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Orient Express

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A variety of rail services have used the name "Orient Express" — we're covering all of them here:

  • The original route, shut down in 2009 and originally created by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits ("International Sleeping-Car Company"), known as CIWL for short, in 1883. The classic route was from Istanbul to Paris via Belgrade and Vienna (there were two versions, three a week each, taking different routes between Vienna and Paris.) This was truncated over the years to Paris-Vienna and ended as Strasbourg-Vienna. The final death knell was the introduction of High Speed Rail along most of the by then remaining line.
    • In 2021, the Paris-Vienna service was resurrected as part of the Nightjet sleeper network operated by Austria - with the successors to CIWL, Newrest Wagons-Lits, providing the on-train staff. This does not bear the name "Orient Express", but does use the 468/469 numbers that service used in its final years.
  • After WWI, the primary route was the "Simplon-Orient-Express", which was routed through Italy and Yugoslavia in order to avoid Germany, Austria, and Bulgaria. A clause in the Treaty of Versailles helped establish the train's route. This is the version of the Orient Express featured in Murder on the Orient Express. After 1962, this route was known as the "Direct-Orient-Express", finally ending in 1977.
  • The "Arlberg-Orient-Express" operated from Paris to Budapest via Zurich, Innsbruck, and Vienna, with connecting coaches to Bucharest and Athens. This route operated from 1930 to 1939, resuming after WWII and ending in 1962.
  • Various other Wagon-Lits services criss-crossed Europe, including the "Ostend-Vienna Orient Express", which exchanged cars that went on to Istanbul. The Vienna-Istanbul sleeping cars were cut in the 1960s, at which point it was renamed the "Ostend-Vienna Express". It was renamed again to the "Austria Nachtexpress" in 1991 and "DonauWalzer" in 1993. After the Channel Tunnel was opened, it was cut back to Brussels, finally being cancelled in 2003. This train is featured in the Graham Greene book Stamboul Train.
  • The luxury London-Venice service (although there are longer journeys available including to Verona, Berlin and Istanbul), the Venice Simplon Orient Express, which uses vintage engines (on occasion) and carriages. This is actually split into two
    • The Belmond British Pullman (another luxury service) that takes passengers to Folkestone West.
    • Passengers are then taken by coach via 'Le Shuttle' trains through the Channel Tunnel. The service historically never ran across the Channel, although there was a sleeper service known as the "Night Ferry" that ran with carriages transported across by boat - this ran from 1936 to 1980 (with a 1939-1947 gap because of the Second World War). The Night Ferry itself turns up in a number of works, most notably a 1976 children's film of that name featuring Bernard Cribbins as the villain.
    • They then board the Orient Express at Calais for an overnight journey to Venice.
    • As the name indicates, the VSOE was launched in 1982 following the route of the Simplon-Orient-Express via the Simplon Tunnel as far as Venice. The owners changed the route in 1985 because the train's tight schedule meant the best scenery was passed by at night, though they did maintain the Simplon route as a winter route before giving up winter operation some time in the 1990s. It now operates via the Arlberg Tunnel route to Innsbruck, then turns south to go to Venice, mostly following the route of the Arlberg-Orient-Express. The rerouting also allowed the company to introduce occasional runs to Vienna and Budapest. There is an annual service to Istanbul too.

The original endpoint of the route, Sirkeci Terminal on the European side of Istanbul is a sight to behold and while it does not see train service for the duration of construction work during the Marmaray project, its orientalist architecture is still a modern marvel.

The route was famed for its luxury sleeping and dining cars, having a general air of opulence about it. This said, there were no en-suite toilets - these were found at the end of the carriages. It should be pointed out that this was not one 'complete train', but a series of through carriages coupled on and uncoupled at various points in the journey, with locomotives changed at national borders. The most modern traction was generally used, so diesel and electric locomotives were increasingly common as time went by.

For more information, see here. Also here.

As mentioned above, this was by no means the only CIWL operation, with Le Train Bleu aka the Blue Train (which turns up in another Agatha Christie novel, The Mystery of the Blue Train) from Paris to the South of France, with a through carriage from Calais, being very popular with the British upper classes. The TGV service from Paris to Nice took much of its passengers away and it was gradually reduced to a seated and couchette service only, stopping entirely from 2017 to 2021.

The examples below feature the Orient Express in fiction, and fictional railway services clearly inspired by it.


