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Luxury on the Line
by Bob Brooke


On September 27, 1825, English passengers boarded a “goods” or freight train from Stockton to Darlington, a distance of 12 miles. Historians regard this as the first train to carry passengers. A month later the Stockton and Darlington Railroad added a daily “coach” car, modeled after a stagecoach. It carried 6 passengers inside and 15 to 20 outside. They each paid one shilling and could each bring along 14 pounds of baggage.

Though riding the early rails was a step above the canal boat and stagecoach, rail travel left a lot to be desired. The floor of the car lay low and flat, and passengers sat jammed into narrow seats with stiff backs, so they felt every bump. Winter travel was especially difficult.

A stove at each end provided heat to those nearest to it, but those seated in the middle of the car nearly frze. And with little ventilation, all nearly suffocated from carbon monoxide. Tallow candles furnished a “dim religious light,” and emitted a putrid odor. Dust suffocated parched passengers in dry weather since the windows had no screens. And since there were no adequate spark arresters on the engine, passengers at the end of their journey looked as if they had spent the day in a blacksmith shop.

With hard springs, the movement of cars over poorly laid track jolted passengers and rattled windows, making conversation a luxury. Early trains might as well not have had brakes, for those they did have were clumsy and of little use.

Every year showed progress in perfecting the comforts and safety of railway cars. Air brakes allowed trains to be stopped in an incredibly short time with the help of the vacuum-brake which powered the brakes exhausting the air. So passengers waiting on station platforms were often in danger.

Improvements in rolling stock had reduced the jerking, jolting, and oscillation of the cars. Plus the rail beds had been properly ditched, drained, and ballasted with broken
stone or gravel, the dust overcome, the sparks arrested, so cleanliness had at last been made possible on a railway train.

One of the first comforts the railroads addressed was heating the cars. This came about through the invention of a method for circulating hot water from the boiler of the locomotive through pipes running near the floor of the cars. Not only did passengers now have warm feet, but the loss of life from train fires originating from stoves had been halted. However, heating a detached car was still a problem until the discovery of electricity.

The Concept of Luxury Trail Travel is Born
The idea that traveling by train could be luxurious began in the 1880s as the number of international visitors to England and the Continent skyrocketed.

This was slow to get started In England. But in the United States, steamboats had made great progress offering passengers luxurious comforts-–berths to sleep in, meals served in spacious cabins, and entertainment on board. To compete, the railroads had to make riding their trains more comfortable.

Although the last four decades before World War I saw first-class rail passengers treated to unprecedented privileges and luxuries, this period can also be regarded as one in which many of the older comforts enjoyed by the superior-class passenger were offered to everyone.

American and British practice continued to diverge in passenger car design. The British still preferred compartments, while the Americans stayed with the open car and central aisle. British sleeping cars were for night use only. unlike those of the Pullman type.

The relative speed and ability to travel regardless of the weather made rail travel attractive to travelers and businesses. But unlike its European counterparts, American railroads developed a passenger car with one compartment, containing an aisle down the middle. This ran on two trucks containing four wheels each, making it easier to navigate sharp curves.

The Dining Car
But that still wasn’t enough to supply the wants of the growing number of railway passengers. So the dining car came next. A complete restaurant, with a large kitchen and pantries at one end and the main body of the car fitted up as a dining room, it offered a place in which all the passengers in the train could take their meals comfortably. Pullman named his first dining car the “Delmonico,” which began service in 1868 on the Chicago & Alton Railroad. High quality dining cars provided fine dining on the move.

With the introduction of the dining car came the concept of the continuous train. This necessitated that passengers had to walk from one car to another across platforms to get to the parlor or dining cars while the train was in motion, an act that they had been cautioned against. The railroads realized they had to come up with a solution to the problem if the continuous train concept were to be successful, particularly for limited express trains.

Access to the diner over the open platform ends of each car was inconvenient and often dangerous, so railroads sought a better means of crossing from one car to another was sought. The solution, patented in 1887, was invented by A superintendent at the Pullman Works invented the solution, an open metal frame suspended at the end of each car and bearing against a similar frame on the adjoining car. He attached concertina bellows to it to form a walkway, then narrowed the previously open end platform and enclosed it to form a vestibule, making a completely enclosed passage between two cars. For more than a decade the 'vestibule train' was the most heavily advertised offering of United States railroads.

