The Nord Express started in 1896 running from Paris to St Petersburg. In the train’s original conception passengers could travel from St Petersburg to Paris, and then onward on CIWL’s Sud Express to Lisbon to connect with Ocean Liners to America and vice versa. It was the second of CIWL’s ‘Grand Expresses’ after the now legendary Orient Express. The fact that this route was over 2,500 miles, contained 2 changes of gauge (both the Portuguese and Russian railways run on wider rails) did not faze Nagelmackers. This was all done in great luxury compared to alternatives at the time.
Suspended for the First World War, the service resumed in 1923 to the Baltic States and Denmark following Russia’s communist revolution. After another stop for the Second World War the service restarted, but with the Soviet blockade of Berlin the train ran through to Scandinavia and Stockholm. Our sleeping car no. 3916 ran in this service for much of its life.
By 1954 there were sleeping cars running between Paris & Flensburg, Paris & Stockholm, Paris & Oslo, Paris & Hanover and Ostend & Copenhagen. There was also a Dining train running between Osnabruck, West Germany & Nyborg in Denmark. All of these were still under the ‘Nord Express’ banner.
Archive photo of Nord Express
From 1887, the Sud Express ran from Paris to the Spanish border, where passengers would transfer to the Spanish and Portuguese Sudstock for the rest of their journey to Madrid and Lisbon.
The original concept for the SUD express was conceived by the founder of the CIWL, Georges Nagelmakers. His plan was to introduce a service running from St. Petersburg to Madrid and Lisbon via Berlin and Paris. In order for this idea to have worked, the bogies of the sleepers would have to be changed at both the Russian and Spanish borders as both of these countries had a different track gauge to the rest of Europe.
The sleeping cars were originally 6 wheeled, but were upgraded in the early 1900's to wagon-saloon cars, offering a higher standard of travel. By the mid 1920's the Sud, in France, was a day train, usually consisting of 5 Pullman cars alongside 2 fourgons. The Spanish and Portuguese trains were made up of broad-gauge CIWL sleepers and diners.
After World War 2 the Sud's Pullman content was reduced to two coaches when the train was reinstated in 1947. This was later reduced again in 1955 to only one Pullman and a diner, the rest of the train consisting of ordinary SNCF coaches.
It was one of the two last trains to feature Pullman stock, the other being the Rome-Milan R30 express.
From the beginning of the century the CIWL had carried the wealthy and famous from Britain to the French Riviera for the Winter season.
It originally started with the Calais-Nice-Rome Express and later the Calais-Mèditerranèe Express, which had a duplicate service operating from Paris in the winter.
The sleeping cars of the era had bodies made from varnished teak, so when these trains received the first all-steel, blue painted S class sleepers in 1922 they made an immediate impression. This also sparked a large amount of publicity for CIWL, and the train was soon dubbed 'The Blue Train' (Le Train Bleu), however that title wasn't officially accepted until 1949.
In 1929 the S class stock were replaced by the most deluxe sleepers ever built for the CIWL - the LX class.
Each LX class vehicle started life with only 10 single-berth compartments, but the economic depression caused them to be rebuilt as LX16 (six two-berth and four single-berth compartments) and LX20 (10 two-berth compartments).
After its hiatus during World War 2 the Blue Train service resumed in the winter of 1946/47 with the LX Wagon-Lits and two dining cars.
During the early 1950's, three Pullmans were converted to Saloon bar cars and became a popular meeting point for the passengers of the Blue Train. These were eventually withdrawn from service in 1975
The Blue Train continued to live up to its name until 1958 when P class, stainless steel, Wagon-Lits were added; and later U, MU and T2 classes, breaking up the uniformity of the colour which made the train famous. Second class Wagon-Lits were added in 1956 and all the LX's were withdrawn in 1969.
During its prime the Blue Train would have consisted of anything up to 11 LX Wagon-Lits cars, a dining car, saloon car and a fourgon.
In total, 90 LX's were built. The first batch of 30 were constructed in the UK by Metro and the remaining 60 in France by EIC. The Dècor was by Prou, Maples, Morrison and Nelson.
Along with the Blue Train, the Golden Arrow was probably the most recognisable CIWL train in the UK during the 1930's. The glamorous 'First Class Only', Pullman Golden Arrow service began running between Calais and Paris in September 1926 - during the CIWL's Golden Jubilee year. The coaches were originally painted in the same brown/cream livery as the British Pullmans but were re-painted in blue and ivory during 1932. This soon became the CIWL's signature Pullman livery. In the same year, second class Pullmans were added.
The serviced ceased operating during World War 2 but resumed on 15h of April, 1946. One year on saw the Golden Arrow become the only postwar Pullman train operating on the continent. By 1950 however, regular SNCF (French Railways) coaches had been added to the rake, and the number of Pullmans was gradually reduced from 4, to 2, and finally 1.
The Golden Arrow was finally taken off of the timetables on May 31st, 1969 after the last Pullman ran from Calais to Paris.
The Golden Arrow departing from victoria Saturday 18.04.64
Golden Arrow at Bickley Junction - 19.3.55
Canterbury westside of Prince of Wales pier, Dover 1930's
The most famous of all the CIWL trains and also its pioneer long distance international service, was the Orient Express. Commencing in 1883 it ran between Paris and Giurgiu and then in 1888 between Paris and Constantinople.
After World War 2 it was reintroduced in 1946 and continued to run until the night of the 12th of December 2009. What remains of the Orient Express is but a shadow of its former self, running only from Strasbourg to Vienna, formed of Austrian stock but staffed by Wagons-lits.
Many would claim the Orient Express ceased to run on the 22nd May 1977 when the final timetabled run of the Orient Express took place covering the entire Paris to Istanbul route. However the timetable has continued to show the Orient Express service on the shortened route up until the 12th December 2009, so this date must be taken as the completion of the service.
To those not so familiar with the services of the CIWL you may be confused with the Venice Simplon Orient Express which continues to run. However this is a cruise train and not a regular timetabled service train and therefore cannot be counted as a continuation of the Orient Express.
Complicating matters further, the Orient Express was not the only CIWL service to incorporate orient in its title; there was the Simplon Orient Express, the Arlberg-Orient Express and the Direct Orient Express (which replaces the Simplon-Orient Express in 1962).
Today, mention of the Orient Express conjures up a vision of Great Luxury, however for much of its life the service was very mundane, unlike the Train Bleu it was not composed of the Luxurious LX sleeping cars, although commencing with considerable luxury for its day and certainly being frequented by the rich and famous, most of its customers simply needed a way to cross Europe and by 1977 its most usual customer was the back packer.
Although CIWL continued to staff the train until the end of its life, the last time that company owned sleeping cars were used on the service was in 1971.
For an extended history and a timeline of the service we recomend visiting the excellent Seat 61 website. This can be found by clicking here.
Pump Trolley experiences and hire are run by volunteers from The Night Mail Group at The Nene Valley Railway. All funds raised are used to support the restoration of our historic railway vehicles and the developement of The Night Mail Museum at Ferry Meadows Station.