The Story of the Orient Express

written by Kimball Thurlow

There is a mystique about the Orient Express and similarly named trains, which is quite difficult to fathom.
It is partly explained by the premium fares (or more properly the surcharge or supplement on the normal transit cost by ordinary train). It may be partly explained by the fact that a small percentage of the population ever had the means, let alone the reasons, to want to travel thereon.
It is also possible in my view, after studying various sources of information, that the mystique is as much conjured by the shroud of secrecy that wrapped itself around the control of these wagon fleets. The cross ownership of the companies that operated these ” luxury trains”, was often opaque, and information about them was either hidden, or otherwise unobtainable. And again, the mystique was in no small way contributed to by the sometimes difficult negotiations required for obtaining rights of passage into and out of various countries, and sovereignties. These rights were politically sensitive, and were as various as the agendas of bordering states, and competing business interests.

I am particularly interested in this train, the Orient Express, due to its German connections. This train is not to be confused with various other trains, which included the title “Orient Express” in the name. For example, the VSOE (Venice Simplon Orient Express) also travelled from Paris, but was scheduled all the way to Istanbul via Switzerland, Italy, and the Balkans (vv). This train finished in 1977.
The other train with the same ownership, and with German connections, was the Nord Express (or North South Express), which ran from Madrid and Lisbon, via Paris, and Berlin, and then morphed into the Trans-Siberian at St Petersburg.
The route of the Orient Express was in 1883 arranged by agreement with the following railroad authorities.
1. Est Railway Co of France (Paris to Avricourt (Kehl))
2. Alsace Lorraine Railways, Berlin (Kehl to Ulm)
3. State Railways of the Grand Duchy of Baden (Ulm to Munich)
4. Kingdom of Württemburg State Railways (Ulm to Munich)
5. Lines of Communication of the Kingdom of Bavaria (Munich to Simbach)
6. State Railways, Vienna (Simbach to Vienna)
7. Imperial and Royal Austrian State Railways Co
8. Roumanian Railways (Vienna to Budapest)

Time lines
1872 Georges Nagelmackers sets up the Compagnie Internationale de Wagon-Lits to run sleeping cars on other company railway lines in Europe. 1873 changes name to Mann’s Railway Sleeping Carriage Co Ltd (under which cars were painted royal blue), then back to CIWL (Compagnie Internationale des Wagon-Lits) in 1876.


1874 George Pullman of USA (with assistance from the Midland Railway in UK) starts the Pullman Palace Car Co Inc for sleeping car operations in Europe. Initial operations are in UK and Italy.


1883 CIWL runs first Paris-Vienna train, where passengers did not have to change trains at various border or railway company stages. By 1888, the train by then known as the Orient Express, was able to run through to Istanbul. Coaches were either varnished teak, or painted an umber colour to match.


1908 Davidson Dalziel privately purchases UK subsidiary of Pullman USA (British Pullman Palace Car Co) for sleeper and dining operations in UK and Europe, and cars are painted umber (brown) lower and cream upper panels. At this time, the CIWL cars in Europe are teak or umber all over, but many came to be painted with cream upper panels.


1915 Pullman Car Co Ltd becomes a public company in UK, purchasing all Dalziel’s (now Lord Dalziel) interests, and of which CIWL secretly becomes a shareholder.


1922 The CIWL Blue Train begins, from Calais to Côte d’Azur (on the Mediterranean) using only all-steel cars, painted royal blue with gold lining.

1924 Chocolate lower, and cream upper panel cars, used on Pullman Car Co Ltd’s (LC&DR) London to Dover train, for connection to ferry and trains in Europe.


1927 The name of this train changed to the Golden Arrow in UK. A new connecting train with all-steel cars, starts at Calais for Paris, named the Fléche D’Or . It has the same silverware, and cutlery, and the same coach interiors, carpets, upholstery and exterior livery as in UK.

1928 CIWL baggage cars (numbers 1263-1276) in Europe, painted blue lower and cream upper panels, for use in trains with connections to British services.

1931 CIWL restaurant car numbers 2444, 2445 and 2446 were painted blue lower, and cream upper panels, for use in the Golden Mountain Pullman Express.

1932 CIWL cars (except for Fléche D’Or), many now all-steel, are painted royal blue with gold lining. Blue cars for the Rome Express are attached to the Fléche D’Or as far as Paris, whence the train travelled by Dijon and Modane, and the Mt Cenis pass.

Link to Märklin models of the Orient Express

Enjoyment Of Marklin Index