In Britain the better longer-distance trains were corridor trains with dining cars, and these were the first to he so equipped. Another American feature which became popular in Britain for some decades was the raised longitudinal central roof section, or clerestory, which provided extra window area and also a space to suspend the lamps.

Train lighting had developed from nothing, at the start of the Railway Age, to candles, oil lamps, and then gas lamps. Oil and gas were liable to ignite disastrously in accidents, so electric lighting had advantages of safety as well as of lack of smell and convenience. In Britain, steam heating meant the gradual disappearance of the foot warmer. The latter was a metal canister, recharged at main stations, in side which a chemical process provided moderate heat.

In the aftermath of train fires here were often short-lived public demands for all-metal passenger cars, and by 1914 this solution was in sight. The reason, however, was not safety but the increasing cost of the kind of timber needed for making cm frames, and the space-saving virtue of steel construction . By 1909 50 percent of American passenger car orders were entirely for all steel types.

The chair, or parlor car provided for daytime passengers on long-distance trains in North America a more comfortable seating and often included a beverage service. Placed at the tail-end of a train, they each had an observation platform at the rear end. These cars became a typical feature of the long-distance American train and political candidates often used them on their “whistle stop” tours across the country.

The Orient Express
In 1882, Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker's son, conceived of the idea of a luxury railway trip of 1,243 miles on his Train Eclair de luxe, or “lightning luxury train.”
Nagelmackers founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which eventually expanded its luxury trains, travel agencies and hotels all over Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Its most famous train was the Orient Express, composed of a baggage car, four sleeping coaches with beds for 56 passengers, and a restaurant car.

The original route, which first ran on October 4, 1883, departed from Paris, Gare de l'Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, to pick up another train to Varna. They then completed their journey to Istanbul by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul by rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, then by carriage to Plovdiv, and by rail again to Istanbul.

The first menu on board consisted of oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ŕ la chasseur, fillet of beef with château potatoes, chaud-froid of game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, and a buffet of desserts.

The idea of sumptuous accommodations and fine food caught the public’s eye. Passengers universally received the fine cuisine delivered by a small band of chefs working in cramped conditions. Wealthy British passengers in particular loved the service and went on to form the majority of the luxury train’s customers who wanted to experience the better things in life which the Orient Express offered. The end of the Victorian Age brought on a time of decadence that altered rail travel as passengers demanded the best money could buy. The Orient Express was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when traveling was, for the most part, still rough and dangerous.

The 1930s saw the Orient Express services at their most popular, with three parallel services operating----the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest, with sleeper cars running onwards from there to Bucharest and Athens. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, business people, and the bourgeoisie in general patronized it.

It was during this time that mystery author Agatha Christie published her famous novel, Murder on the Orient Express. However, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express isn't set on the Orient Express but on the Simplon Orient Express. By the 1920s and 30s there were a whole inter-connecting network of Wagons-Lits Company trains with Orient Express as part of their name in addition to the Orient Express, itself.

The sleeping-car from Istanbul to Calais would usually be a 1927-built S-type, as would the cars to Berlin, Prague, Oostende & Paris Est via Vienna. The Istanbul-Paris (via Venice) sleeping car would be a slightly grander 1929-built LX-type. Each car has 10 wood-paneled compartments with (upper & lower berths plus a washbasin—there were no baths or showers on board. The sleeper compartments converted for daytime use into a compact carpeted sitting room with sofa and small table. An attendant looked after each sleeping-car. There was no lounge, no bar, no pianos, no coach car of any kind, at least not east of Trieste. Agatha Christie needed a salon-Pullman car for dramatic purposes in Murder on the Orient Express, so used some dramatic licence and wrote one into her story. Very wealthy passengers traveling alone might pay for sole occupancy of a two-bed compartment, but other passengers would share a compartment with another passenger of the same sex, Hercule Poirot himself did.

By Edwardian times affluent first-class passengers increased substantially; the new Southern Belle Pullman was described as “The Most Luxurious Train in the World” when launched in 1908.

WATCH A VIDEO:  The Orient Express―King of Trains

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