Orient Express

The Orient Express was a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883 by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL).

The Orient Express
Poster advertising the winter 1888–1889 timetable
Train length4 to 22 coaches

The route and rolling stock of the Orient Express changed many times. Several routes in the past concurrently used the Orient Express name, or slight variations. Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name became synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul),[1][2] the original endpoints of the timetabled service.[3] The Orient Express was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when travelling was still rough and dangerous.

In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Bucharest—since 1991 only to Budapest, and in 2001 again shortened to Vienna—ran for the last time from Paris on Friday 8 June 2007.[4][5] After this, the route, still called the "Orient Express", was shortened to start from Strasbourg instead,[6] occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which afforded much shorter travel times from Paris to Strasbourg. The new curtailed service left Strasbourg at 22:20 daily, shortly after the arrival of a TGV from Paris, and was attached at Karlsruhe to the overnight sleeper service from Amsterdam to Vienna.

On 14 December 2009, the Orient Express ceased to operate and the route disappeared from European railway timetables, reportedly a "victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines".[7] The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture by Belmond using original CIWL carriages from the 1920s and 1930s, continues to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul.[8]

Train Eclair de luxe (the "test" train)

In 1882, Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker's son, invited guests to a railway trip of 2,000 km (1,243 mi) on his "Train Eclair de luxe" ("lightning luxury train").[3][9] The train left Paris Gare de l'Est on Tuesday, October 10, 1882, just after 18:30 and arrived in Vienna the next day at 23:20. The return trip left Vienna on Friday, October 13 at 16:40 and, as planned, re-entered the Gare de Strasbourg at 20:00 on Saturday October 14.

Georges Nagelmackers was the founder of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which expanded its luxury trains, travel agencies and hotels all over Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Its most famous train remains the Orient-Express.

The train was composed of:

  • Baggage car
  • Sleeping coach with 16 beds (with bogies)
  • Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles)
  • Restaurant coach (nr. 107)
  • Sleeping coach with 13 beds (3 axles)
  • Sleeping coach with 13 beds (3 axles)
  • Baggage car (complete 101 ton)

The first menu on board (October 10, 1882): oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ‘à la chasseur’, fillet of beef with ‘château’ potatoes, ‘chaud-froid’ of game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, buffet of desserts.[10]


Historic routes of Orient Express — the cross denotes the Simplon tunnel

Original train

On June 5, 1883, the first Express d'Orient left Paris for Vienna. Vienna remained the terminus until October 4, 1883. The train was officially renamed Orient Express in 1891.[11]

The original route, which first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l'Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, to pick up another train to Varna. They then completed their journey to Constantinople by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching İstanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv, and rail again to İstanbul.[11]

In 1889, the train's eastern terminus became Varna in the Principality of Bulgaria, where passengers could take a ship to Constantinople. On June 1, 1889, the first direct train to İstanbul left Paris (Gare de l'Est). İstanbul remained its easternmost stop until May 19, 1977. The eastern terminus was the Sirkeci Terminal by the Golden Horn. Ferry service from piers next to the terminal would take passengers across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa Terminal, the terminus of the Asian lines of the Ottoman Railways.[11]

The onset of the First World War in 1914 saw Orient Express services suspended. They resumed at the end of hostilities in 1918, and in 1919 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel allowed the introduction of a more southerly route via Milan, Venice, and Trieste. The service on this route was known as the Simplon Orient Express, and it ran in addition to continuing services on the old route. The Treaty of Saint-Germain contained a clause requiring Austria to accept this train: formerly, Austria allowed international services to pass through Austrian territory (which included Trieste at the time) only if they ran via Vienna. The Simplon Orient Express soon became the most important rail route between Paris and İstanbul.[11]

The 1930s saw the Orient Express services at its most popular, with three parallel services running: the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest, with sleeper cars running onwards from there to Bucharest and Athens. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, business people, and the bourgeoisie in general patronized it. Each of the Orient Express services also incorporated sleeping cars which had run from Calais to Paris, thus extending the service from one end of continental Europe to the other.[11]

The start of the Second World War in 1939 again interrupted the service, which did not resume until 1945. During the war, the German Mitropa company had run some services on the route through the Balkans,[12] but Yugoslav Partisans frequently sabotaged the track, forcing a stop to this service.[11]

Following the end of the war, normal services resumed except on the Athens leg, where the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and the Kingdom of Greece prevented services from running. That border re-opened in 1951, but the closure of the BulgarianTurkish border from 1951 to 1952 prevented services running to İstanbul during that time. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, the service continued to run, but the Communist nations increasingly replaced the Wagon-Lits cars with carriages run by their own railway services.

