Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express is a pop-up attraction at Gardens by the Bay West Lawn from 12 December 2020 to 13 June 2021, featuring 2 original coaches of the Orient Express and exhibits of artefacts and experiences on board the famous train. Being a train exhibition, I booked myself a ticket early to secure a slot on the first day on 12 December 2020. With safe distancing measures, entry to Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express is by booked timeslots.
Gardens by the Bay West Lawn is easily accessed from Bayfront MRT Station.
There is a direct connection from Exit B of Bayfront MRT Station to Gardens by the Bay via an underpass.
Follow the signs to Gardens by the Bay.
At the end of the underpass, there is no escalator up.
If you don’t want to walk up the flight of stairs, take the lift.
Christmas at the Gardens
Christmas at the Gardens is a cluster of events and attractions at Gardens by the Bay for the 2020 Christmas season.
Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express is located closest to Bayfront MRT Station in Gardens by the Bay.
The information box of the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express on the Christmas at the Gardens information map.
There is a well-posted sign right outside the underpass from Bayfront MRT Station to Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express.
Peeking at the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event tentage.
Gare du Nord? Gare de l’Est?
The Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event tentage looks impressive, but there was a strange feeling about this station as I took this photo.
The Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event tentage in front of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Since it’s not really an exact replica of Gare du Nord which the Orient Express doesn’t serve (but some coaches for Calais gets shunted there to be attached to another train without boarding or alighting), I shall call this mock-up station…
Gare dens by the Bay
Heading in to Gare dens by the Bay.
The main sign for the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event blocks the view of the 130 Est série 8s Locomotive 130 B 348 and Tender 20 A 30 behind it.
130 Est série 8s Locomotive 130 B 348 & Tender 20 A 30, 1862, Ajecta, Longueville
On public display with no need for tickets is the preserved 130 Est série 8s Locomotive 130 B 348 and Tender 20 A 30, made in 1862. This is loaned from AJECTA, the Living Railway Museum in Longueville.
130 Est série 8s Locomotive 130 B 348 is built by Schneider (Le Creusot) and operated by Compagnie des Ardennes, with a baptismal name of “La Marche”. It was modified by the Ateliers d’Epernay around 1922 and then leased to the CFS company on the Franche Comté and Burgundy network better known as the Etoile de Gray lines.
It was struck off in 1970 and was saved from being scrapped, but its original tender was scrapped by mistake. Tender 20 A 30, originally used as a mobile drinking water reserve to supply level crossings, was then coupled to it in July 1973, and delivered to the Longueville depot on 4 September 1973.
It is not known if 130 Est série 8s Locomotive 130 B 348 actually hauled Orient Express trains during its lifetime.
130 Est série 8s Locomotive 130 B 348 & Tender 20 A 30 is displayed on very modern tracks in Singapore, which looks like it came from downstairs on the Circle Line.
The tracks are provided by GATES PCM Construction Ltd.
The Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express are located on the length of la Gare dens by the Bay.
Orient Express Road Café by Yannick Alléno
For those feeling peckish, the Orient Express Road Café by Yannick Alléno is open to the public with no tickets for the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event required to dine in or takeaway.
The main portion of the Orient Express Road Café is air-conditioned, with a section of al fresco dining outside, though it’s not so popular since it’s in humid Singapore and not France.
Like a regular café, there is a main counter to order and pick up your food.
The menu of the the Orient Express Road Café by Yannick Alléno. The best deal might be the S$32 Afternoon Tea Set with a sampler of (hopefully) all sandwiches and pastries on the menu.
Orient Express Restaurant by Yannick Alléno
The Orient Express Restaurant by Yannick Alléno is a reservation-only restaurant for Lunch, Brunch, High Tea, and two seatings of Dinner.
The Orient Express Restaurant looks like it’s 1-coach big but…
… it’s just a mockup.
The Voiture-Restaurant 2869 is a mockup of the real thing operating on the Pullman Orient Express (POE).
The entrance to the Orient Express Restaurant.
Despite the steep price for meals, the Orient Express Restaurant seems to be all fully booked up till March, and I didn’t manage to get a slot for any.
