Venice-Simplon Orient Express

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Orient Express.png
Gare de Paris-Est - VSOE - 2019-05-17 1 - patrick janicek.jpg
Franchise(s)Railtour Operator
Main service(s)Venice Simplon-Orient-Express
Belmond British Pullman
Belmond Royal Scotsman
Eastern & Oriental Express
Belmond Andean Explorer
Fleet sizeContinental train: 18 carriages, UK train: 9 carriages
Parent companyBelmond
WebsiteOfficial website
An Ae 6/6 locomotive of the SBB is seen pulling the train through Sierre, Switzerland.

The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) is a private luxury train service from London to Venice and other European cities. It is currently owned by Belmond.

These VSOE services are not to be confused with a regularly scheduled train called the Orient Express, which ran nightly between Paris and Bucharest – in the last years of operation cut back to between Strasbourg and Vienna – until 11 December 2009. This latter was a normal EuroNight sleeper train and was the lineal descendant of the original Orient Express daily departure from Paris to Vienna and the Balkans. While this descendant train was primarily used for every sort of passengers to Central and Eastern Europe, applying only the standard international train fares, the VSOE train is aimed at tourists looking to take a luxury train ride. Fares on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express are high as the service is intended not as an ordinary rail service, but as a leisure event with five-star dining included.

The train was established in 1982 by James Sherwood of Kentucky, United States. In 1977 he had bought two original carriages at an auction when the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits withdrew from the Orient Express service, passing the service on to the national railways of France, Germany, and Austria. Over the next few years, Sherwood spent a total of US$16 million purchasing 35 sleeper, restaurant and Pullman carriages. On 25 May 1982, the first London–Venice run was made.

The VSOE has separate restored carriages for use in the UK and for mainland Europe, but all of the same vintage (mostly dating from the 1920s and 1930s). Passengers are conveyed across the English Channel by coach on the Eurotunnel shuttle through the Channel Tunnel. In the UK Pullman carriages are used; in continental Europe sleeping cars and dining cars of the former Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits are used. Sleeper carriages have three levels of accommodation available: Grand Suites, Suites (from Summer 2023), and Historic Cabins.


VSOE runs services between March and November. The classical LondonParisMilanVenice (and return) route via the Simplon Tunnel was altered in 1984 to serve Zürich, Innsbruck, and Verona through the Brenner Pass. At the end of the 2010s an asymmetrical route was introduced, providing Geneva instead of Zürich, and the classical Simplon route eastbound, but sometimes also through the Gotthard pass. This journey is offered once or twice a week, depending on other trips. Two or three times a year Prague, Vienna, and Budapest are also accessed and traditionally in the turn of August/September the train goes to Istanbul via Budapest, Sinaia and Bucharest – in the last three cities a sightseeing tour (and in the two capitals an overnight stay in a hotel) also takes place.

Venice Simplon-Orient-Express at Dresden station

While the above-mentioned routes are available nearly every years - however, the Istanbul trip was cancelled some times due to political or health issues - some seasons have also included unique destinations in Switzerland (Lucerne), Germany (Cologne, Berlin, Dresden), Slovakia (Banská Bystrica and the High Tatras), Poland (Warsaw, Malbork, Cracow) and even Scandinavia (Copenhagen, Stockholm). Such special journeys are currently provided to Cannes, Rome, Florence, Brussels and Amsterdam. Many of these trips - together with Prague, Vienna and Budapest used to have different starting and final stations, either beginning in Venice and ending in Paris/London or vice versa (as the Istanbul trip), but as of 2022 the routes feature either Paris (Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Istanbul) or Venice (Amsterdam, Brussels) in both directions.

