Accor sells Wagons-Lits stake to meal-tray Newrest

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Most of French firm Compagnie des Wagons-Lits, founder of the original Orient-Express and Transsiberian trains, is being acquired by an airlines meal-tray company, the seller Accor hotels said on Wednesday.

The company, famous for its dark-blue lettering, ornate logo and elegant restaurants, had set the standard for exotic rail travel in the late 19th century when its carriages were a common sight in the capitals of Europe in the age of steam.

Wagons-Lits, which means "sleeping cars" in French, was founded in 1872 by a Belgian who wanted to introduce Europe to the sort of long-distance travel he had discovered in the United States.

It soon became synonymous with international travel luxury and was the setting for stories by writers such as Agatha Christie.

From now on, however, Wagons-Lits will be in the the hands of French group Newrest, which specialises in providing meal trays for airlines

Accor, a French international group in the throes of reorganisation, no longer considers Wagons-Lits to be a strategic business.

Today Wagon-Lit's principal activity is providing food services on trains. Under terms of the sale, 60 percent of Compagnie des Wagons-Lits (CWL) will be held by Newrest.

Accor is to retain an interest of 40 percent but has an option to withdraw completely from 2013.

Accor recently spun off its restaurant ticket unit, which is now called Edenred. Pre-paid restaurant tickets are used by employers in many countries without a staff restaurant to help workers buy their meals.

Last year Compagnie des Wagons-Lits had sales of 248 million euros (312.5 million dollars) and reported earnings before interest and tax of 3.0 million euros.

CWL lost a contract in Spain recently. A spokeswoman told AFP that the effect of the loss on sales in the first quarter was 40 million euros.

In 2008, CWL also lost a contract to provide food on French TGV high-speed train services, except on the TGV-east line.

Accor shares showed a rise of 0.97 percent to 22.99 euros around mid-day, the only gainer on the overall French CAC 40 index, which was down 1.51 percent.

"The group is continuing to re-focus," said analysts at Credit Mutuel-CIC Securities.

"The sale of CWL is a good move for Accor and is part of a strategy to concentrate on its core activities."

© 2010 AFP

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