The president and founder of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains speaks about his love for rail travel and why his Jewels of Persia tour made history.
When did you first become interested in trains?
When I was about eight years old. I used to visit Altrincham railway station to watch the steam-hauled Express trains journeying to and from London. Aged 12 I took over the operation of Altrincham Grammar School’s Railway Society.
When did your entrepreneurial streak first appear?
At 15 I chartered the Flying Scotsman. My father wrote to British Rail to say he would not be responsible for any debts I incurred – but I sold 350 tickets, at £7 each.
How did Golden Eagle Luxury Trains come about?
I joined the family wine business after school, and rail took a back seat. But after I organised a rail trip to Champagne, France, for a group of friends, my hobby turned into a business. Now we provide fully-escorted, long-distance private rail tours across Europe and Asia.
What made you choose Russia as the location of the first Golden Eagle Luxury Trains trip?
I happened to be in Russia around the time it was opening up and I was offered the opportunity to run trips in the North Caucasus and then the Crimea. The logical next step was the big one: the Trans-Siberian is by far the world’s longest and most iconic rail journey.
Why did you design your own train – the Golden Eagle Trans- Siberian Express?
When we first launched we adapted the best available Russian carriages in service. We were offered former carriages of the Politburo – they had six wheel bogies instead of four to carry the extra weight. Simple changes made things better, but we couldn’t provide en-suite facilities. That was the next step and in 2007 Prince Michael of Kent launched the all-new 21-car Golden Eagle in Moscow. The Golden Eagle is Russia’s premier train and the only train that is fully en suite.
What can guests expect?
We serve international cuisine with a Russian twist. Russian soup, excellent wines and plenty of vodka, of course. One dinner is black and red caviar with blinis, and by Lake Baikal we have omul (a fish endemic to the lake). There's a pianist in the bar car and every cabin has a TV, so guests can pick from and extensive DVD library, but it’s much more interesting to look out of the window.
Why did your Jewels of Persia tour make history?
Like Russia, Iran is emerging from a long period of isolation so it has that mystery about it. I thought the route would be popular and that proved to be correct when we launched it last year. We were the first European private train permitted to cross into Iran. All it required was writing a letter. Within two weeks we were issued with a licence. The authorities have been incredibly helpful, because they want to increase tourism there.
Are there any restrictions in Iran?
Before entering the country, the train must offload any alcohol onboard – ironic considering my wine background. Off the train and on the train when in residential areas, women are required to cover their hair with a headscarf.
How many trains do you have now?
Two – there’s the original Golden Eagle, and last year we launched the Golden Eagle Danube Express for the exploration of Europe and Asia.
How can agents work with Golden Eagle Luxury Trains?
We're really wholesalers – only 5% of our guests book with us directly; all other business comes to us through agents who can book direct and tour operators, such as Cox & Kings, Kirker Holidays and Abercrombie & Kent. This year we are celebrating the centenary of the Trans-Siberian Railway and 20 years of Golden Eagle Luxury Trains operating the Trans-Siberian Express so it’s a good time to promote it!