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Historical Inquiry: 1903 Rail Line between Paris and Brussels; Luxury Train Car

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Historical Inquiry: 1903 Rail Line between Paris and Brussels; Luxury Train Car
Posted by just_here_to_ask on Thursday, October 7, 2021 11:05 PM

Hello all,

As my screenname indicates, I am just here to ask a few questions and then I'll stop cluttering up your forum. A friend and I are writing a historical fiction story about a pair of detectives who are traveling Europe during 1903. We want to write a scene where they get to travel first class from Paris to Brussels. (One of them has a rich patron willing to pay their way so long as they solve this case for him.)

During my research I found some very interesting maps of rail lines and learned quite a bit about how Belgium created their rail lines but I have not found any information on connecting lines between Paris and Brussels circa 1903 even though I am absolutely certain they existed. I also can't find any information on what sort of trains were actually in use in France and Belgium at the time. (I suspect this is because the source materials are in French and Flemish.) My French is rusty and my Flemish is nonexistent so you can see how finding this stuff has been a difficult time for me.

At first I thought it must be the Orient Express but of course they did not have a rail line connecting Paris and Brussels (that I know of.) Since France connected their line to Belgium's in the 19th century then there must have been a subsequent line between the two cities. It would have been the first line they built, and certainly there's a modern line between them now.

We could of course just make it up and no one would be the wiser. But it would bother me immensely if we couldn't be accurate. To recap, my questions are:

1) What was the rail line between Paris and Brussels during 1903?

2) What train and first class train cars were used on this rail line?

3) What companies managed this line and the trains?

Thank you guys so much for indulging me! I'm sure this is an odd request so I appreciate anyone taking the time to read this.

Tags: belgium , fiction , france
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Posted by samfp1943 on Friday, October 8, 2021 10:48 AM

"just_here_to_ask"   "...wrote the following post 11 hours ago"  See Thread posted by O.P. earlier!  Welcome

As it has been said before..."The only dumb question; is the one that is not asked, OR answered!

To the OP this is probably a good place to ask it.   Therer are any number of Posters around here with all sorts of arcane facts, stored up in their memory banks.SighSmile, Wink & Grin

There are some posters from the U.K that 'read' this FORUM, and post irregularly. One source, might be a lady, "Juniatha",  who used to post here regularly, these days, not so much...She's very knowledgible on European Power and Rails .  Possibly, another poster, here, might be ale to contact her?

The FORUM at Classic Trains  Magazine might be also, a resource, as well?

KEEP US POSTED AROUND HERE, AS WELL. ON YOUR RESEARCH   Yeah  Whistling

 

 

 


 

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Posted by Overmod on Friday, October 8, 2021 12:32 PM

Thank you, Belgium, for this useful post:

https://trainworld.be/en/collections/in-the-spotlight/the-brussels-paris-line-a-175-year-history

Your early posts will be in mandatory moderation, which means any response will be delayed by hours or days BUT show up in order by the date and time you posted it... which for popular topics might leave it invisibly far down the displayed thread.

If you have access to the PM system (not all users do; they have promised this will be fixed, but no sign of success yet) you might contact user 'flintlock76' and ask him to contact a couple of reference sources who no longer post here, but may contribute materially to the quality of your result.  To my knowledge there is no lag on sending and receiving PMs.

 

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Posted by just_here_to_ask on Friday, October 8, 2021 11:34 PM

samfp1943

"just_here_to_ask"   "...wrote the following post 11 hours ago"  See Thread posted by O.P. earlier!  Welcome

As it has been said before..."The only dumb question; is the one that is not asked, OR answered!

To the OP this is probably a good place tol ask it.   Therer are any number of Poster around here with all sort of arcane facts stored up in their memory banks.SighSmile, Wink & Grin

There are some posters from the U.K that 'read' this FORUM, and post irregularly. One source, might be a lady, "Juniatha"  who used to post here regularly, these days, not so much...She's very knowledgible on European Power and Rails .  Possibly, anolther poster, here, might be ale to contact her?

