Friday, May 1, 2015

Your Highway In The Sky - The Disney Monorail System

By Keith Mahne

Disney's Monorail system is one of the things that make a Disney vacation so carefree, relaxing, and magical. Simply put, Disney's Monorail transportation network is among the most efficient, easy to use, and convenient of any mass transit system in the world. The system was a huge undertaking especially at Walt Disney World. The vehicles are always clean, loading and unloading of passengers is simple and well-thought-out, and the wait for transportation (except during the very busiest of times) is minimal.  It's hard to over-emphasize the convenience of the internal transportation. Continue after the page break for an in depth look into the history of Walt's beloved monorail system...

I. Disneyland Monorail System:

Walt Disney originally envisioned the monorail as a practical form of public transport for the future. However, the monorail came about during a time when America's—and particularly Los Angeles'—love affair with the automobile was increasing, and monorails in the United States came to be associated only with Disney's theme parks. The Disneyland Monorail System (originally, the Disneyland ALWEG Monorail) opened on June 14, 1959, as a sightseeing attraction in Tomorrowland in Disneyland. The Mark I trains (Red and Blue) consisted of three cars each. With the debut of the four-car Mark II in 1961 (and the new Yellow train), the track was lengthened to leave the park and stop at a station at the Disneyland Hotel. The monorail trains reached their current length of five cars in 1968 with the arrival of the Mark III. More streamlined and efficient than the Mark II, the Mark III also included the arrival of Monorail Green. There were two forms of access to the monorail. Persons who were leaving the park or persons at the hotel who had purchased tickets to enter the park could purchase a single ticket to go to the hotel or from the hotel to the entrance in Tomorrowland, respectively. Persons who had not purchased admission to the park could purchase a ticket to ride the monorail from the hotel station, into the park, and back to the hotel station. To prevent them from entering the park without paying, persons buying a monorail ticket who did not have a park admission would be loaded in a separate compartment which would remain locked until the monorail returned to the hotel.

By the early 1980s, the Mark III trains were showing their age and the wear of years. In 1985, Disneyland began phasing out the Mark III trains one by one. The older trains were stripped to the chassis and rebuilt as Mark V trains. The Mark III Green went first, to become the Mark V Purple followed by the Mark III Yellow becoming the Mark V Orange. The Mark III Blue remained blue (albeit a lighter shade) and the last was Red, remaining Red. The notable difference was the loss of the bubble-top driver's area in favor of a streamlined "Learjet" look similar to the Mark IV trains at the Walt Disney World Resort. The new trains also sported closed passenger compartments (with windows that could be opened) and pneumatic doors. Following the 1985 Disney World monorail fire, a safety handrail was added along the spine of the train, as well as emergency fire exit hatches leading to the roof. The attraction's name remained the "Disneyland Monorail System", as it had been painted on the Mark III trains' skirts. The Mark V trains were built by Ride & Show Engineering, Inc., incorporating bodies that were produced by Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm of Germany. Purple first made her appearance for testing in Autumn of 1986 and began regular operations a few months later. Orange was delivered in late Summer of 1987, followed by Blue in early 1988. The oldest train, Red, was also the last to be removed from the line for refurbishment in the Spring of 1988.

In 1999, the monorail began lengthy periods of closures due to construction of Disney California Adventure, which the monorail beamway passed through. Although the beamway's route was not altered, a significant amount of construction was done around the existing beamway, and much of the terrain under the beamway's support columns was regraded, necessitating the closures. Additionally, the Disneyland Hotel Station was completely demolished and a new station built in the same location. The system began limited operations in 2000, when the Downtown Disney Station became operational, but a significant portion of the beamway was still unusable due to construction. In 2001, the monorail resumed full capacity operations, passing through the new park, as well as the hotel within the park, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. In 2004, Monorail Orange was removed from the line and taken to Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale to be reverse engineered. Monorail Blue was removed in September 2006 for rebuilding. The monorail was closed from August 21 through late December 2006 to prepare for the opening of Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in 2007. The refurbishment from Mark V to Mark VII was done one train at a time. The first Mark VII train, Monorail Red, arrived at Disneyland on December 20, 2007. It was originally expected to be in service by the end of February 2008, but due to design change issues, it did not begin serving park guests until July 3, 2008. Mark VII Blue arrived on-site on April 10, 2008, began daytime riderless testing on August 1, 2008, and began guest service on September 16, 2008. Monorail Mark VII Orange arrived on-site on August 14, 2008, began riderless testing in March 2009, and began guest service on April 7, 2009. Monorails Red, Blue, and Orange make up the entire Mark VII fleet. Admission to Disneyland Park must be purchased to ride the monorail.