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  • Case Closed has the Bell Tree Express, a clear expy considering that it's a train with a deliberate retro look and they arrange a murder mystery game on board every time it runs.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Avalanche Express, a Cold War Spy Fiction novel by Colin Forbes (also made into a movie starring Lee Marvin) involves a team of agents escorting a high-ranking Soviet defector on a service akin to the Orient Express, while fending off various attempts at murder and sabotage. Bad weather conditions prevent the team from flying him directly to the United States, but they're also using the defector as The Bait to flush out the Soviet sabotage network in Europe (which would otherwise only be activated in time of war).
  • In A College of Magics, the heroine and her friends travel on the Orient Express part of the way back to her Ruritanian homeland.
  • In Dracula, when Dracula escapes from England to Varna by sea, the cabal sworn to destroy him travels to Paris and takes the Orient Express, arriving in Varna ahead of him.
  • Alec and Magnus take the Orient Express to travel from Paris to Venice in The Eldest Curses. While there they get attacked by a bunch of demons.
  • Flashman and the Tiger by George MacDonald Fraser: Sir Harry Paget Flashman travels on the train's first journey as a guest of the journalist Henri Blowitz.
  • In the Diesel Punk story Leviathan, the Orient Express appears as a heavily armed high-tech train.
  • "The Napoli Express", a Lord Darcy mystery deconstructing the story of Murder on the Orient Express.
  • Murder on the Orient Express, where Hercule Poirot has to investigate a murder on the train. Adapted a number of times for film, including a modern-day adaptation. Christie did her research: Poirot tries to get a first-class berth on the Istanbul-Calais coach but this is full, so he takes a second-class berth until the Athens-Paris coach can be attached in Belgrade. In the end, his travelling companion, who is only going as far as Switzerland, moves into the Athens coach and gives Poirot his compartment. She also includes mention of the ordinary day coaches attached to the train by the railways along the line, a cost saving measure because of the Depression. A Wagon-Lits Pullman lounge car was typically attached to the train in Italy; the 1974 film used dramatic licence by having the Pullman on the train from Istanbul.
  • Also the Parker Pyne short story "Have You Got Everything You Want?" is set on board the train.
  • The Altiplano Express between Ankh-Morpork and Uberwald in Raising Steam.
  • The Solar Pons story "The Adventure of the Orient Express" takes place in 1938, when the coming war is hanging overhead like a thunderstorm ready to burst. For once without his detective partner, the narrator Dr Lyndon Parker is on the famous train leaving Prague, in the company of an abrasive and mysterious spy called Von Ruber. Also aboard are a bunch of Nazis, spies and adventurers looking for some hidden microfilm.
  • Stamboul Train by Graham Greene.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Michael Palin's Around the World in Eighty Days opens with a trip on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. It's cut short when the train reaches Italy in the middle of a railway workers' strike.
  • Mentioned in an episode of the 11th Doctor's run in Doctor Who. Apparently there was an Egyptian Goddess on the loose on it, and it was IN SPACE!. This Noodle Incident is elaborated on in the 12th Doctor story "Mummy on the Orient Express". It's a Mummy on the Orient Express IN SPACE!.
  • In the British soap opera EastEnders, in 1986, characters Den and Angie Watts spent their honeymoon on the train.
  • Get Smart had an episode titled "Aboard the Orient Express".
  • The Goodies: In "Daylight Robbery on the Orient Express", the Goodies set up a fake Orient Express for a convention of famous detctives. Things go even more spectacularly awry than they usually do.
  • Minder on the Orient Express (1985): a special episode of the long-running ITV sit-com Minder.
  • The Jason Alexander episode of Muppets Tonight had a skit called "Murder on the Disoriented Express", which mostly consisted of Alexander's Hercule Poirot trying to explain he wasn't Hercules.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Emergence": the train appears on the Enterprise's holodeck.

  • "Orient Express" is the title of a piece of music Jean-Michel Jarre composed for his 1981 Concerts In China. The video clip features footage of the classic train.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu used the train for one its more famous scenarios.
  • Twilight: 2000 has a scenario for its alternative setting of Merc 2000 called "Mess on the Orient Express", in which the PCs must retrieve a stolen ancient statute during a journey on the train.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • The Backyardigans episode "Le Master of Disguise" features the Orient Express, showing Uniqua, Pablo, Austin, Tasha, and Tyrone going to Istanbul from Paris.
  • In one episode of the British cartoon series Danger Mouse, called "Danger Mouse on the Orient Express", DM and Penfold travel on the train on their way back to London from Venice. DM's arch-enemy Greenback is also on the train. They're both vying for a document that could lead to disaster for Europe's tourist industry.
    • Also, Victor & Hugo: Bunglers in Crime also made by Cosgrove-Hall, has an episode 'Blunder on the Orient Express' where the brothers try to rob a train but accidentally end up on the Orient Express instead. A Hercule Poirot expy also appears.
  • Rugrats paid homage to Murder on the Orient Express with a (fake) murder mystery on the "Ornery Express".
  • The 1987 cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has an episode entitled "Turtles on the Orient Express". As the title suggests it is primarily based on the train.
  • In 1994's Season 1 episode of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? called "The Gold Old Bad Days", Carmen Sandiego and her V.I.L.E. gang are given a challenge to do something low tech by The Player. Carmen's goal is the train.