The FORUM at Classic Trains  Magazine might be also, a resource, as well?

KEEP US POSTED AROUND HERE, AS WELL. ON YOUR RESEARCH   Yeah  Whistling

Thank you! I'll ask around Classic Trains Magazine as well, I appreciate the recommendation.

With regards to my research, I did find out some interesting facts just from scanning Wikipedia (though I know they aren't the most reliable sources they're a decent place to start.) There I did turn up some interesting information about the railway stations.

Antwerpen-Berchem - opened May 3 1836. until 1974 it was known colloquially as just "Berchem" since Berchem was a city unto itself until Antwerp swallowed it as it expanded. However there has apparently been disputes between France and Belgium about whether or not this is an international train station over the centuries. 

Antwerpen-Zuid - opened July 10 1878. this seems a bit local to me and not an international stop during 1903.

Ekeren - opened 3 July 1854 as part of another line. I do not think this is an international stop in this time period either.

Antwerp–Lage Zwaluwe - this was opened between 1854-1876, not entirely sure when. However it is 100% an international stop. Apparently this is also the main hub where a train from Paris may go on to Brussels and arrive at Antwerp Centraal....which opened on August 11, 1905.

Antwerp-Centraal - construction began on this station in 1895, apparently as a replacement for the hub that had been there before. This is the Brussels station which means that it is not available for our heroes to stop at anyway, since they are traveling in 1903! 

Putting this together means that I've at least figured out where the protagonists will end up. Still searching for the rail line and any details on the train and train cars, but we are getting closer my friends! Pirate

Overmod

Thank you, Belgium, for this useful post:

https://trainworld.be/en/collections/in-the-spotlight/the-brussels-paris-line-a-175-year-history

Your early posts will be in mandatory moderation, which means any response will be delayed by hours or days BUT show up in order by the date and time you posted it... which for popular topics might leave it invisibly far down the displayed thread.

If you have access to the PM system (not all users do; they have promised this will be fixed, but no sign of success yet) you might contact user 'flintlock76' and ask him to contact a couple of reference sources who no longer post here, but may contribute materially to the quality of your result.  To my knowledge there is no lag on sending and receiving PMs.

This post is brilliant, thank you for finding it! I actually tooled around on that website for a bit looking at primary source documents but I completely failed to find that post haha! This is very helpful and helps establish our timeline, thank you.

Mandatory moderation makes sense so no bother to me. I'll check if I have access to PMs and see if I can get in touch with Mister Flintlock76. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Saturday, October 9, 2021 2:11 PM

I suggest you try Googling Wagon Lits , the French equivalent of USA's Pullman, which started in business before 1903, if T am correct.  The info on the web should indicate which trains used their equipment and people, and they provided most of the luxury equipment and  sevices for most of Europe up to WWII.

In 1903, a luxury trip would certainly include overnight in beds in one or compartments and at least one and possibly two or even three dining-car meals.

All of  which woul be in Wagon Liits cars.

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Posted by Overmod on Saturday, October 9, 2021 6:38 PM

CIWL founded 1876 (the founder was, in fact, a Belgian).

The first actual CIWL train running from Paris to Brussels that I can find would be the Nord Express operating through a change of gauge to St. Petersburg (begun May 9 1896).  Later an alternate route (every other day, I think) to Warsaw was started (I believe 1899).  Here is one of those trains in Prussia in the desired year of 1903:

At some point there was a CIWL service from Calais to Brussels, I believe started in the late 1890s; I do not know if this was part of a 'boat train' avoiding congestion in Paris.

I have seen reference to a joint French-Belgian 'Nord Express' as early as 1890 but it had no CIWL sleepers.

https://www.trains-worldexpresses.com/500/503.htm

Note that in 1907 (after the deaths of Georges Pullman and Nagelmackers) the owner of the original London taxi franchise acquired the British Pullman Company and then CIWL and ran the whole thing, which I thought of as being a bit like Eveready and Duracell. But that came after the era in the OP's request.