The Disneyland Monorail has two stations: one in Tomorrowland, and another in the Downtown Disney district. The original Monorail was a round trip ride with no stops. In 1961, the track was expanded to connect to a station at the Disneyland Hotel, making it an actual transportation system. The original Hotel station was torn down in 1999 and a new station, now called the Downtown Disney Station, was built in the same place. All riders must disembark at Tomorrowland Station, and during peak traffic periods, the monorail offers only one-way trips where all passengers must also disembark at the Downtown Disney Station and re-board for the return trip to Tomorrowland. Admission to Disneyland Park must be purchased to ride the monorail. In the fall of 2006, the Tomorrowland Station was remodeled due to the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage construction. The original speed ramps were removed, and a new concrete ramp was added on the east end of the station to handle the queue and access to the station, with concrete stairs on the west end to handle the exiting Monorail passengers.

The monorail travels in one direction only. All passengers board at a single platform. Leaving Tomorrowland station, the monorail crosses the Disneyland Railroad and continues along Harbor Boulevard on the eastern edge of the park. Turning to enter Disney California Adventure, it passes Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! and Muppet*Vision 3D. The track then crosses through the gateway to the Disney California Adventure park. Passengers can see Disneyland Park on the right and Disney California Adventure Park on the left. The monorail then passes through Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa then makes a sharp curve to the right and enters the Downtown Disney station, which has a rainforest theme, covered with several jungle-themed canopies, to complement the adjacent Rainforest Cafe. Downtown Disney station has one platform. After a five-minute loading, the train leaves Downtown Disney and makes a short loop around the district before crossing above the esplanade between the two parks and heads back to Disneyland. Once inside the park, the monorail crosses the railroad again and goes into a series of sharp bends and curves around Tomorrowland. The track travels above the Submarine Lagoon and Autopia. The track actually crosses the lagoon four times and then curves around the Matterhorn Bobsleds, giving a view of Fantasyland, then turns left to reenter the Tomorrowland Station.

All monorails are equipped with Grover 1016 horns. The horn must be sounded when departing a station, at one point where the track parallels the currently-unused PeopleMover/Rocket Rod track, and when approaching the Matterhorn. They are also sounded when a bird lands on the track. The original monorails were equipped with horns that sounded more like real ground-level trains.

Built by ALWEG:

  • Mark I : 1959 - 1961
    • 3-car trains
    • colors: red and blue
  • Mark II - 1961 - 1969(Added with track expansion to Disneyland Hotel)
    • 4-car trains
    • Bigger dome on top of front car
    • colors: red, blue and yellow

Built by Walt Disney Imagineering/WED Enterprises:

  • Mark III : 1969 - 1987
    • 5-car trains
    • 137 feet long
    • colors: red, blue, yellow and green.
  • Mark V : 1987 - 2008
    • 5-car trains
    • Designed by Walt Disney Imagineering
    • Car bodies built by Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm of Germany
    • Seats 24 passengers in each of the five cars, plus 7 passengers in the tail cone, and 5 passengers with 1 driver in the nose cone.
    • Total number of passengers per train: 132
    • Utilizes Mk III chassis as re-engineered by Ride & Show Engineering, Inc. of San Dimas,CA.
    • The Mk V was designed to resemble the appearance of the Mark IV series monorails which were operating in the Walt Disney World Resort.
    • colors: red, blue, orange and purple

 Built by Dynamic Structures:

  • Mark VII : 2008–Present
    • Sleek/Retro design accomplished by installing a MkIII style nose on the existing MkV trains.
    • New island seating configuration, with one row of inward-facing seating at the front and rear ends of each car.
    • The main cabins have a capacity of 22 passengers
    • The tailcone has a capacity of seven passengers while the nosecone has a capacity of five passengers and a pilot.
    • Designed and engineered in-house by Walt Disney Imagineering and TPI Composites
    • Colors: Red, Blue, and Orange.
    • The first Mark VII monorail, Red, was delivered to Disneyland on December 20, 2007. It began service on July 3, 2008.
    • The second Mark VII, Blue, was delivered to Disneyland on April 10, 2008. It began service September 16, 2008.
    • The Third Mark VII, Orange, was delivered to Disneyland on August 14, 2008. It began service on April 7, 2009.

