) : the only book about WSPs
I treni della CIWL, by Robert Spark, Editions Hoepli, 2007 (in Italian)
Les wagons-lits, de Gérard Coudert, Maurice Knepper, Pierre-Yves Toussirot, Editions La Vie du Rail, 2009 (in French)
L’Orient-Express by Clive Lamming , Editions Hachette (2017) in French.