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The name alone evokes visions of overstuffed wingback chairs, rich mahogany trim and dining cars with crisp white tablecloths: the Orient Express.
The fabled train, which ran from Paris to Istanbul in its heyday at the turn of the 20th century and through the Art Deco age, is a shining example of the golden era of luxury rail journeys. But the passenger train, which has been featured in movies and books such as Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” might once again carry travelers on its iconic route across Europe and into Turkey.
French train company SNCF, which bought the Orient Express when it stopped operations in 1977, has begun refurbishing the cars of the original Orient Express and is weighing the possibility of restarting operations of the elegant train.
This week, SNCF is displaying several of the original train cars that have been refurbished at the Gare de L’Est train station in Paris, AFP reported. The cars feature glamorous interior design elements from the train’s bygone era, such as leather chairs, velvet curtains and polished wood tables. Three of the cars are dining cars that were on the original Orient Express, according to AFP, while the four other cars were used on the company’s other routes in Europe. The restorations began in 2011.
“To restore them, we went into our archives to find the original plans or samples of [fabrics] and so forth,” executive director of the Orient Express Guillaume de Saint Lager told AFP. “We used exceptional experts.” SNCF also found some of the train’s original cars in Poland and has spent €14 million ($15.6 million) refurbishing 16 cars, which includes at least nine sleeper cars and four saloons.
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Other trains, hotels and cruises have donned the name “Orient Express” in recent years. Those ventures, run largely under a travel company now called Belmond, were licensed with the vaunted Orient Express title under a now-defunct agreement with SNCF. None of them operated the original famous train.
Guillaume Pepy, CEO of SNCF, says the project is an, “investment in railway heritage.”
“Our aim is to have the Orient Express on the rails all around Europe,” Pepy told AFP. But that undertaking could be more complicated than it seems. “We need to look at the state of the carriages and see under what conditions they could travel again and how they could be brought in line with the security specifications that exist in Europe,” Pepy said.
The company expects to make a final decision about the train this summer.
All photos by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images.
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