By 1962, the Orient Express and Arlberg Orient Express had stopped running, leaving only the Simplon Orient Express. This was replaced in 1962 by a slower service called the Direct Orient Express, which ran daily cars from Paris to Belgrade, and twice weekly services from Paris to İstanbul and Athens.

In 1971, the Wagon-Lits company stopped running carriages itself and making revenues from a ticket supplement. Instead, it sold or leased all its carriages to the various national railway companies, but continued to provide staff for the carriages. 1976 saw the withdrawal of the Paris–Athens direct service, and in 1977, the Direct Orient Express was withdrawn completely, with the last Paris–İstanbul service running on May 19 of that year.[4][5]

The withdrawal of the Direct Orient Express was thought by many to signal the end of the Orient Express as a whole, but in fact a service under this name continued to run from Paris to Bucharest as before (via Strasbourg, Munich, and Budapest). However, a through sleeping car from Paris to Bucharest — and even eastwards from Vienna — was only operated until 1982, and also a through seating car was only operated seasonally. This meant, that Paris–Budapest and Vienna–Bucharest coaches were running overlapped, so a journey was only possible with changing carriages — despite the unchanged name and numbering of the train. In 1991 the Budapest-Bucharest leg of the train was canceled, the new final station has become Budapest. In the summer season of 1999 and 2000 a sleeping car from Bucharest to Paris reappeared twice a week — now operated by CFR. This continued until 2001, when the service was cut back to just Paris–Vienna, already in EuroNight quality — but in both cases the coaches were in fact rather attached to a Paris–Strasbourg express. This service continued daily, listed in the timetables under the name Orient Express, until June 8, 2007.[4]

With the opening of the LGV Est Paris–Strasbourg high speed rail line on June 10, 2007, the Orient Express service was further cut back to Strasbourg–Vienna, departing nightly at 22:20 from Strasbourg, and still bearing the name,[5][11] but lost the number 262/263 which was owned for decades.

The remains of the train had a convenient connection from/to the Strasbourg-Paris TGV, but due to the less flexible prices the changing has become less attractive. In the last years through coaches between Vienna and Karlsruhe (continuing first to Dortmund, then to Amsterdam, and finally — partly from Budapest — to Frankfurt) were attached. The very last train with the name Orient-Express (now with a hyphen) departed from Vienna on the 10th of December 2009, and one day later from Strasbourg.

Route legacy

Though the final service ran only from Strasbourg to Vienna, it was possible to retrace the entire original Orient Express route with four trains: Paris–Strasbourg, Strasbourg–Vienna, Vienna–Belgrade, and Belgrade-İstanbul, each of which were operated daily. Other routes from Paris to İstanbul exist even today, such as Paris–MunichBudapestBucharest–İstanbul, or Paris–Zürich–Belgrade–İstanbul, all of which have comparable travel times of approximately 60 hours without delays. Train services across the border to Turkey were stopped through several years due to construction works, but they were reintroduced in June 2017, however, ending in İstanbul's suburb Halkalı, from where a transfer bus is provided to the city centre.

The luxurious dining car, where scenes for Murder on the Orient Express and other movies were filmed, is now in the OSE museum of Thessaloníka. The local authorities plan to refit the train to make it available for tourist use around the Balkans in the near future.

Privately run trains using the name

In 1976, the Swiss travel company Intraflug AG had first hired, then also bought, several CIWL-carriages, and operated them as Nostalgie Istanbul Orient Express from Zürich to İstanbul. In 1983, the 100th anniversary of the Orient-Express was celebrated by a trip of this train from Paris to İstanbul, and in 1988 it was run to Hong Kong via the Soviet Union and China. From there it was transferred by ferry to Japan, and used there for some excursions after regauging.

After the failure of the American European Express (see below), Intraflug became bankrupt, and the carriages were taken over by the Reisebüro Mittelthurgau. The sleeping cars and some other coaches (Pullmans, dining cars, luggage vans) were transferred to Russia and used between Moscow and the Mongolian-Chinese border. (The adjacent Chinese train was also branded for a while as China Orient Express; nowadays it's known as Shangri-La Express.) The remaining vehicles were used in Germany and Switzerland as diner trains until the company's 2003 bankruptcy. Since then the trains have been standing unused in different countries, as the new owners sort out problems with operations due to a lawsuit about the usage rights of the name Orient Express.

