Saturday, 5 February 2011

Major Project - Original Orient Express Timeline

1876 - A Belgian, Georges Nagelmackers, founded La Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. His vision was to provide luxury sleeping and dining cars across Europe. The national railways of the countries concerned provided the rolling stock, as in the trains, the tracks and the stations. The Wagons-Lits Company provided the sleeping and dining cars, and they also staffed them. The passenger paid one fare for the journey, but that was the price of a first class railway ticket, which went to the national railways and a supplement for sleeping and dining, which went to Nagelmacker to maintain the luxury of the mode of travel

1883 - The Orient Express begins a biweekly service. Originally a through service was not possible the original route crossed the Danube in Bulgaria, and had to travel seven hours on an extra train to Varna, on the Black Sea. A Steamer then took the passengers across the Bosphorous to Istanbul.

1885 - The service became daily on the section of track connecting Paris, Munich and Vienna. Beyond Vienna, The Orient Express continues to operate on two days a week to Giurgiu for the ferry to Ruse, the connecting train to Varna and the onward steamer to Istanbul.

1889 - The direct line is completed, the Paris-Constantinople operation starts in June 1889, for the journey, which then took 67 hours

1909 - The Orient Express is refurbished to an even more luxurious standard.

1914 - The Orient Express is suspended in July as a result of the Great War. The Germans try to run a competing Berlin-Constantinople train, the 'Balkanzug'.

1919 - In February the Orient Express is reinstated, twice a week from Paris to Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest, but via Zurich and the Arlberg Pass into Austria to avoid Germany. It resumes operation through Germany in 1920, although it was again suspended in 1923-24 with the occupation of the Ruhr.

On 11 April 1919 the Simplon Orient Express starts running in addition to the Orient Express, this uses the Southerly route from Paris to Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Trieste, Belgrade, and (from 1920) Istanbul. This route has the advantage of avoiding Germany and it rapidly becomes the main route from Calais and Paris to Istanbul. The Treaty of Versailles had a specific clause requiring Austria to accept this train. At the time Trieste that is now in Italy, was part of Austrian territory, and to maintain the glory of Vienna, they tried unsuccessfully to force every train to stop in the capital.

1922 - The new cars are painted blue with gold lining and lettering, replacing the varnished teak of the earlier Wagons-Lits cars. Blue and gold all-steel dining cars replace the older restaurant cars from 1925 onwards. Those same blue and gold colours are used today.

1929 - The westbound Orient Express becomes firmly embedded in snow for 5 days at Tcherkesskeuy, which is just outside Istanbul. This incident, the stopping of the train inspired Agatha Christie's plot in 'Murder on the Orient Express'. Agatha Christie needed a 'Pullman' salon car to enhance the story. However there was never one on the Orient Express. So a certain amount of literary license was employed when she wrote one in to the story so that Hercule Poirrot could stop and ponder the identity of the murderer.

1939-42 - Most of the great European trains are suspended for the Second World War. Again the Germans tried to muscle in on the action. The German Mitropa Company, ran its own equivalent, but was eventually forced to discontinue the service. It never became an economically viable proposition as the partisan continually de-railed it.

1945 - The Simplon Orient resumes running in November 1945, three times a week Calais, Paris, Milan, Venice, to Sofia.

1947 - The route was once again extended to Istanbul. Post war conditions were very different for this great line. It was in its heyday, the line, and the only direct line, from Calais to Istanbul. The separate national railway lines started to compete at least for parts of the journey, and also less people traveled the route for pure pleasure. There had been a decline in the number of rich undertaking what had been known as the "GRAND tour".

Additional political problems still beset the line despite the fact that the sleeper cars had resumed, a through sleeper was not possible because of problems on the Greek Yugoslavian border. One of the final nails in the coffin was the ascendancy of Communism in Eastern Europe. As the national railways supplied the rolling stock the distinctive blue and gold carriages, and needless to say the drab cars, which replaced the old stock, had little to do with luxury and everything to do with functionality. The company simply could not maintain the luxury on all the fronts

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 Calais are withdrawn, and they will never resume and all the trains begin and terminate the journey from Gare De Lyon In Paris.

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 and Venice.

1967 - The Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits drops the suffix 'et des grands express Europ?ens' from its title and adds 'et du tourisme' instead.

1971 - The Wagons-Lits company can no longer maintain the service with the sleeping and dining supplement alone. They are forced to lease the sleeping cars to the national railway companies. Today the cars are either owned or leased by all the national companies, however the Wagons-Lits company still provides the sleeping attendants, the bed linen, and the catering.

1977 - The Direct-Orient Express is withdrawn completely, ending all direct service from Paris to Istanbul. The last run left Paris Gare de Lyon at 23:56 on 19 May 1977 (actually, a few minutes late, on 20th May!).

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