Mainland Europe train[edit]

The VSOE continental leg contains 18 carriages – 12 sleeping cars, three dining cars, a bar car and two former Ytb class sleepers, which provide accommodation for the staff and storage rooms for luggage and supplies as well. The ten Lx class sleepers have nine double compartments, while the two S1 class sleepers used to accommodate 17 passengers in four double and nine single compartments. As a higher service class Cabin Suites were offered until 2020, featuring two inter-connected compartments, one for sleeping, other for sitting. In March 2018[1] the Grand Suite class was introduced with the refitting of the S1 sleeping car No. 3425. The Grand Suites (bearing the names Paris, Istanbul and Venice) include double or twin bed layouts and a drawing saloon with a sofa (which is convertible to a third bed) and en-suite bathroom.[2] Three further Grand Suites (Prague, Budapest and Vienna) in the second S1 sleeping car No. 3309 were meant to be introduced to the service in March 2020,[3] but postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Summer 2023 the introduction of eight Suite class - two carriages with four compartments per each - is scheduled, featuring a similar layout, however with convertible beds (double and twin either) due to the lack of the drawing saloon.[4] The design is related to the Grand Suites, with the project names reflecting to famous landmarks around the train's route: La Forêt (The Forest, inspired by Black Forest), La Campagne (The Countryside, with a reminiscence to wineyards of France and Northern Italy), Les Montagnes (The Mountains, particularly Arlberg), and Les Lacs (The Lakes, among them Lake Zug and Lake Como).[5] They will be installed in two Lx carriages, presumably - due to their long absence from service - 3552 and 3555. The remaining conventional compartments are currently sold as Historic Cabins.

The Lx sleeping cars were refurbished in Ostend by the CIWL workshops, while the rest at the Hansa carriage works in Bremen. The renovation was made with some technical modifications, to match today's safety and comfort requests, for example the dining cars were fitted with modern kitchens. They have also become air-conditioned, which was introduced in 2017 even in the sleeping cars. In the mid-2000s the original bogies were changed to brand new ones to achieve higher speeds (160 km/h instead of 140 km/h).

The train has no dedicated motive power, haulage is provided in every country by the respective state railways with conventional electric and diesel locomotives designated for express and InterCity trains. The only known steam traction took place 2017 in Hungary - however, only within Budapest - by a MÁV Class 424.

In 2022-2023 due to the delayed inspection of the staff sleepers, a Trenitalia couchette car was added like substitute, but only on the classic Calais - Venice route and to Amsterdam.

Fleet list[edit]

Carriage type CIWL number Built by Year of construction Designer and design Notice
Sleeping car type "S1" 3309 Ateliers Métallurgiques de Nivelles 1927 Originally: René Prou, floral motives

Grand Suites: Wimberly Interiors

2019-2020 refurbished with "Grand Suite" compartments
Sleeping car type "S1" 3425 Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company 1929 Originally: René Prou, leaf motives

Grand Suites: Wimberly Interiors

2017-2018 refurbished with "Grand Suite" compartments
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3473 Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Co Ltd 1929 Morrison, "flower garland" motives Steward's compartment included
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3482 Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Co Ltd 1929 Morrison, "trapeze" motives Steward's compartment included
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3483 Metropolitan Carriage Wagon and Finance Co Ltd 1929 Morrison, "flower basket" motives Steward's compartment included
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3525 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 René Prou, Sapelli pearl
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3539 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 René Prou, Sapelli pearl Steward's compartment included
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3543 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 René Prou, Sapelli pearl
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3544 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 René Prou, Sapelli pearl
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3552 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 Nelson, tiger lily Steward's compartment included, 2022–2023 to be refurbished with "Suite" compartments
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3553 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 Nelson, tiger lily Steward's compartment included
Sleeping car type "Lx" 3555 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 Nelson, tiger lily Steward's compartment included, 2022–2023 to be refurbished with "Suite" compartments
Bar car 3674 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1931 Gérard Gallet Originally a dining car, redesigned as bar car
Sleeping car type "Ytb" 3912 Ateliers Métallurgiques de Nivelles 1949 Refitted with staff sleeping compartments and storage rooms
Sleeping car type "Ytb" 3915 Ateliers Métallurgiques de Nivelles 1949 Refitted with staff sleeping compartments and storage rooms
Dining car 4095 Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company 1927 L'Oriental, Interior originally in dining car No. 3083
Dining car 4110 Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company 1927 Étoile du Nord
Pullman dining car 4141 Entreprises Industrielles Charentaises 1929 René Lalique Côte d’Azur, fitted with a champagne bar