In 1982, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express was established as a private venture, running restored 1920s and 1930s carriages from London to Venice. This service runs between March and November, and is firmly aimed at leisure travellers, with tickets costing over $3,120 per person from London to Venice (via Paris, Zürich, Innsbruck, and Verona—also, despite its name, the train is running via the Brenner Pass instead of the Simplon tunnel) including meals. Two or three times a year, Prague or Vienna and Budapest are also accessed, starting from Venice, and returning to Paris and London. Every September the train also goes from London and Paris to İstanbul via Budapest, Sinaia, and Bucharest—in the last three cities a sightseeing (and in the two capitals an overnight in hotel) also takes place—the return trip on the same route ends up in Venice. While the above-mentioned routes are available almost every year, some seasons have also included unique destinations, among them Cologne, Rome, Florence, Lucerne, the High Tatras, Kraków, Dresden, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. Such a journey is provided currently to Berlin.

The company also offers a similarly themed luxury train in Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand called the Eastern and Oriental Express, and operates other luxury overnight trains in Scotland, Ireland, and Peru.

The Pullman Orient Express was established by the CIWL in 1994. This train has only Pullman and dining cars, but no sleepers. It's used for gourmet trips in France. After the legal disputes about the name it was taken over by the SNCF and operated since then as Pullman Orient-Express.

In North America, the American Orient Express, formerly the American European Express and later GrandLuxe Express, operated several train sets in charter service between 1989 and 2008.

CIWL phototheque and historical archives

The CIWL archives contain more than 100 years of posters, photos, plans, and communication material that represents a tremendous interest for cultural, academic, or commercial projects. Creators and artists have been hired by CIWL since 1883 in order to create luxury conditions and comfort in travel, as well as a particular graphic style that is now recognized worldwide by its quality. Great efforts have been made to digitalize images (photos, plans, and posters), although vast paper archives remain preserved, waiting to be sorted and classified in the future. As of today, available digital archives consist of more than 250 CIWL posters, 800 PLM posters, and more than 6,000 archive photos, representing probably one of the most extensive poster collections in the world with works dating from the end of the 19th century to the late 1950s. These archives are regularly used for all types of publishing and media projects, all over the world, as well as cultural events (see below: Exhibition).[13][14]

The glamour and rich history of the Orient Express has frequently lent itself to the plot of books and films and as the subject of television documentaries.




  • Orient Express was a syndicated TV series in the early-to-mid-1950s. Filmed in Europe, its half-hour dramas featured such stars as Paul Lukas, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Geraldine Brooks, and Erich von Stroheim.
  • In “The Orient Express” (episode number 48 of The World of Commander McBragg cartoon series), the Commander tells the story of how he once rode on that fabled line, dodging several assassination attempts on his life en route.
  • Daylight Robbery on the Orient Express, an episode of the award-winning British comedy television series The Goodies was first broadcast on 5 October 1976 and is partially set aboard the train.
  • Mystery on the Orient Express: a television special featuring illusionist David Copperfield. During the special, Copperfield rode aboard the train and, at its conclusion, made the dining car seemingly disappear.
  • "The Istambul Train", "Il treno d'Istanbul" (1980) Hungarian-Italian television series "Stamboul Train" original title by Graham Greene (1932).[15]
  • "Minder on the Orient Express" (1985): a special episode of the long-running ITV sit-com Minder.
  • Whicker's World – Aboard The Orient Express: Travel journalist Alan Whicker joined the inaugural service of the Venice-Simplon Orient Express to Venice in 1982, interviewing invited guests and celebrities along the way.
  • Gavin Stamp's Orient Express: in 2007 UK's Five broadcast an arts/travel series which saw the historian journey from Paris to Istanbul along the old Orient Express route.
  • The 1987 cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had an episode entitled "Turtles on the Orient Express". As the title suggests it is primarily based on the train.[16]
  • The 1995 cartoon Madeline had an episode entitled Madeline on the Orient Express, where a chef stole a snake.
  • The episode "Emergence" of the science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation partially takes place on a Holodeck representation of the Orient Express.
  • On the May 15, 2007 broadcast of Jeopardy!, the think music was played by a person on the train's piano, since the Final Jeopardy clue was about the Orient Express.
  • In the British soap opera EastEnders, in 1986, characters Den and Angie Watts spent their honeymoon on the train. It was also where it was revealed that Angie was lying about her illness, preceding the ultimate storyline on Christmas Day 1986.
  • "Aboard the Orient Express" Get Smart series 1, episode 13 is set on the Orient Express, though filmed on set.
  • In one episode of the British cartoon series Danger Mouse, called "Danger Mouse on the Orient Express" (a parody of Murder on the Orient Express), Danger Mouse and Penfold travel on the train on their way back to London from Venice. Danger Mouse's arch enemy Greenback is also on the train.
  • In an episode of the television series Chuck, Chuck and Sarah decide to go AWOL and take a trip on the Orient Express.
  • At the end of the Doctor Who episode "The Big Bang", the Doctor receives a call for help from the "Orient Express — in space". This setting is used in the episode "Mummy on the Orient Express", including a reference to the ending of "The Big Bang", four years later.
  • In episode 15 of television series Forever (U.S. TV series), Dr. Henry Morgan traveled from Budapest to İstanbul with his wife Abigail Morgan on his honeymoon in 1955. He performed an appendectomy on a member of the fictional Urkesh royalty.
  • The Backyardigans episode "Le Master of Disguise" features the Orient Express, showing Uniqua, Pablo, Austin, Tasha, and Tyrone going to Istanbul from Paris.
  • In an episode titled Murder on the Orient Express of Agatha Christie's Poirot, Poirot investigates the murder of a shady American businessman stabbed in his compartment on the Orient Express when it is blocked by a blizzard in Croatia.
  • Michael Palin's Around The World In Eighty Days (1988). Michael Palin travelled on the Orient Express in episode 1 from London Victoria to Innsbruck using a ferry across the English Channel from Folkestone. The train didn't continue on to Venice because of a strike on the Italian railways.


