Face to face between the craftsman and his product...
Since the beginning of the 2010s, the SNCF has been working to revive this railway legend. Starting with the restoration of the Pullman Orient-Express and its “Riviera” wagon, on the Riviera in more ways than one… Story.
Photo: Lola Hakimyan
Carpets signed René Prou or Suzanne Lalique, marquetry with magnificent floral motifs, coat racks and other gleaming fittings… From 1883 to 1977, reaching Constantinople from Paris on the Orient-Express could not leave anyone indifferent. Patrick Ropert understood this well. In 2010, the former director of communication for the SNCF felt the appeal of the star train. Four years later, the general public agrees with him.
The exhibition "Once upon a time the Orient-Express" brings together in 5 months, at the Institute of the Arab World, more than 250,000 visitors! A major success. "As of 2015, the decision was therefore taken to create a dedicated subsidiary, devoted in particular to the restoration of the heritage of the famous railway line", explains Arthur Mettetal, its heritage & culture manager. At the time, the SNCF had a historic train: the former Pullman Orient-Express, created at the end of the 1990s, based on 7 cars dating from 1924 to 1929, 4 of which were classified. Art Deco and Art Nouveau jewelry. Among them, wagon no. 2979, better known as… Riviera. Leaving the workshops in 1925, it took part in the railway revolution. “At the dawn of the 20th century, restaurant cars made it possible to dispense with buffet stops at stations: longer journeys were made in less time. Even better, the “Riviera” knows how to make it even shorter: its typology allows it here and there to enter into the composition of the… Train Bleu, connecting Calais to Nice via Paris at night. Suffice to say that he has seen the country, just like the whole of the train to which he now belongs.
In 2015, then began for him and his 6 rail companions a long restoration. “It is entrusted to ACC, in Clermont-Ferrand, which benefits from an entire ecosystem of exceptional craftsmen around it. Philippe Allemand is one of them. Since 1985, he has been running the eponymous workshop, labeled Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant. For months, 7 cabinetmakers and apprentices worked to remove all the pieces of wood – more than 2,000 per car! –, their restoration, even their identical recreation, as well as their glossy varnish finish, sometimes with 16 veils! And what about the meticulousness of the decorations.
Those of the Riviera are made up of a mahogany burl curl, surrounded by a net made of rosewood and ebony... There are many difficulties, in particular, when it comes to collecting any useful information for the site. In progress. How ? "By plunging into the 200 linear meters of the Orient Express archives..." At the end of 2018, the result was there. A complete train, of impressive luxury. Something to give the teams heart balm. A 2nd train of 13 cars this time, a remnant of the Nostalgie-Istanbul-Orient-Express, is today the subject of various studies with a view to a complete renovation. An ambitious project, since it could be a question of integrating all the modern comforts for tomorrow to offer a unique Orient Express experience.