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, October 10, 2021 4:14 AM

So the Noird Express started on 1890 and its sleepers in 1896.

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, October 10, 2021 1:43 PM

daveklepper
So the Nord Express started on 1890 and its sleepers in 1896.

The railway commenced operations in 1846; here is Le Rail's discussion from 1963 en Francais:

https://nmbs-asp.adlibhosting.com/Content/GetContent?command=getcontent&server=pdf&value=2017\201705\K24410.pdf

I suspect there were trains on Rothschild's Chemin de Fer du Nord that qualified as expresses earlier than 1890, but I have no cites.

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, October 11, 2021 5:58 AM

For the puposes of your book:  Two traveling together would have the choiced, tn a 1st-Class Wagon Lits sleeper, of two compartmenys, each with one bed, or one larger compartment with two beds, usually one above the other.  A sink, water, and towel(s), but the "facilities" are shaired at the end of the  hallway.  First choice is a  compartment in the center of the car for the smoothest ride.

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Posted by M636C on Monday, October 11, 2021 6:52 PM

I'm not sure that the Nord Express would be the first choice for such a short journey. The distance from Paris Gare Du Nord to Brussels is around 350 km, with a current rail journey time of less than 1.5 hours.

Even in 1900, I think the travel time was only about four hours for an express train.

I don't know the schedule of the Nord Express but it would be impractical to use a sleeping car for such a short journey. There is no indication that a sleeping car would be detached in Brussels to allow passengers to awake at a reasonable hour.

I'm sure CIWL would sell you a sleeping compartment for the journey, and replace the linen for a passenger boarding in Brussels for (say) Warsaw or Moscow.

If it was an evening journey, I'm sure that maybe two hours could be comfortably spent in dining car having a lesuirely meal and drinks.

But CIWL provided dining cars on the "ordinary" express trains composed of day coaches, and the same elegant service was available at other times of the day that might allow an earlier and more convenient arrival in Brussels (or Paris).

A very good reference to CIWL is Rollende Hotels by Dr Fritz Stockl, published by Bohmann Verlag in Vienna in 1967.

On page 25, it gives details of the "Nord Express" in 1909, even including the numbers of the sleeping, dining and baggage cars in use at that time on this train.

It provides floor plans of most of the sleeping and dining cars used by CIWL, and a numerical list of all cars giving date of construction and builder.

Basically, the train left Paris with two sleeping cars and a baggage car, which ran through to Warsaw. A dining car was attached and detached at intermediate points to suit meal times. Another set of cars ran from the Ferry port at Ostend, amalgamating with the cars from Paris in Brussels. This also had two sleeping cars, and a dining car that ran through to Warsaw, and two baggage cars, one of which ran through to Warsaw, the other being detached in Brussels. The connecting trains to St Petersburg and Moscow each had two sleeping cars and a baggage car, those to Moscow being broad gauge.

The cars in question were built in the late 1890s, with varnished unpainted teak bodies with brass lettering and badges.

The dining car in particular would have looked generally similar to the well known car used for the Armistice in 1918, no 2419D, (although that car was built in 1914).

Whatever train was used, it most likely had a CIWL dining car that would have looked like 2419D, so some idea of the travel conditions of the early 1900s can be gained by looking at details of 2419D (although the present one is in fact 2439D renumbered since the original was destroyed during WWII).

Peter

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, October 11, 2021 8:17 PM

Information I saw said the Ostend and Paris sections were joined at Lille (still in France) before proceeding to Brussels.

Most of the discussion of CIWL serving this market involves first the St. Petersburg through traffic, then Warsaw.  I see reference to serving Brussels but I thought that referred primarily to traffic boarding there bound for 'the East'.  I suspect people boarded the wagons-lits in Paris, and people boarded the wagons-lits in Brussels, but as you note few would board a sleeper in Paris just to detrain a few hours later... at a poor hour.  I saw no evidence that a train that short would have a car detached just for the Brussels traffic...

What we need is the timetable for all the trains on the Nord in that period of 1903.  Surely someone can produce it.

