The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

Last Update

Talk Synopsis

3 January 2006

Venice-Simplon Orient Express
Bob Barnes
27 March 1995

Bob Barnes, General Manager of Venice-Simplon Orient Express (UK), gave an illustrated and informative talk to 25 Friends on the evening of 27 March. He shared the problems and delights of restoring 70 year old Pullman cars from near derelict condition to sumptuous splendour. Each car is lovingly restored so that it can continue to earn its living on the most prestigious train service in the world. With restoration costs around half a million pounds each, it's no wonder that journeys on the VSOE are something special. It's not just in Europe that this special service is offered - a new Pullman train "The Eastern and Oriental Express" now runs from Singapore to Bangkok, via the Bridge over the River Kwai. Bob described how the redundant "Silver Star" carriages were transported from New Zealand to be completely rebuilt as air-conditioned Pullman cars on the new service. The talk did not just cover railway matters. Bob has a keen interest in ships and described some of the nautical aspects of the company. This included the use of a 5 star liner to link Venice with Istanbul, so that passengers can achieve the original goal of the VSOE. During the trial for this service, the captain performed some astounding navigation by sailing through the Corinth Canal, which officially is 2 metres narrower than the ship! It's not just ocean going ships which the company uses, Bob described the plan to rescue a German river cruiser from Dresden for use in a reconstituted Irrawaddy Flotilla Company in Burma. Bob ended his talk by discussing the ethics of using authentic historic items of rolling stock in commercial business, and held out some tantalising possibilities for the future - VSOE through the Chunnel and further haulage by a certain air-braked steam engine.

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