The Orient Express Train
When did the Orient Express begin its train journeys and why did it end its life in the late 1970s?
The Orient Express (also called SIMPLON-orient-express) was a luxury train that ran from Paris to Constantinople for more than 80 years (1883-1977). The Orient Express travelled from west to east and then back. Its name comes from Orient, another word for ‘east’.
As Europe’s first transcontinental express, it initially covered a route of more than 1700 miles (about 2740 km) that included brief stopovers in such cities as Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. During Word War I the service was consequently disrupted and stopped until 1919 when it began again. The service was interrupted again in Word War II and resumed in 1947.
The train was developed by Belgian businessman Georges Nagelmackers and made its first journey in 1883. The first journey took passengers from Paris to Varna (Bulgaria) and were then ferried by steamship across the Black Sea to Constantinople. By 1889 the entire trip was made via rail.
At one time passengers could travel direct from Paris to the Turkish City of Istanbul, where Europe meets Asia. The train passed through Milan in Italy, Belgrade in Yugoslavia, and Sofia in Bulgaria. Today’s equivalent runs from Paris to Vienna in Austria and Bucharest in Romania.
Nagelmacker's firm, La Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Europeans furnished the trains with a library, a smoking-room, a ladies’ boudoir and many dining and sleeping cars, plush red armchairs, mosaic floored-bathrooms, a tapestry-lined dining room with an embossed leather ceiling, oriental rugs, velvet drapes and mahogany panelling. The Orient Express and the usual running trains of the same era simply didn’t compare when it came to design and luxurity.
The popularity of the train was undoubtedly helped by the references in many writers’ books and literary works such as Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express – 1934) and Graham Greene, whose work helped make the train world-famous.
In 1977, The Orient Express was discontinued due to the declining passenger numbers. In 1982 James Sherwood revived the train as the Venice Simplon Orient-Express, covering several routes between London and Venice and the old Orient Express was brought into the new century.