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Posted by M636C on Monday, October 11, 2021 10:31 PM

Overmod

Information I saw said the Ostend and Paris sections were joined at Lille (still in France) before proceeding to Brussels.

Most of the discussion of CIWL serving this market involves first the St. Petersburg through traffic, then Warsaw.  I see reference to serving Brussels but I thought that referred primarily to traffic boarding there bound for 'the East'.  I suspect people boarded the wagons-lits in Paris, and people boarded the wagons-lits in Brussels, but as you note few would board a sleeper in Paris just to detrain a few hours later... at a poor hour.  I saw no evidence that a train that short would have a car detached just for the Brussels traffic...

What we need is the timetable for all the trains on the Nord in that period of 1903.  Surely someone can produce it.

 

 

I'd be surprised if a connecting eastbound train from Ostend travelled to Brussels via Lille... There ia a direct line, one of the original state lines that would be about half the distance via Lille.

It would be logical for passengers for Paris from Ostend to join the west/southbound Nord Express at Lille.

Passengers from Dunkirk would logically join at Lille since the same train could serve Brussels and Paris passengers as far as Lille.

One of the baggage cars from Ostend was removed in Brussels, and that could be done most easily by dropping it before adding the Ostend cars in Brussels.

While the Nord owned the line to Dunkirk, there was no Nord line in Belgium anywhere near Ostend. The main Nord line in Belgium ran to Liege, not to Brussels.

Peter

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, October 17, 2021 11:01 AM

I stand corrected.  The distance is too short for a sleeper.  Undoubtadly, 1st-Class coa ch service was availab,le with 2 & 1 seating, instead of 2 & 2.

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Posted by M636C on Monday, October 18, 2021 8:07 AM

daveklepper

I stand corrected.  The distance is too short for a sleeper.  Undoubtadly, 1st-Class coach service was available with 2 & 1 seating, instead of 2 & 2.

 
There is a good photo of the Nord Express at
 
This shows the train to have a De Glehn Atlantic, possibly 2.647 as power, a four wheel baggage car with end cupola, four Nord coaches, two CIWL sleeping cars, recognisable with the clerestory roof,  and another four wheel baggage car.
 
The Nord carriages have arch roofs and curved (tumblehome) sides, with end vestibules inset from the sides. These would have had side corridors and compartments, for six in First class and for eight in Second and Third classes. The Third class carriages had smaller compartments than the Second, with one extra compartment per car in Third with simpler upholstery. First class cars had two compartments fewer than Second class.
 
There might have been only First and Second classes on a train like the Nord Express.
 
Carriages of this type in France dated back to 1889 (on the Paris-Orleans, I don't have detailed information on the Nord). These were composite vehicles, with steel underframes and wood framed bodies, often with steel panelling. On the PO, the body sides upto window level were part of the frame acting as steel girders.
 
The photo shows the train at about the time of the original enquiry.
 
There was no dining car attached at the time of the photo linked.
 
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Posted by Overmod on Monday, October 18, 2021 12:21 PM

I think I posted an earlier picture of a Nord Express consist in 1903, albeit all the way in Prussia where some of the actual wagons-lits passengers would be traveling.

I think that the OP's characters would not be in 'les sleepings' for their trip, and the question changes to, more or less at most, whether they would pass through the CIWL cars on their way to some other car in the train enroute. I don't think at that time the 'amalgamated' Dalziel outfit was providing 'British Pullman style' amenities to first class on this train.

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Posted by M636C on Monday, October 18, 2021 6:37 PM

Overmod

I think I posted an earlier picture of a Nord Express consist in 1903, albeit all the way in Prussia where some of the actual wagons-lits passengers would be traveling.

I think that the OP's characters would not be in 'les sleepings' for their trip, and the question changes to, more or less at most, whether they would pass through the CIWL cars on their way to some other car in the train enroute. I don't think at that time the 'amalgamated' Dalziel outfit was providing 'British Pullman style' amenities to first class on this train.

