Internationale des Wagons-Lits (English: International Sleeping-Car
Company), also CIWL, Compagnie des Wagons-Lits, or just Wagons-Lits,
is an international hotel and travel logistics company, particularly
known for its on-train catering and sleeping car services, as well as
being the historical operator of the Orient Express.
The Orient Express
was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when travelling was
still rough and dangerous. CIWL soon developed a dense network of
luxury trains all over Europe, whose names are still remembered today
and associated to the art of luxury travel. Such as the Blue Train,
the Golden Arrow, North Express and many more. CIWL became the first
and most important modern multinational dedicated to transport,
travel agency, hospitality with activities spreading from Europe to
Asia and Africa.
Now part of the
French Newrest group, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (et
des grands express européens) (English: The International
Sleeping-Car (and European Great Expresses) Company) was founded by
Georges Nagelmackers during 1872, in Belgium. CIWL quickly
established itself as the premier provider and operator of European
railway sleepers and dining cars during the late 19th and the 20th
The holding company,
CIWLT, is a fully owned subsidiary of the Accor Group, the historical
brands were transferred to Wagons-Lits Diffusion in 1996.
During his trip to
the United States in 1867–1868 the 23-year-old Belgian Georges
Nagelmackers was impressed by the Pullman night trains. Upon his
return home, he decided to establish a network of such trains in
Europe. He envisioned that such trains should be luxurious and travel
In 1874 Nagelmackers
founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits and the et des
Grands Express Européens addition became part of the name ten years
later. By 1886 his company had become the main organiser for most
European heads of state. The symbol "WL" held by two lions
became a well-known trade mark.
The company ran
either complete trains of Wagon-Lits cars or individual sleeping and
dining cars were coupled onto services operated by the state railways
of the European countries through which the Wagon-Lits cars passed.
These cars were always drawn by locomotives of the various state
railways, as Wagon-Lits did not operate its own fleet of locomotives.
Prior to World War
I, CIWL held a monopoly being the only group catering to the needs of
the international railroad traveller. The company introduced famous
services, such as the Orient-Express, the Nord Express, and the Sud
Express and expanded to markets outside Europe with involvement in
the Trans-Siberian Railway across Russia. The Company's trains also
reached Manchuria (Trans-Manchurian Express), China (Peking,
Shanghai, and Nanking) and Cairo.
The Grand Hôtel des
Wagons-Lits, also known as the Six Nations Hotel, in Beijing before
In 1894 the
Compagnie Internationale des Grands Hotels was founded as a
subsidiary and began operating a chain of luxury hotels in major
cities. Among these were the Hôtel Terminus in Bordeaux and
Marseille, the Hôtel Pera Palace in Istanbul, the Hôtel de la Plage
in Ostend, and the Grand Hôtel des Wagons-Lits in Beijing (Peking).
With the start of
World War I CIWL's coaches were confiscated for military use. In
Germany and Austro-Hungary Mitropa was founded to take over the
property and services of CIWL. In 1918, the communists in Russia
expropriated CIWL's local rolling stock and hotels. After the
conclusion of World War I CIWL demanded to have its central European
service routes restored. It regained these for Austria, Poland, and
Czechoslovakia; however, in Germany the Reichsbahn and Mitropa
sabotaged this process. On April 23, 1925, CIWL and Mitropa agreed to
separate spheres of influence. CIWL received transit routes through
Germany and routes between Germany and Belgium, France, Italy,
Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Czechoslovakia. Mitropa took over the
routes between Germany and the Netherlands and Scandinavia, as well
as trains within Germany, and to Danzig. Trains between Germany and
Austria were served by both companies.
In the interbellum
period CIWL flourished again. The company's blue and gold livery was
introduced. In 1925 Wagon-Lits opened its first Travel Palace in
Paris. Services extended to the Middle Eastern cities of Aleppo,
Baghdad, Cairo, and Tehran. Metal coaches, replacing older wooden
ones constructed of teak, became available in 1926. In 1931 the fleet
reached its maximum of 2268 vehicles. This period can be considered
the zenith of luxury rail travel. CIWL's carriages were decorated by
such renowned artists as Réné Prou, René Lalique and Morrison.
CIWL also commissioned renowned artists such as Adolphe Mouron
Cassandre to design posters advertising its services.
With anschluss in
1938, the Austrian market was lost to Mitropa (it was recovered after
1945). Because of World War II and the subsequent communist
expansion, CIWL lost more markets in central and eastern Europe.
After World War II,
CIWL increasingly focused on the travel agency and management
business. Accordingly, it was renamed Compagnie Internationale des
Wagons-Lits et du Tourisme (CIWLT) in 1967, and later just called
By 1971 the rolling
stock of CIWL had become aged and outdated, and the renovation and
replacement needed was beyond the company. It sold or rented its
coaches to the SNCF, FS, SBB, DB, ÖBB, NMBS/SNCB, NS, DSB and RENFE.