British train[edit]

35028 Clan Line hauling the 'British Pullman' in 2013, west of Bath

VSOE operates services within Great Britain separate from its main continental services as an open access operator. The Belmond British Pullman (which runs the London to Folkestone Harbour leg of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) consists mainly of former Brighton Belle Pullman coaches. It operates services mainly in the South of England and the Midlands, with York as its most northerly terminus. Usually operating from Victoria Station in London, specials run throughout the south of London to historic sites, including elaborate dining along the way. On 9 October 2007, the Westfield Group rented the whole train to open its new shopping centre in Derby, departing from the former LNER London King's Cross station.

Other related luxury trains[edit]

The Northern Belle was a more extensive day service operating throughout Great Britain, as far north as Inverness and south to Plymouth. It was in service and design closely resembling to the UK Pullman train, but composed of more modern British Rail Mark 2 and Mark 1 carriages. It was introduced in 2000, and sold 2017 by Belmond to private owners, who continue to operate it in the same manner.

The Royal Scotsman, first introduced in 1985, was taken over by Belmond in 2005. This overnight luxury train provides journeys through Scotland northbound from Edinburgh and Glasgow with its refitted East Coast Main Line Mark 1 Pullman carriages.

Inspired by this train, the Grand Hibernian was made of Irish Mark 3 carriages, and entered in service in August 2016 for trips in Ireland and Northern Ireland, but ceased in February 2021.

The company also operate services in Southeast Asia (the Eastern & Oriental Express between Bangkok and Singapore) and Peru (PeruRail). Between 1998 and 2003, a service on the East Coast of Australia named the Great South Pacific Express was also run. Those cars remained in storage in Australia after the service ceased, and transferred in 2016 to Peru for the Belmond Andean Explorer overnight train from Cusco to the Lake Titicaca and Arequipa. Since then the former day train with the same name and on the same route (however, only between Cusco and the Lake Titicaca) is featured as Titicaca Train. It has Pullman dining carriages and a bar car with observatory platform, like the Hiram Bingham train, which serves the narrow-gauge line towards Machu Picchu.

Media coverage[edit]

  • British travel journalist Alan Whicker joined the inaugural service in 1982, interviewing invited guests and celebrities along the way for his Whicker's World TV series.[6]
  • Comedian Michael Palin travelled on the train on the first leg of his journey Around the World in 80 Days in 1988, during which time he was accommodated in sleeping carriage 3544.
  • Actor David Suchet, best known for playing Hercule Poirot in a long-running series of television films adapting all of Agatha Christie's Poirot stories, including Murder on the Orient Express, hosts the Masterpiece Mystery episode "David Suchet on the Orient Express" about a real trip on this train which originally aired on 7 July 2010.[7]


  1. ^ "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – cabins & carriages explained | The Luxury Holiday Company". Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  2. ^ "Grand Suite Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – The Luxury Train Club". Luxury Train Club. 13 June 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  3. ^ "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express | Belmond | Luxury Trains". Luxury Trains journeys on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express Suite – The Luxury Train Club". Luxury Train Club. 13 July 2022. Retrieved 27 August 2022.
  5. ^ "Glamorous new 'Suite' category announced for the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, A Belmond Train, Europe". Belmond. 21 July 2022. Retrieved 17 February 2023.
  6. ^ "BFI: Whicker's World – Aboard The Orient Express". 26 September 1988. Archived from the original on 29 January 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2010.
  7. ^ "David Suchet on the Orient Express" (Web, Video). New York City. Retrieved 10 July 2010.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kelly, Peter (April 1983). "It's OK – I'll ride at the front!". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. pp. 10–13. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.
  • "VSOE brings 25 new jobs to Crewe and buys Waterman Class 50". RAIL. No. 339. EMAP Apex Publications. 9–22 September 1998. p. 14. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.
  • Holley, Mel; Jones, Robin (23 September – 6 October 1998). "VSOE to buy Regency and lease locomotives". RAIL. No. 340. EMAP Apex Publications. pp. 6–7. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.

External links[edit]