Georges Nagelmackers, founder of the CIWL
Compagnie 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 centuries.
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 across borders.
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 1949.
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).
Competition with Mitropa
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 Wagons-Lits.
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.
Wagons-Lits is 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.
The company 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 Group.
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 Relais Autoroute.
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 hotels.
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 newrest wagons-lits.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel
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 merged entities.
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.
Famous CIWL trains
The Orient-Express 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 Copenhagen.
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.
The Trans-Siberian 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
The Londres-Vichy 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.