An international sleeping car pool named TEN = Trans Euro Night was
founded at that time and took over and managed (until 1995) many of
the carriages of CIWL and of the Mitropa-successor DSG.
headquartered in Paris. Currently CIWL provides service on night
trains in Austria, Italy and Portugal and meal and catering services
in daytime trains of France, Italy, Portugal and on Eurostar services
to the United Kingdom.
A number of
sleeping-cars on the European continent are owned by CIWL. The cars
are maintained by the sister company Rail Service International (RSI)
in the Netherlands and leased to train operating companies.
currently operates in Austria, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and
the UK. The specifics of the services provided vary based on mergers
and splits within the company and the surrounding business climate.
In 1927, Thomas Cook
was sold to CIWL after poor financial results; CIWL took a back-role
in the running of the subsidiary.
In 1991, Wagons-Lits
became part of the French multi-national Accor Hotel and Leisure
At the time, CIWL
included the hotel brands Altea, Arcade, Etap, PLM and Pullman.
Catering organisation Eurest and, in the automobile world,
Wagons-Lits included Europcar rental and motorway break specialists
Following the 1992
purchase, the Pullman hotels were gradually rebranded to Sofitel,
allowing the Pullman name to be reused in 2007 for a new class of
conference hotel. Sixty-eight existing Accor hotels will be
transferred over, including some Sofitel that were originally Pullman
In May 2011, Accor
announced plans to auction residual historic assets of Wagons-Lits,
including posters and tableware.
In 1996, all
copyrights and trademarks concerning the use of historical brands and
archive photographs were transferred to Wagons-Lits Diffusion in
Paris. Wagons-Lits Diffusion manages the historic brands and logos
derived from Compagnie des Wagons-Lits past activities.
In July 2010, the
rail catering operations of Wagons-Lits were transferred from Accor
to the catering company Newrest, since then operating under the name
In 1997, the Europe
business travel and leisure retail arm of Wagons-Lits (Wagonlit
Travel) was merged on an equal basis with that of Carlson Travel
Network (operating in the United States). The result was a new
company called "Carlson Wagonlit Travel" jointly owned by
Accor and Carlson Holdings Inc., the former parent companies of the
The Carlson side of
the merger had grown from a travel agency founded by Ward Forster in
the United States in 1888. Originally called "Ask Mr. Foster",
the chain was renamed to "Carlson Travel Network" following
an earlier purchase by the Carlson Group.
Accor sold its 50%
of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in 2006 for €500m to Carlson Companies
and One Equity Partners. However, Accor maintains its interest in the
railway service sector of Wagon Lits.
network from 1883 to 1914
From 1883, the
Orient Express operated between Paris and Istanbul in three nights
and three times per week in each direction. The Orient Express
deployed the first sleeping and dining cars for long-distance train
travel in Europe. In 2003, the company restored seven cars of the
famous Pullman Orient Express and made it available for tourist
events. After 2007, the night sleeper service named Orient Express
only operated between Strasbourg and Vienna. Made obsolete by
Europe's high-speed rail network, the Orient Express made its last
run on 14 December 2009.
The Northern Express
connected Paris with St. Petersburg (later Riga), via Germany, Poland
and Eastern Europe. Begun in 1884, the service is now run by DB
NachtZug from Paris as far as Hamburg, although it previously served
The Southern Express
connected Paris–Lisbon starting in 1887, to provide the second-half
of the through connection from St. Petersburg (Finland/Russia) via
Paris to the west coast of Portugal. In Lisbon, travellers could
transfer to trans-Atlantic steamships.
The Blue Train
linked Paris/Calais–Southern France overnight and used Wagons-Lits
cars up until 1938. It was actually operated by French company called
Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée.
Express operated with the permission of the Russian Tsar until 1917
during World War I. The service ran from Moscow to Vladivostok and
Peking, taking over one week in each direction.
The Night Ferry
provided a through London to Paris overnight sleeper train.
Wagons-Lits provided twelve specially constructed cars designed to
fit the smaller British loading gauge. The service lasted from 1936
to 1980, using the same rolling stock throughout its history. Before
the introduction of high-speed Eurostar services, this was the only
through service. The train's cross-channel segment between Dover and
Dunkirk was via train-ferries.
London Vichy Pullman
Pullman Express ran between London and Vichy in France primarily to
serve visitors to Vichy's famous thermal baths. Compagnie
Internationale des Wagons-Lits operated the service from 14 May 1927
until 19 September 1930.
In the first day of
the year the high quality Portuguese Magazine DOZE published my
article Cavalheiros do Mundo, uni-vos! ( Gentlemen of the world
In it, I describe the
cultural influence of the “Tweed Revolution” movement and the
“Chap” Magazine and the concrete role they played in a
critical process that lead to the rescue and strategical
alliances in Savile Row.
A process that was
concluded by the definite recognition and protection of The City of
Westminster Council of the uniqueness of Savile Row.