Queue to board Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express
I had arrived about 25 minutes early to my 2pm slot to the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event, but was turned away from the queue as they were “still clearing the 1pm crowd”, and was told to come back around 1.50pm.
The entrance to the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express event on the other side of Gare dens by the Bay is unsheltered, just like railway stations in France.
The boarding queue was very long and slow moving which I couldn’t figure out why, yet.
TraceTogether Required but TraceTogether Not Accepted
Going around Singapore nowadays, TraceTogether is now a familiar name, and I was also probably one of the first to collect my TraceTogether token at a mall before collection was suspended due to overwhelming demand.
When entering Gare dens by the Bay, the security personnel mentioned that the event could not accept TraceTogether tokens as they didn’t have barcode and QR code scanners. As such, I had to check-in with the normal SafeEntry.
Not a good start to Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express with the long, hot queue and not accepting TraceTogether tokens at a free-flowing event like this.
Once inside Gare dens by the Bay after checking in with, the queue continues.
Checking-in for Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express
In the continued queue, a roving staff comes around to scan the barcodes off the SISTIC ticket.
Just like a train station, there is a help desk at the entrance of Gare dens by the Bay.
There’s also an analog clock just like in French railway stations. Unfortunately, it just enforces how long the queue is.
The queue leads through a hole in the wall to the train door, which reminded me a bit of the Royal Railway Airport Shuttle Train platform at Phnom Penh Railway Station.
The description of the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express exhibition.
The safe management measures in place at Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express.
After 35 minutes of queuing (50 if including my initial arrival time), it’s finally time for me to reach the real entrance to the Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express exhibition.
Boarding the Orient Express
I see what’s the problem now – the queue gets channeled into the coach itself, so the speed of the queue is dependent on people exiting out of the coaches on the other side into the exhibition hall.
CIWL WP 4155, 1929, Ajecta, Longueville
The first coach on display is the CIWL WP 4155 made in 1929 by La compagnie des Entreprises industrielles charentaises (EIC).
Once the front person moves into the coach, the usher allows the next passenger to enter.
Heading into CIWL WP 4155.
It’s worth to note that Wagon Pullman (WP) coaches operated by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) refers to lounge cars and not sleeping cars in American terms (or on the Eastern and Oriental Express).
The first exhibit is a private compartment before the main cabin.
The private compartment seats 4 very comfortably.
Unfortunately, my camera lens isn’t wide enough to capture the entire compartment in one shot…
… but my phone can thanks to the wide-angle lens.
Heading into the main cabin under the guidance of the usher.
Most tables are laid out in a very comfortable 1+1 configuration.
Those by the doors seat staggered groups of 3…
… and 1 for the solo traveller.
And no, sitting inside the coach is not allowed.
The displays along the walking path through the coach leads through the history as the Orient Express operated.
Some old artefacts from 90 years ago.
Seat numbers are placed beside each seat. I wonder what the button below was for.
Some legendary CCTV installed on board.
More artefacts of historical travel.
Looking back down at CIWL WP 4155.
Another private compartment on the other end of the coach.
Great to see technology hasn’t really evolved for emergency equipment.
And what’s a RailTravel Station train article without a visit to the on-board toilet?
I see paper towels ere provided on the Orient Express. Perfect. That’s a good train right there.
The closed toilet bowl for good reason.
A familiar sign to tell you not to use the toilet when the train is at the station. I wonder what would happen if I do use the toilet here in Gare dens by the Bay.
Continuing on to the next coach.
CIWL Fourgon 1270, 1929, Ajecta, Longueville
The second coach on display is the CIWL Fourgon 1270 made in 1929 by Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company, more popularly known today as Metro-Cammell.
This Fourgon, easier known as PV in KTM terms, houses fiction artefacts on stories based off the Orient Express.
The coat of James Bond?
Displays of historical novels.
Looking up, seems like some fixtures of the Fourgon are forgone.
In the middle, there is a conductor’s compartment with a brake wheel.
The conductor’s compartment has an elevated roof for the guard to peek out forwards and reverse.
More fiction, this time with a corpse.
Heading out of CIWL Fourgon 1270 and out to the static exhibition.