 

The Prussian train photo provided by Overmod appeared to only consist of CIWL vehicles. I linked the French photo because it showed Nord sitting coaches which would provide accomodation for day travellers. Sometimes the CIWL vehicles ran separately, mostly in Germany and Austria from the photos I've seen.

Lord Dalziel (pronounced "Dee-Ell" for those who might care) only gained control of CIWL in the early 1920s, so indeed cars labelled Pullman were not available until the mid 1920s on the Paris-Brussels service.

Prior to this, CIWL and the British Pullman Company were competitors.

In 1889, CIWL introduced "Le Club Train" between Paris and London and this consisted of Voitures Salons which were very similar to British Pullmans in general concept if not in detail. There was even a set of five Voitures Salons built to the British loading gauge and were operated by the London Chatham and Dover in competition with Pullmans on the South Eastern Railway between London and Dover. Neither the LCDR nor the SER made money on the London Dover service, or anywhere else and they eventually almalgamated as the "South Eastern and Chatham".

The LCDR pulled out of "Le Club Train" in 1893, some ten years short of the original contract.

The Voitures Salons  were brought back to France, but don't appear to have been used on other services. I think the Paris Calais service kept "Le Club Train" equipment but without the name.

Paris Calais received the first Pullmans in the 1920s, and the new name Golden Arrow shortly afterwards as an "All Pullman" service. Since the Etoile du Nord  (Paris Brussels Amsterdam) was the next recipient of Dalziel's Pullmans, it is surprising that the spare Voitures Salons  were not used on that sector of the Nord Express.

The Pullman cars were listed as Voitures Salons Pullman (WSP) suggesting that someone realised that it was a service they had provided before. (the W instead of the V was a quirk of Belgian French... Wagon not Voiture).

As I mentioned earlier, there was a CIWL Dining Car attached to the Nord Express in France (and after Brussels) and this would have been available to any traveller who could afford the meal, which might rule out any third class passengers if they were indeed carried on the Express.

A meal in a CIWL Dining car was an experience. I recall dining in the "Grand Comfort" diner on the Paris Toulouse service in 1974 with full Silver Service, the meat being carved at your table and the waiter insisting that I have more of his excellent vegetables. It must have been amazing in 1903 or so.

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, October 19, 2021 10:39 AM

M636C
Lord Dalziel (pronounced "Dee-Ell" for those who might care) only gained control of CIWL in the early 1920s...

Every reference I have read says Dalziel (he wasn't Lord Dalziel yet) acquired financial control of CIWL in 1907, the same year he acquired control of the British Pullman Company.  Of course that might be wrong, and it would be far from the first time collective knowledge turned out to be wrong.

Point me at a good historical source.

(Incidentally I only figured out how to pronounce 'Dalziel' when initially reading up to help with the OP's question... I did not even appreciate that the name was Scottish and at least nominally derived from Scots Gaelic.)

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Posted by M636C on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 5:25 AM

Overmod

 

 
M636C
Lord Dalziel (pronounced "Dee-Ell" for those who might care) only gained control of CIWL in the early 1920s...

 

Every reference I have read says Dalziel (he wasn't Lord Dalziel yet) acquired financial control of CIWL in 1907, the same year he acquired control of the British Pullman Company.  Of course that might be wrong, and it would be far from the first time collective knowledge turned out to be wrong.

 

Point me at a good historical source.

(Incidentally I only figured out how to pronounce 'Dalziel' when initially reading up to help with the OP's question... I did not even appreciate that the name was Scottish and at least nominally derived from Scots Gaelic.)

 

 

It is more complicated than I thought...

It appears that Dalziel may have controlled CIWL before he controlled Pullman in the UK. I guess it all depends on the definition of control....

From the Nene Valley Railway's history of CIWL...

Nagelmacker’s son Rene married Davidson Dalziel's daughter in 1903, Dalziel's joined the Wagons-Lits Board while George Nagelmackers died suddenly in 1905 at the age of 60.

and

Dalziel's began to negotiate the purchase of the British Pullman Car company from the Executors of Pullman and concluded successfully in 1906. Dalziel's then granted the right to use the name Pullman to Wagons-Lits anywhere in Europe, excluding Britain, and Egypt.

