The Heyday of Wagons Lits in the Inter-War Years

In the years prior to World War II, to keep pace with the introduction of new services, many new cars were built. These were all Teak bogie cars, until the 1920’s when there was a transition to all steel cars. The first batch of 40 were built in England by Leeds Forge in 1921 and were classed as Type S . The fact that so many of the new steel cars were built in England probably had much to do with the influence of Dalziel and the attractive payment terms that could be achieved from the British companies, paying for the cars over a good number of years. The main reason for this change to steel was regulations by the French Railways who considered wooden cars to be insufficiently safe.

Early steel cars, in this case VR2975 and 2750, although the picture taken when the cars were around 45 years old.

Early steel cars, in this case VR2975 and 2750, although the picture taken when the cars were around 45 years old.

The heyday of Wagons-Lits was during the inter-war years, although the great depression did affect it, many new cars were built and services up rated, including the introduction of the Pullman services and the very ambitious Night Ferry Service in conjunction with the Southern Railway Company in the UK, connecting London and Paris with direct sleeping cars, transferred by ferry overnight. See the Night Ferry Page for more details.

The well known colours of Wagons-Lits: dark blue with the gold lining, were introduced with the new steel cars and remained unchanged throughout the life of all Wagons-Lits cars with the exception of the Pullmans, the later P class stainless steel sleeping cars and Egyptian cars. Some teak Dinning cars were also painted into the Blue colours to match the new steel cars as the first steel dinning cars were not ready until 1925, again these were mainly British built to take advantage of better terms.

The most prestigious train to commence service or rather renamed was the Train Bleu, conveying the rich and famous to the Mediterranean, this service used the majestic steel sleeping cars with fine marquetry by the best designers and craftsmen of the day. Not everything was plain sailing during the inter-war years, cars took a long time to be returned from Germany and the MITROPA Company became serious competition in many areas.

The Pullman Car Company in Britain implemented new services particularly to channel ports, to satisfy the cross channel traveller, Wagons-Lits purchased identical Pullman cars for the service to Paris even to the extent of painting them umber and cream. The service being the Golden Arrow and was the most prestigious railway service in both Britain and the Continent. It was very easy for such cooperation between the two companies as the chairman of both companies was the same man, Dalziel.

Wagons-Lits Pullman car built for the Golden Arrow / Fleche d'Or service, this car being displayed in the French Railway Museum at Mulhouse.

Wagons-Lits Pullman car built for the Golden Arrow / Fleche d'Or service, this car being displayed in the French Railway Museum at Mulhouse.