1876: A Belgian, Georges
Nagelmackers, founds La Compagnie Internationale des
Wagons-Lits, to operate luxury sleeping cars and dining
cars all over Europe, much as George Mortimer Pullman
was doing in the USA... The various national railway
companies provided the track, the stations and the locomotives.
The Wagons-Lits company provided and staffed the sleeping-cars
and dining cars. Passengers paid for a 1st class ticket
plus a Wagons-Lits supplement. The railway companies
got the ticket revenue, the Wagons-Lits company got
the revenue from the supplement.
Nagelmackers' flagship, the 'Express d'Orient',
starts running, twice a week, Paris (Gare de l'Est)
At Giurgu, a ferry crossed the Danube to Ruse in Bulgaria,
where a second train was waiting for the 7-hour journey
to Varna on the Black Sea. An Austrian Lloyd steamer
then connected for 14-hour sea voyage to Constantinople
Service increases to daily over the Paris-Munich-Vienna
section. The Orient Express continued to operate on
two days a week beyond Vienna to Giurgu for the ferry
to Ruse, the connecting train to Varna and the ship
to Istanbul, and on a third day each week beyond Vienna
to Belgrade and Nis. As the railway was incomplete in
Bulgaria, carriages took passengers from Nis across
the mountains to Plovdiv, where the rail journey resumed
The line is completed to Istanbul..! By 1900, the Orient
Express ran daily Paris-Munich-Vienna-Budapest. It was
extended three times a week to Belgrade, Sofia, Istanbul
and once a week to Bucharest and Constanta on the Black
1891: 'Express d'Orient' is officially renamed
On 11 April 1919 the Simplon Orient Express starts running
in addition to the Orient Express, using the Southerly
route from Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Lausanne, Milan,
Venice, Trieste, Belgrade, Istanbul. This route had
the advantage of avoiding Germany (which the Allies
still didn't trust), and it rapidly became the main
route from Calais and Paris to Istanbul. The Treaty
of Versailles had a specific clause requiring Austria
to accept this train - previously, Austria had insisted
that international trains could not pass through their
territory (which then included Trieste) unless they
ran via Vienna.
A complete network of through sleeping cars
operates between Western and Central/Eastern Europe,
involving the Orient Express and several sister trains
with 'Orient' as part of their name. The trains inter-connected
and swapped sleeping-cars at various points such as
Budapest and Belgrade:
Simplon Orient Express: Daily through sleeping
cars from Calais & Paris (Gare de Lyon) to Istanbul,
via Dijon - Lausanne - Milan - Venice - Trieste - Zagreb
- Belgrade - Sofia. The Simplon Orient Express also
provided daily though sleeping-cars from Calais and
Paris to Athens.
Express: Three times a week service from Paris
(Gare de l'Est) - Strasbourg - Munich - Vienna - Budapest,
with through sleeping-cars from Calais & Paris to Bucharest,
and from Paris to Istanbul (combined with the Simplon
Orient Express between Belgrade and Istanbul).
Arlberg Orient Express:On three out of the four
days of the week when the Orient Express wasn't running,
its departure slot from Paris Est was taken up with
the three-times-a-week Arlberg Orient Express from Paris
to Basel, Zurich, Innsbruck, Vienna, Budapest, with
through sleepers Calais & Paris - Bucharest and Paris-Athens.
trains also conveyed an Istanbul-Berlin sleeping car
four times a week, alternating with an Istanbul-Prague
1939: Most of the great trains are suspended
for world war 2. The Wagons-Lits Company's arch rival,
the German Mitropa company, tried running its own Orient
Express into the Balkans reserved for military and diplomatic
personnel, but this was not a success as partisans kept
blowing it up...
The Simplon Orient resumes running in January 1946,
three times a week, Calais - Paris - Milan -Venice -
Belgrade - Istanbul. However, ordinary railway company
seating cars and couchette cars are now conveyed, in
addition to the Wagon-Lits company sleepers and restaurant.
Although service to Istanbul restarted, the through
sleeping cars to Athens were unable to resume because
the Greek / Yugoslav border was closed.
onwards: With communists firmly in control in
eastern Europe, the Wagons-Lits Company's sleeping-car
and dining car operations in Eastern Bloc countries
are gradually taken over by the eastern European railway
companies' own sleeping-car and dining car subsidiaries.
