In 1988 a Japanese television company commissioned a special running of the Orient Express to celebrate their 30th Anniversary.
The trip started with a journey from Zurich to Paris, and then at 9:45am on September 7th the main journey began calling at Aachen, Cologne, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Sabaikalks, Beijing and Hong Kong.
There were many difficulties in trying to make the journey at all, the foremost being dealing with the authorities in all the countries involved to clear the tracks. The difference between European and Russian track gauges had to be planned for as well. Specially made Broad Gauge bogies were made and delivered to the Polish-Soviet border at Brest, where they were exchanged for the long journey through the vastness of Russia.
There already existed at the Polish-Soviet border three bogie changing stations for passenger coaches equipped with jacks to lift the coach bodies. Several coaches could be lifted at any one time. The existing bogies were pulled out by a winch, and the new bogies were pushed in the other side and the body lowered again.
The full Orient Express bogie exchange was completed in just 4 hours, and the train was ready to depart on the Broad Gauge side of Brest Station, the start of the Soviet Rail network.
The Standard Gauge bogies made the journey as well, loaded on wagons and taken to the Chinese border where the whole process was repeated in reverse, China sharing Europe’s 1435mm gauge size.
The Journey had passengers from Japan, USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland, and their sleeper cabins were furnished in luxurious 20th Century furnishings. Never before had it been possible, without switchover, to reach the Pacific Ocean over land via Siberia. The cost of the ticket was $20,000 and the available 60 seats sold out very quickly. Approximately the same amount of staff took care of the passengers.
Included in the price was an exclusive and varied program, including a stylishly presented Rococo evening at the court of Frederick the Great with baroque chamber music at the newly built East Berlin Grand Hotel, and a piano concert at the birthplace of Frederic Chopin near Warsaw, as well as an impressive performance of the first Russian opera Ivan Susanna in the renovated Moscow Bolshoi theater.
A further highlight of the journey was on its arrival in Hong Kong it was presented with a certificate and its addition the the 1988 Guinness Book of Records for the longest train journey.
Supervised by the service crew of the French President, the passengers dined on the cuisine of the country that they were traveling through. The food was the very best and coaches number 4158 and 4149 carried the dignified atmosphere of Pullman dining coaches. A few pre-dinner drinks could be had in coach number 4164, the saloon bar coach. During the day the passengers could watch the ever-changing view go past at approximately 60 miles per hour.
After passing through the endless expanses of Russia there was another sensation – the first foreign private train to cross the Russian-Chinese border since the 1920s. Two days and nearly 1000 miles later they arrived in Beijing, and four days after that the Orient Express reached Kowloon Station in Hong Kong, where the journey ended exactly on time at 2:45pm.
From Hong Kong some of the coaches were shipped to Japan where they were used for more special trips.
The idea for this unique journey came from Albert Glatt, the former president of the Swiss tour operator Intraflug, which was the owner of the train in the early 1980s. His goal on this trip was to connect the diverse cultures between Europe and the Far East while justifying the ‘express’ part of the Orient Express name. As is well known, the original Orient Express only travelled as far east as Istanbul, known as the Gateway to the Orient.
All information comes from the information booklet included with the new Kato Paris-Hong Kong Orient Express set.