Train Bleu

The famous royal blue, all-steel sleeping cars of the Wagons-Lits, made their debut at Calais on the 19th of October in 1922, running on the weekly Bombay-Express, the boat train to Marseilles docks that once connected with the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Coompany’s liner to India.

But only on the 9th of December in 1922 did Lord Dalziel have enough of the forty new sleepers to launch his post-war revamp of the Calais Méditerranée Express to the Riviera.

The campaign included repainting the teak diners and fourgons blue and lining them out in gold to match the sleeping cars.
A whole generation had grown up ignorant of the delights of the Côte d’Azur, whose pre-war splendor had led Wagons-Lits in 1913 to order their first all-steel sleeping car from Pullman in Chicago.

But war caused the order to be cancelled and the post-war S-class sleepers were built by the Leeds forge Company, a british firm that became a virtual pioneer of all-steel railway coaches in England.

Nagelmacker’s son René , Lord Dalziels son-in-law, was Wagons-Lits general manager at this time. Together with the NORD and PLM railways, Wagons-Lits invited 150 guests to Nice, in two special trains, one originating in Calais and the other in Paris.

The guests included 23 representatives of American and British newspapers, and about 20 from the French press. Within 10 minutes of each other both trains arrived mid-morning at Nice, where they were met by the Crown Prince of Sweden, the Duke of Connaught and the Mayor of Nice.

Success was instantaneous. The Riviera once more became the most fashionable place to spend January and February, and to be seen on board the Calais- Méditerranée was an essential part of the snobbish social round. The smart set immediately christened it the Blue Train and being its passenger was considered to be the most exciting pastime of the period.

The Côte d’Azur proved no less popular with visiting Americans and the Parisian élite than with the British, and consequently it could attract a full complement of passengers on the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée Express, which ran separately from the Calais train each night.

For safety reasons, all new rolling stock for France had to be of steel construction. The first French-built steel dining cars appeared in 1926, displacing the wooden ones. In this, the heyday of grandiose sevice, the Blue Train became “the best train to the Riviera”, as the travel agents prosaically described it.
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