Although the 'Orient Express' through sleeping-cars
from western to eastern Europe remain operated by the
Wagons-Lits Company, Wagons-Lits sleepers and diners
operating on these trains wholly within Eastern Bloc
borders are increasing replaced by non-Wagons-Lits cars.
1951: The Greek border reopens and the Athens
portion of the Simplon Orient Express resumes running.
Unfortunately, the Bulgarian / Turkish border then closed,
temporarily halting the Istanbul portion until 1952.
The through sleeping cars to / from Calais are
withdrawn and all cars of the Simplon Orient Express
now start / terminate in Paris (Gare de Lyon). The Pullman
cars of the Calais - Paris 'Golden Arrow' / 'Fleche
d'Or' are extended to run around Paris from the Gare
du Nord to the Gare de Lyon to maintain a connection
(the Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon trip was necessary
anyway to convey the through sleeping-car from Calais
to San Remo bound for the 'Train Bleu' and the Calais
to Rome through sleeping-car bound for the 'Rome Express')
The Simplon Orient Express is withdrawn and
replaced by a slower train called the Direct Orient
Express. The Direct Orient Express conveys a daily sleeping
car and seats cars Calais-Paris-Milan-Venice, a daily
sleeping car and seats cars Paris (Gare de Lyon) - Milan
- Venice - Trieste - Belgrade, a twice-weekly sleeping
car and seats car Paris - Belgrade - Istanbul , and
a three-times-a-week (later twice weekly) sleeping car
Paris - Belgrade - Athens.
The Wagons-Lits company decides that it can
no longer maintain and renew the ageing sleeping car
fleet based on receiving revenue from sleeper supplements
alone (passengers travelling on the Orient express paid
for a normal ticket plus a sleeper supplement - the
supplement went to the Wagons-Lits Company, the ticket
revenue went to the relevant national railway operators).
The Wagons-Lits Company therefore either sells or leases
its sleeping cars to the national railway operators
all over Europe. Although now owned or leased by the
various state railway companies themselves, most sleeping-cars
in Western Europe are still staffed by the Wagons-Lits
company who provide the sleeper attendant, the bed linen
and the on-board catering. Until 1995, sleeping cars
were marketed jointly by most western European railways
as "Trans Euro Night / Nuit / Nacht / Notte / Nat" and
painted in a mid-blue livery with white lining and a
big white 'TEN' on the side.
The Direct-Orient Express' twice-weekly Paris-Athens
sleeping car is withdrawn;
1977: The Direct-Orient Express is withdrawn
completely, ending all direct service from Paris to
Istanbul. The last run was on 19 May 1977. A rump of
this train remains until the early 1990s, running from
Paris (and in summer, from Calais) to Milan and Venice
with sleepers, seats and couchettes. The (plain) Orient
Express from Paris to Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest
continues to run as before.
1977-2001: The Orient Express itself continues
to run, as the main overnight train between Paris and
Vienna, and as a direct service between Paris and Budapest.
It conveys OBB (Austrian Federal Railway) or SNCF (French
Railways) couchettes and seats Paris-Vienna, a MAV (Hungarian
Railways) air-conditioned couchette car and seats car
Paris-Budapest, a Hungarian dining-car and more air-conditioned
seats cars Salzburg-Vienna-Budapest, and a sleeping
car, owned by OBB, but staffed by the Compagnie Internationale
des Wagons-Lits. Until the early 1990s, this sleeping-car
was extended three times a week to Bucharest, full of
Caucesceau's diplomats. In 1999, the Orient Express
regained a separate twice-weekly sleeping-car from Paris
to Bucharest, this time a Romanian one similar to that
used on the Dacia Express - see the photo on the Romania
James Sherwood, rail enthusiast and head of Sea Containers
Inc., starts up a regular service from London and Paris
to Venice called the 'Venice Simplon Orient Express'.
The service uses vintage 1920s and 1930s Pullmans from
London to the Channel port, and 1929-vintage Wagons-Lits
sleepers from Boulogne to Venice. This train should
not be confused with the (real, plain) Orient Express.
The Venice Simplon Orient Express continues to run today,
once a week from March until November every year - see
On 10 June 2001, the Orient Express through
couchettes and seats from Paris to Budapest were withdrawn,
as was the twice-weekly sleeping-car from Paris to Budapest.
The Orient Express now runs just Paris-Vienna as a normal
scheduled train with seats, couchettes and a sleeping-car.
So far (January 2004) it officially retains the name