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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.

1883: Nagelmackers' flagship, the 'Express d'Orient', starts running, twice a week, Paris (Gare de l'Est) - Strasbourg-Munich-Vienna-Budapest-Bucharest-Giurgiu. 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 (Istanbul).

1885: 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 for Istanbul.

1889: 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 Sea.

1891: 'Express d'Orient' is officially renamed 'Orient Express'.

1919: 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.

1930s: 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.

Orient 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.

The trains also conveyed an Istanbul-Berlin sleeping car four times a week, alternating with an Istanbul-Prague car three-times-a-week.

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...

1946: 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.

1948 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.

1960: 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') .

1962: 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.

1971: 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.

1976: 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 page.

1982: 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 www.orient-expresstrains.com.

2001: 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 'Orient Express'...

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