On October 4, 1874, Belgian entrepreneur Georges Nagelmackers founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the company known for the Orient Express trains. The Orient Express service was a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883. 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 variants thereof. Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name has become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Constantinople (Istanbul), the original endpoints of the timetabled service.
Georges Nagelmackers was born into a family of bankers, but was enthusiastic about railways early, and was educated as a civil engineer. After a failed love, he was given the chance to travel across the United States of America in order to recover from his lovesickness and continue his studies. During the 10 months, Nagelmackers traveled in the U.S., he also experienced train travel on Pullman carriages. Nagelmackers was convinced to bring the concept to Europe as well.
In 1870, Georges Nagelmackers proposed to develop sleeper carriages for the European market. Unfortunately for the engineer, the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War delayed the granting of a concession from the Belgian government and the establishment of his first sleeper carriage service. After several failed attempts, the first Express d’Orient left Paris for Vienna. The original route first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l’Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna.
On June 1, 1889, the first direct train to Istanbul left Paris (Gare de l’Est). Istanbul remained its easternmost stop until 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. During World War I, the service of the Orient Express halted. The Orient Express became so successful that several parallel services were running. It acquired its reputation from 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 right from one edge of continental Europe to the other.
However, after the start or World War II, the service was interrupted and it was not able to resume until 1945. But the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece prevented services from running until 1951, but then the closure of the Bulgarian–Turkish border from 1951 to 1952 further prevented services running to Istanbul. After the Iron Courtain fell across Europe, the Communist nations increasingly replaced the Wagon-Lits cars with carriages run by their own railway services.
In the 1960s and 1970s, further cuts had to be made and after the withdrawal of the Paris–Athens direct service many saw the end of the Orient Express. However, a service bearing its name continued to run from Paris to Budapest and Bucharest as before until 2001. Until June 2007 only the Strasbourg–Vienna route was left that is still bearing the name Orient Express.
References and Further Reading:
- Orient Express Information Website
- A Brief History of the Orient Express at Smithsonian
- Orient Express at Britannica