Venice-Simplon Orient Express
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|Main service(s)||Venice Simplon-Orient-Express|
Belmond British Pullman
Belmond Northern Belle
Belmond Royal Scotsman
Eastern & Oriental Express
|Fleet size||Continental train: 18 carriages, UK train: 9 carriages|
The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, or VSOE, is a private luxury train service from London to Venice and other European cities. It is currently owned by Belmond Ltd. Belmond operates 45 luxury hotels, restaurants, tourist trains and river cruises in 24 countries, and agreed in December 2018 to be acquired by LVMH in a transaction expected to close in the first half of 2019.
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 regular 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, USA. 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 continental 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.
VSOE runs services between March and November. The classical London - Paris - Milan - Venice (and return) route via the Simplon Tunnel was altered in 1984 to serve Zürich, Innsbruck and Verona through the Brenner Pass. This journey is offered once or twice a week, depending on other trips. Two or three times a year Prague or Vienna and Budapest are also accessed, starting from Venice, and returning to Paris and London. Every September the train also travels from London and Paris 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 - the return trip on the same route ends in Venice.
While the above mentioned routes are available most years, some seasons have also included unique destinations, among them Cologne, Rome, Florence, Lucerne, the High Tatras, Cracow, Dresden, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Such a journey is currently provided to Berlin.
The VSOE continental leg contains 18 carriages - 12 sleeping cars, three dining cars, a bar car and two former sleepers, which provide accommodation for the staff and storage rooms for luggage and supplies as well. The Lx class sleepers have nine double compartments, while the S1 class sleepers accommodate 17 passengers in four double and nine single compartments. As of March 2018 the Grand Suite class was introduced with the refitting of the sleeping car No. 3425. The three suites (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.
Most of the coaches 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).
|Carriage type||CIWL number||Built by||Year of construction||Designer and design||Notice|
|Sleeping car type "S1"||3309||Ateliers Métallurgiques de Nivelles||1927||René Prou, floral motives||Steward's compartment included|
|Sleeping car type "S1"||3425||Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company||1929||René Prou, leaf motives||Steward's compartment included, to be 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|
|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|
|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|
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–Folkestone 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.
The Belmond Northern Belle is a more extensive day service operating throughout Great Britain, as far north as Inverness and south to Plymouth. It is composed of more modern British Rail Mark 2 coaches, with British Rail Mark 1 kitchen cars, liveried and named to resemble the older Pullman coaches. The haulage is done by Direct Rail Services locomotives, usually two Class 57s. Locomotives 57305 & 57312 have been painted in the Northern Belle livery. Selected services are also hauled by preserved steam locomotives.
The Royal Scotsman, first introduced in 1985, was taken over by Orient Express in 2005. This overnight luxury train provides journeys through Scotland northbound from Edinburgh and Glasgow with its refitted ECML 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.
The company also operate services in South-East Asia (the Eastern & Oriental Express between Bangkok and Singapore) and Peru (PeruRail). Between 1998 and 2003, the 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.
- 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.
- 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 hosts the Masterpiece Mystery episode "David Suchet on the Orient Express" about a real trip on this train which originally aired on July 7, 2010.
- "Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – cabins & carriages explained | The Luxury Holiday Company". www.theluxuryholidaycompany.com. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
- "Grand Suite Venice Simplon-Orient-Express - The Luxury Train Club". Luxury Train Club. 13 June 2017. Retrieved 14 December 2018.
- "BFI: Whicker's World – Aboard The Orient Express". Fvdb.bfi.org.uk. 26 September 1988. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- "David Suchet on the Orient Express" (Web, Video). Pbs.org. New York City. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- 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.
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