However

The Pullman Company Ltd was formed in Britain in 1882, based on the Pullman concept of luxury rail travel in the United States and established under US licence and control. 

but

In 1905 the business was transferred to UK control under the chairmanship of Lord Dalziel, and in 1915 was re-founded as the Pullman Car Company Limited. Following the formation of the UK based company production of coaching stock was gradually moved to the UK.

It is possible that although Dalziel was managing British Pullman, he didn't have the right to the name, at least not sufficiently to make it available to CIWL, until his own company was founded in 1915. Given that this was during the First World War, there may not have been the opportunity to use the name Pullman in Europe until 1920 or so...

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Posted by just_here_to_ask on Friday, October 22, 2021 12:04 AM

Hi guys! I'm so grateful for your posts! I have been busy with work and graduate school so I haven't had time to read through them all in detail but I already see a lot of really great resources that we're going to have a great time checking out.

I've made at least one reply to this thread but I don't know if it actually went through since it wasn't approved, so I'm sorry if I came off as suddenly abandoning the thread. I'm way too invested in this to bail now, so don't worry about me disappearing! I'm especially interested in that book Rollende Hotels, it looks like exactly what we're looking for. I'm the one that's really invested in the floor plans (whenever I GM for Dungeons and Dragons I always end up drawing these really elaborate maps....) so anything that gives me such a resource is a must have. I also really appreciate the point about a 'sleeper car' being a very unlikely addition for a short trip between Paris and Belgium, I've never been to Europe myself so I don't actually know how far apart things are, though it makes sense that even in 1900 they would be able to get there in a few hours since France and Belgium share a border.

This thread is really remarkable and you guys are a wonderful resource, thank you for taking the time to talk to me about this!

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Posted by M636C on Saturday, October 23, 2021 8:00 AM

Another excellent book is Luxury Trains by George Behrend. This includes the same list of Wagons Lits cars as provided in Stockl's Rollende Hotels but has the advantage of being in English rather than in German. Behrend has added additional information in the notes to the list, and has included a full list of British Pullman Cars.

It doesn't provide the extent of diagrams and floor plans in Stockl's book, but has a lot of interesting illustrations, some in colour, including car interiors and vintage posters. It does have a number of drawings of Wagon Lits cars but generally of cars from thw 1920s onward.

One piece of information not in Stockl's book is that one of the Club Train Salon cars (No 245, the first of the Continental service cars) was later allocated to Calais to Brussels service on the Nord Express. This was set out internally like a present day lounge cars with fixed lounge seats rather than a parlour car  with rotating armchairs. The only floor plan is in Stockl.

But presumably passengers from Paris could travel in this car and receive food and drink service from the point it joined the train from Paris. The Club Train service ceased in 1893, so 245 would have been available for this service in 1903.

There was a Pullman Parlour car in service between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, having been sold to CIWL in 1885. It dated from 1874 and had been used by Pullman in England and later in Italy. Behrend says this was the first Pullman Parlour car anywhere in the world, originally named Victoria. A (small) full diagram is reproduced on page 46 of Luxury Trains.

Behrend's book, being in English, may be an easier starting point. It was first published in 1982. My copy was published by Vendome Press New York.

ISBN 0-86565-016-0

Peter

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Posted by samfp1943 on Saturday, November 27, 2021 10:05 PM

NOTE: To OP [Just-here-to-ask|

Here is a link to some aditional information and a map as well:

More than just a 'mystery' train, the Orient Express whisked the elite across Europe in luxury and style | National Geographic

The article and map, includes some period art of the Orient Express eqipment; the  International equipment (Wagonlits,Pulman's cars, etc) routes,and photos of that 'period' equipment. Some historical facts, and personalities. Hopefully, the information will add to your 'Searches' .  

Regards;  samfp

 

 

 


 

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