Lonely Planet Writer

Grand refurbishment may herald the return of the historic Orient Express

Some 42 years after the Orient Express last whisked passengers through Europe in luxury, the prospect that the iconic train may go back into service again is on the table.

The refurbished Orient Express train.
The Orient Express may go back into service again.. Image: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

The Orient Express was a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883 by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CWIL), and it went on to become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. While several routes used the name, the last true Orient Express travelled from Paris to Istanbul in 1977.

The refurbished Orient Express train.
French rail operator SNCF is examining whether the restored Orient Express carriages could travel again. Image: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

French rail operator SNCF acquired the brand from CWIL in 1977, and began restoring seven carriages from 2011 with an investment of €14m ($15.6m). Three of the carriages are dining cars that were used on the original Orient Express, while the four were used on other routes run by the company. They are now equipped with luxurious armchairs, leather seats, varnished wooden tables and art deco lamps and fittings, and the company is examining whether the restored carriages could travel again and be brought in line with European security specifications.

The refurbished Orient Express train.
The Orient Express became synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. Image: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

SNCF examined the original plans and used the best replicas of the fixtures and fittings of the historic carriages during the refurbishment. Saying that this marks an investment in railway heritage, it hopes to have a decision made this summer as to whether the Orient Express will once again steam through Europe, giving passengers a glamorous experience and fabulous cuisine. For now, the carriages are being exhibited at Gare de l’Est station in Paris in their signature blue and gold colour, while the company considers a possible re-launch of the service.

The refurbished Orient Express train.
The Orient Express has luxurious armchairs, leather seats and varnished wooden tables. Image: Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

The famous train’s allure was helped by the role it played in various films and books, including Agatha Christie’s 1930s novel, Murder on the Orient Express, Bram Stoker’s 1897 book Dracula, and Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel From Russia, with Love.