COMPANY FOUNDER PROFILE
Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, founded as GW Travel Ltd in 1989 by Tim Littler, has its head offices in Altrincham, Cheshire, England. The world’s leading provider of luxury, long distance rail journeys, Golden Eagle Luxury Trains operates private trains in Central Asia, India, and Europe.
Tim’s passion for rail travel dates back to 1958 when, as an eight year old school boy, he and his friends would visit Altrincham railway station to watch the procession of steam hauled Express trains which at that time were being diverted through Altrincham on their journeys to and from London and the south. In January 1963, aged twelve, Tim took over the operation of Altrincham Grammar School’s Railway Society and in February ran his first bus tour to Crewe locomotive works.
Combining his knowledge and passion of rail with his enthusiasm for travel he successfully operated his first rail tour carrying 350 passengers from Manchester to Edinburgh on 23rd April 1966. Three other tours followed in quick succession – Manchester to Holyhead, Kings Cross to Newcastle and St Pancras to Altrincham. The latter two of which included the use of the ‘Flying Scotsman’ locomotive.
On leaving school Tim joined the family wine business, Whitwhams, becoming Managing Director in 1975. During this time the company established a world wide export business, purchased a fine wine negociant business in Bordeaux, and also in 1988 established the world record sale price for a single bottle of wine – £125,000, which was only beaten in 2010.
With rail and travel still close to his heart, in 1989 Tim formed GW Travel Ltd. The name retained a link with the family firm as GW stood for Gerald Whitwham – who founded the company in 1788. Wine and travel operated in tandem for the next few years. GW Travel Ltd concentrated on providing specialist steam tours in Eastern Europe, and when Russia finally opened its doors to foreigners in 1992, Tim began operating rail tours through the Caucasus and Crimea. It was during this time that Tim met Marina Linke, who was working for the North Caucasus Railway. Marina was instrumental in building the business into what it is today, firstly as Operations Director and later as Managing Director, before her untimely passing in early 2021.
In 1996 they started running tours over the Trans-Siberian Railway which culminated in the contruction of the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express by Zircon Corporation and Vagon RemService. GW Travel Ltd operated the very first private Trans-Siberian Express tour on 25th May 1996. This train was hauled entirely by steam, using seventy two locomotives, travelling over 13,000 kms in 28 days. Breaking new ground in Russia, this initial tour was the first of many and laid the foundation for Golden Eagle Luxury Trains to become the leading worldwide long distance luxury rail tour provider.
Recognising the increasing worldwide demand for luxury rail travel, the portfolio was extended and in 1999 it ran its first private train tour in China. This was followed in 2004 by a Trans-Canadian tour and later, in 2006, with the first luxury train to traverse the Indian sub-continent between Bombay and Calcutta (the Darjeeling Mail using the Deccan Odyssey). In 2008, they completed their first Cape to Cairo journey by private train and luxury jet.
In 2007 a long-held ambition was achieved with the launch in Moscow by HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO of the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, the first privately-owned, fully ensuite private train in Russia.
In June 2012, GW Travel changed its name to Golden Eagle Luxury Trains Limited to better reflect its core business.
After establishing the Brand as the leading operator of long distance luxury rail tours, Tim and Marina looked to expand the company to new markets and destinations.
In 2015 in an exciting move, Golden Eagle Luxury Trains took over the operation of the Danube Express.
The train was officially launched by HRH Prince Michael of Kent at the British Embassy and at Nyugati station the following day, after which a special train departed with Prince and Princess Michael and invited guests for a two-day journey to Venice, where a lunch reception was held in the rooftop restaurant of the Hotel Danieli overlooking the entrance to the Grand Canal and the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute.
Success soon followed, with sold-out departures, media appraisal, and an ever-expanding selection of rail journeys through Central, Western and Eastern Europe – the Golden Eagle Danube Express has rapidly become one of Europe’s most popular private trains.
Picture: HRH Prince Michael of Kent at the launch of the Golden Eagle Danube Express (2015)
The exciting additions continued, with bold new voyages and trailblazing itineraries – including the Jewels of Persia (Moscow through Persia to Iran’s capital, Tehran), the Caucasian VI (an epic 15-day passage by steam, covering 3,500 miles from Moscow to the North Caucasus) and, a pioneering adventure on the private Shangri-La Express of Tibet and Western China.
Furthermore, 2019 marked Golden Eagle Luxury Trains 30th anniversary – celebrated with the introduction of the Madras Mail (Bombay to Madras and Hyderabad). The festivities culminated in a final banquet at the 100-seat dining table in the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad.
Picture: Tim and Marina
Sadly, similar to the experience of many businesses, 2020 and 2021 were very difficult years. The company managed to run three Golden Eagle tours before the Covid pandemic hit in March 2020 and two short charters in December 2021. The Danube Express managed to run four short charters in the second half of 2021.
Fortunes continued to worsen following the tragic conflict in Ukraine and subsequent halt in operations of the Golden Eagle private train and all Russia tours.
However, with great perseverance, the company slowly started to rebuild, with a focus on the Golden Eagle Danube Express and the introduction of a new collection of European departures. After many long and hard months of work, GELT were delighted to report a sell-out summer season on the Golden Eagle Danube Express.
Marking the end of a difficult period, the company concluded 2022 by announcing the return of the Golden Eagle private train and the popular Silk Road Collection of Voyages.
Picture: Tim and Marina