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Biometric passport checks prod VSOE operator to scrap UK service

An employee stands on the platform after the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express rolled into Istanbul Station, in Istanbul on August 31, 2022InternationalIndiaAfricaOleg BurunovThe Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which was originally established in 1883 as a long-distance passenger service connecting various European cities, is currently considered a legendary and iconic mode of travel. But it looks like the legend is coming to an end.The operator of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express (VSOE) luxury train has cut the UK leg of the trans-European route due to Channel crossing delays caused by Brexit-related biometric passport checks, according to a British newspaper.The Belmond company has decided to scrap the London-to-Folkestone section of the legendary journey because the new checks significantly complicate the process of crossing the UK border to Calais, France.© AFP 2023 / YASIN AKGULThe Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is greeted by the Turkish Mehter band (Ottoman Janissary Band) in Istanbul, on August 31, 2022The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express is greeted by the Turkish Mehter band (Ottoman Janissary Band) in Istanbul, on August 31, 2022The Easter holidays recently saw coaches delayed at Dover, Kent for up to 14 hours due to the new post-Brexit security rules, with Belmond fearing those delays will get worse.The company’s spokesperson said that Belmond is “adjusting operations in 2024 ahead of enhanced passport and border controls.”

"We want to avoid any risk of travel disruption for our guests – delays and missing train connections – and provide the highest level of service, as seamless and relaxed as possible," they added.

The spokesperson referred to the EU’s introduction of a new biometric Entry/Exit System (EES), which stipulates that most people travelling across the Channel without EU residency will have to provide fingerprints and facial recognition data when they cross the border, instead of just having their passports stamped.

Until now, the VSOE journey has seen passengers ride in the art deco carriages of the British Pullman service from London's Victoria Railway Station to Folkestone, from where they boarded coaches to cross the Channel to meet Belmond’s continental train at Calais.

Mark Smith, founder of the train travel site The Man in Seat 61, told a UK newspaper in this vein that losing the British Pullman was a “huge shame.”

"The British Pullman was the hors d’oeuvre– it set you up with smoked salmon and champagne on the way from London to Folkestone on the traditional boat-train route that passengers heading to the Orient Express would have used in the 1930s. Joining the continental train at Calais in time to get dressed for dinner was wonderful," Smith noted.

He underscored that despite the high ticket prices, the VSOE was not elitist at all.”Most people are splurging on a special event – it’s a once in a lifetime experience. I wondered whether any trip could be worth three grand, or whatever it was I paid in 2003. But here I am 20 years later, married, with a mortgage, kids, two cats and a dog. Powerful magic – we’d only been going out for six months,” he said.

The British newspaper noted in this context that a compartment in one of the vintage 1929 cars in the VSOE costs from £3,530 ($4,385) to £10,100 ($12,547) per person, “so evening dress is required.”

The VSOE is a historic train that was originally established in 1883 as a long-distance passenger service connecting various European cities, including Budapest, Bucharest, Paris, Prague and Vienna. © AFP 2023 / YASIN AKGULA man disembarks from the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express after arriving at Istanbul Station in Istanbul, on August 31, 2022A man disembarks from the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express after arriving at Istanbul Station in Istanbul, on August 31, 2022The train is internationally known for its elegant accommodations, fine dining, and iconic reputation as a symbol of luxury travel. The best-selling mystery writer of all time, Agatha Christie, was inspired to create her novel Murder on the Orient Express after reading about an VSOE train being stuck in snow for five days.

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