Orient Express

Orient Express
Orient Express
Aff ciwl orient express4 jw.jpg
Poster advertising the Winter 1888–89 timetable for the Orient Express
Locale Europe
Transit type inter-city rail
Number of lines 5
Number of stations 18
Began operation 1883
Ended operation 2009
Operator(s) Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)

The Orient Express was the name of a long-distance passenger train service originally operated by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits. It ran from 1883 to 2009 and is not to be confused with the Venice-Simplon Orient Express train service, which continues to run.

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 Istanbul, the original endpoints of the timetabled service.

In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Vienna, ran for the very last time from Paris on Friday, June 8, 2007. After this, the route, still called the "Orient Express", was shortened to start from Strasbourg instead,[1] occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which affords much faster 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".[2] The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture using original carriages from the 1920s and 30s, continues to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul.[3]


Train Eclair de luxe (the 'test' train)

Georges Nagelmackers invited guests to a railway trip of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) on his 'Train Eclair de luxe' (lightning luxury train). The train left Paris Gare de Strasbourg 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, 1882, at 16:40 and, as planned, re-entered the Gare de Strasbourg at 20:00 on Saturday October 14, 1882.

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 14 beds (3 axles)
  • Sleeping coach with 14 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.


Historic routes of Orient Express

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.

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, from where they completed their journey to Istanbul (then called Constantinople) by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv and rail again to Istanbul.

In 1889, the train's eastern terminus became Varna in Bulgaria, where passengers could take a ship to Istanbul. On June 1, 1889, the first non-stop train to Istanbul left Paris (Gare de l'Est). Istanbul 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.

The onset of World War I 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 Istanbul.

The 1930s saw the zenith of Orient Express services, with three parallel services running: the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zurich 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 right from one edge of continental Europe to the other.

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, but Yugoslav Partisans frequently sabotaged the track, forcing a stop to this service.

Following the end of the war, normal services resumed except on the Athens leg, where the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece prevented services from running. That border re-opened in 1951, but the closure of the BulgariaTurkey border from 1951 to 1952 prevented services running to Istanbul 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 Istanbul 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–Istanbul service running on May 19 of that year.

The withdrawal of the Direct Orient Express was thought by many to signal the end of Orient Express as a whole, but in fact a service under this name continued to run from Paris to Budapest and Bucharest as before (via Strasbourg, Munich, and Budapest). This continued until 2001, when the service was cut back to just Paris–Vienna, the coaches for which were attached to the Paris–Strasbourg express. This service continued daily, listed in the timetables under the name Orient Express, until June 8, 2007. However, 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.


The Istanbul Gar bell

It provided a convenient connection from the TGV arrival from Paris. Before December 14, 2009, this service provided an efficient connection between Paris and Vienna: departure from Paris at 19.24, arrival in Vienna at 8.35, in the other direction departure from Vienna at 20.34, arrival in Paris at 9.34.

EN468-469 Orient-Express

From 14 December 2008 until December 2009, the Orient-Express (with a hyphen) ran as EuroNight services EN468 and EN469 between Vienna and Strasbourg. Four through carriages still operate from Budapest to Frankfurt am Main and three additional carriages Vienna–Frankfurt. The trains operate daily. EN468/469 was discontinued as of the December 2009 Deutsche Bahn timetable change.

A modern ÖBB sleeper car


The train consists of sleeper cars, couchette cars and saloon cars of the Austrian (ÖBB) and Hungarian (MÁV) national railways.

Though the current service only runs from Strasbourg to Vienna, it is possible to retrace the entire original Orient Express route with four trains: Paris–Strasbourg, Strasbourg–Vienna, Vienna–Belgrade and Belgrade-Istanbul, each of which operate daily. Other routes from Paris to Istanbul also exist, such as Paris–MunichBudapestBucharest–Istanbul, or Paris–Zurich–Belgrade–Istanbul, all of which have comparable travel times of approximately 60 hours without delays.

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

Privately run trains using the name

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 including meals. As of October 2009 the company offers once a year service from Paris to Istanbul in August and Istanbul to Paris trip in September. Other routes include:

  • Istanbul–Bucharest–Budapest–Venice
  • London–Venice
  • London–Venice–Rome
  • Paris–Budapest–Bucharest–Istanbul
  • Paris–Venice
  • Rome–Venice
  • Venice–Budapest–London
  • Venice–KrakowDresden–London
  • Venice–London
  • Venice–Paris
  • Venice–Prague–London
  • Venice–Vienna–London
  • Venice–Rome

The company also offer similarly themed Express in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, called the Eastern & Oriental Express.

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

In popular culture

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.


Agatha Christie's room at the Hotel Pera Palas in Istanbul, where she wrote Murder on the Orient Express



  • 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.
  • "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.[5]
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Emergence": the train appears on the Enterprise's holodeck.
  • 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 in Christmas 1986.[citation needed]
  • "Aboard the Orient Express" Get Smart series 1, episode 13 is set on the Orient Express, though filmed on set.
  • Michael Palin travels on the Orient Express in travel documentary series Around the World in 80 Days in which he retraces the footsteps of Phileas Fogg.
  • In one episode of the British cartoon series Dangermouse, called "Dangermouse on the Orient Express" (a parody of Murder on the Orient Express), Dangermouse and Penfold travel on the train on their way back to London from Venice. Dangermouse'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."


  • Orient Expressions: Musical group from Turkey who combine traditional Turkish music with elements of electronica.
  • The Jean Michel Jarre album The Concerts in China has a track entitled "Orient Express" as track 1 of disc 2, though the relation to the train is unknown.
  • A concert band piece, Orient Express is written by Philip Sparke.

Games and animation

  • The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu RPG used the train for one of its more famous scenarios.
  • 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, and 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 give 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:
    • In Railroad Tycoon II, you get to connect Paris to Constantinople in a territory buying challenge.
    • In Railroad Tycoon 3 you need to connect Vienna to Istanbul.
  • 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.

See also


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 0-7139-1271-7)

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Orient Express —  Pour l’article homonyme, voir L Orient Express.  Publicité d époque L Orient Express est un train de luxe qui, depui …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Orient Express — Orient Ex|press, the a famous ↑luxury railway train, used especially by rich people. It used to run (1883 1977) between Paris and Istanbul in Turkey, but there is now a luxury Orient Express train that goes from London to Venice. The train… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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  • Orient Express — Übersichtskarte der Zugläufe Den Namen Orient Express trugen mehrere Eisenbahnverbindungen zwischen Westeuropa und dem Balkan. In der Zeit bis zum Zweiten Weltkrieg handelte es sich um einen Luxuszug der Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Orient-Express — ▪ train also called (1919–77)  Simplon–Orient Express        luxury train that ran from Paris to Constantinople ( Istanbul) for more than 80 years (1883–1977). Europe s first transcontinental express, it initially covered a route of more than… …   Universalium

  • Orient Express — El Orient Express es un tren de lujo que, desde 1883, ha hecho el viaje entre París (Estación del Este) y Estambul, con paradas en distintas capitales europeas. Tanto la decoración como la vajilla fueron diseñadas en los años 20, por René Lalique …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Orient Express — an express passenger train in service between Paris and Istanbul from 1883 until 1977, using various routes. Some or parts of the routes continue to be served by regular service and by rail tours. * * * Luxury train that ran from Paris to… …   Universalium

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