The end of CIWL Fourgon 1270.
The coaches still use buffers and chain coupling.
The builder plate of Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company, more popularly known today as Metro-Cammell.
Doesn’t look nice on Circle Line tracks though with the modern concrete sleepers.
The familiar yellow Vossloh Rail Fastening System seen throughout the Circle Line.
Section 1: History of the Orient Express
The next section of the history of the Orient Express is welcome with the sound of the model train running the loop.
The model Orient Express spins around the compartment displays.
A 1:50 scale model of an Orient Express sleeping compartment of around 1900 in teak. This is on loan from the SNCF Cité du Train in Mulhouse.
A 1:50 scale model of an Orient Express sleeping compartment of around 1930 in metal, and the more “popularly known” one. This is on loan from the SNCF Cité du Train in Mulhouse.
The timeline of the Orient Express.
The origin of the Orient Express from the Train Eclair de luxe.
THANK YOU CURATOR. THIS IS NOT HEAVILY EMPHASISED ENOUGH BY THE WORLD.
For the record, the Orient Express is a network of international overnight trains and not a single train. And VSOE doesn’t refer to the Orient Express in this exhibition because, well, read the name.
Hmm I would like to try out this route in modern times, wonder when I can do it.
I guess this timeline is the one most people would want to hear about rather than the real Orient Express which wasn’t exactly luxurious in modern times.
Sounds like Georges Nagelmackers was the ultimate hardcore railway fan in the 1800s.
Section 2: Artefacts of the Orient Express
The Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express exhibition then transitions to displays of artefacts that were of or on board the train.
The various tableware used on the Orient Express.
A replica scale model of a single sleeping compartment. This is on loan from the SNCF Cité du Train in Mulhouse.
A mockup of a wash basin inside the Orient Express coach.
Launching the Train Eclair de luxe.
This section of the exhibition looks a bit like a station platform.
I might prefer an exhausting journey over a seamless one though.
Screens along the wall reminds me of travelling in a railway coach with the scenery passing by through windows.
The advertisement poster of the Simplon Orient Express.
The advertisement posters of the Orient Express.
The network of the Orient Express and Taurus Express. Passengers can take a ferry across the Bosporus to connect between the two trains.
This is an interactive board with buttons to light up the various key routes.
A mockup of a section of a dining car of the Orient Express.
Information on the first Orient Express journey and the first hijack of the train.
Films and books inspired by the Orient Express.
The Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits monograms of 1880 and 1931 which were on the side of the coaches.
A display of models and plans of the Orient Express.
A 1:32 scale model of a Pullman Côte d’Azur coach.
The plan of a 141 P Steam Locomotive.
A 1:43 scale model of an SNCF 231 E 13 steam locomotive which hauled the Simplon Orient Express from Calais to Paris.
The various consists of the Orient Express. Looks like the Ekspres Selatan.
A travel agency scale model of the MU sleeping coach with a cross-section of a compartment.
Looks just like regular Trenitalia sleeping coaches today.
A 1:32 scale model of a 1929 LX coach.
Section 3: Tourism with the Orient Express
The exhibition then moves on to the tourism aspect of the Orient Express featuring the destinations on offer.
Another train model makes loops around.
This section of the exhibition has the two coaches as the backdrop. More details on the two coaches later, let’s continue with the exhibition first.
On this section, I may have missed out some panels due to crowds, especially on the automobile service, so I seek your understanding. I might go back later in April when the hype dies down for another look.
Detailing the connection across the Bosporus when connecting between the Orient Express and Taurus Express.
Detailing the construction and connection of railway lines in Turkey.
The information panels are modelled after old suitcases.
The map of Constantinople and an aerial photo of Istanbul.
Describing the two stations of Istanbul in Europe and Asia.
A display of old tourist guidebooks from the 1840s.
Tourists on the Orient Express and Taurus Express use it for archaeological tourism too.
A tourist map of Syria and Lebanon.
More brochures on display on the Simplon Orient Express, Taurus Express, Egypt, and Iraq.
An exhibition section on the Taurus Express serving the Asian side of Istanbul onwards.<