Games and animation


  • The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu RPG used the train for one of its more famous campaigns, Horror on the Orient Express.
  • The TSR role-playing game Top Secret had a 1983 module based on the Orient titled "Operation Orient Express".
  • Heart of China has a final sequence in the Orient Express. An action scene takes place on the roof.
  • The Orient Express plays host to an adventure game by Jordan Mechner: The Last Express is a murder mystery game set around the last ride of the Orient Express before it suspended operations at the start of World War I. Robert Cath, an American doctor wanted by French police as he is suspected of the murder of an Irish police officer, becomes involved in a maelstrom of treachery, lies, political conspiracies, personal interests, romance and murder. The game has 30 characters representing a cross-section of European forces at the time.
  • The Adventure Company developed a point-and-click adventure based on Agatha Christie's novel, Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express.
  • The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon spent the better part of an episode on the train.
  • In 1994's season 1 episode of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? called, "The Gold Old Bad Days", Carmen Sandiego and her V.I.L.E. gang are given a challenge to do something low tech by The Player robbery. Carmen's goal is the train.
  • The train is featured in Microsoft Train Simulator, where its route is a 101 kilometres (63 mi) section from Innsbruck to Sankt Anton am Arlberg in Austria.
  • The Orient Express was featured in two scenarios in the Railroad Tycoon series:
  • The Orient Express cars were made available for download to use in Auran's Trainz Railroad Simulator 2004 or later versions by the content creation group: FMA.
  • In the game Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped for PS1, the third level (which is Asian-themed) is named after Orient Express.
  • The first scenes of The Raven: Legacy of a Master Thief, a 2013 game for PC, involve a mystery set amongst train carriages inspired by the Orient Express.
  • The entire Orient Express set was used in the Facebook game, TrainStation.
  • The Orient Express is a usable engine and caboose in the mobile game Tiny Rails.


See also



  1. "Orient-Express - train".
  2. "Orient-Express". www.orient-express.eu.
  3. Zax, David (1 March 2007). "A Brief History of the Orient Express". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  4. Calder, Simon (22 August 2009). "Murder of the Orient Express – End of the line for celebrated train service". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  5. "A History of the Orient Express". Agatha Christie Limited. 17 May 2011. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  6. "'hidden europe' magazine e-news Issue 2007/15". 2007-06-07. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  7. "The Orient Express Takes Its Final Trip". NPR. December 12, 2009. Retrieved 2011-02-26.
  8. "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express - Luxury Train from London to Venice". www.vsoe.com.
  9. Lambert, Anthony (21 January 2013). "The Orient-Express: Great Train Journeys". The Daily Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  10. Piegsa-quischotte, Inke. "Memories of the Orient Express". Travel Through History. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  11. Smith, Mark. "A history of the Orient Express". Seat Sixty One. www.seat61.com. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  12. "The Orient Express – Across Europe from London to Istanbul". Eng Rail History. engrailhistory.info. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  13. Unauthorized use of CIWL property is illegal. For any request, contact www.wagons-lits-diffusion.com
  14. "compagnie des wagons-lits, orient-express, plm". www.wagons-lits-diffusion.com.
  15. "The Istambul Train (TV Mini-Series 1980– )" via www.imdb.com.
  16. Ninjaturtles: Turtles on the Orient Express
  17. "Il était une fois l'Orient Express". 29 April 2016.


Further reading

  • Orient Express: The Life and Times of the World's Most Famous Train by E H Cookridge.
    Detail from a copy of the first publication of the book with black and white plates by Allen Lane London in 1979 (ISBN 978-0-7139-1271-5)
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