II. Walt Disney World Monorail System:

The Original Walt Disney World 10

The Walt Disney World Resort currently operates twelve Mark VI monorail trains on three lines of service. The monorail system opened in 1971 with two routes and with Mark IV monorail trains. It was expanded to three lines in 1982, and switched to Mark VI trains in 1989. The system is the most heavily used monorail system in the world. The Walt Disney World Monorail operates over a span of 14.7 miles, with around 50 million Disney guests traveling on the monorail each year. The three services on two distinct routes on the Walt Disney World Monorail are:
The Express and Resort services on the dual-beam Magic Kingdom route:
  • Express: Express service between the Magic Kingdom and the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). Express service runs on the outer loop of this route and travels counter-clockwise.
  • Resort: Round-trip local service on the inner loop, running clockwise, making stops in order at the Magic Kingdom, Disney's Contemporary Resort, the Transportation and Ticket Center, Disney's Polynesian Resort, and Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa.
The single beam Epcot route:
  • Epcot: Service between the Transportation and Ticket Center and Epcot. Service on this route is a single beam running clockwise on the loop.
A spur track connects the Express and Resort lines to the maintenance shop. Another spur connects the Epcot and Express lines and is located northeast of the Transportation and Ticket Center.

The monorail beams, which are made of concrete with a special polystyrene core to lighten their weight, came by train from Washington. The system opened with the rest of the Walt Disney World Resort on October 1, 1971. It initially featured four stations: the Transportation and Ticket Center, Disney's Polynesian Resort, the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Contemporary Resort. The Epcot line and station were added during that park's construction, opening on October 1, 1982. The most recent addition was the Grand Floridian station, which was opened in 1988 along with the resort hotel.
During the construction of Epcot, Florida residents could request a complimentary ticket for a round-trip on the Epcot line to get a sneak preview of the park.

The modern trains that have been in use since 1989 are each 203 ft 6 in long (consisting of six cars) and can carry 360 passengers. The trains are driven by eight 113 hp motors which are powered by a 600-volt electrical system running through a busbar mounted on each side of the concrete beam. Each train also has seven inverters on board that convert the 600 V DC to 230 V AC for use by the air conditioners and air compressor, and additionally has a battery-backed 37 V DC low-voltage supply that provides power for the train's electronics. The trains are also equipped with a towing knuckle at each end to allow it to be pushed or pulled by a special diesel-powered tractor if need be. Maximum speed during normal operations is 40 mph, with several speed zones throughout the system with limits ranging from 15 to 40 mph. These speed limits are strictly enforced by the train's computer and cannot be overridden without the operator engaging a special lockout. Attempting to drive the train too quickly in a given speed zone will result in an "overspeed stop". Train spacing is maintained by the Moving Blocklight System (MBS), also known as the MAPO system (for "Mary Poppins", U.S. Pat. 3,973,746), which establishes a number of "holdpoints" throughout the system. At any given time, there must be at least two holdpoints between a given train and the train ahead of it. When the train detects that there are fewer than two holdpoints between itself and the preceding train, the emergency brakes are immediately applied and cannot be released until sufficient spacing becomes available or the operator explicitly overrides the system. Failure to maintain adequate spacing is known as an "overrun", and is treated as an extremely serious offense.

The Disney employees that operate monorail trains are called pilots, comprising a distinct and separate department within Disney Transportation. Buses and Watercraft (ferryboats, launches, and cruisers) are the other two departments, and each department is trained and scheduled separately from the others. One employee is scheduled as the central coordinator ("Monorail Central") during each shift. "Central" controls the operation of the entire monorail system, usually by issuing instructions to pilots via radio. Central is responsible for setting up each day's operation in the morning, for handling contingencies and emergencies that occur during the day, and for moving trains off the system after all parks have closed. An employee can act as Central only with a history of safe train operation, the ability to train other monorail pilots, and a rigorous training period during which they must successfully triage and handle simultaneous simulated emergencies. Monorail Central operates out of the glass booth on the Epcot Load platform at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Several qualified coordinators are usually available during each shift that can take over Central's duties if needed.

The original control system served from 1989 with the introduction of Mark VI Blue until June 2007 when the final train, Blue, was converted to the new LMCU2 system.
Today's updated control module

The manager who oversees all monorail operations during a given shift at Walt Disney World is called "Monorail One". This Guest Service Manager (GSM) handles guest matters, including complaints and arrangements for alternative transportation, such as ferry boats or buses, in the event of monorail downtime. Monorail workers refer to the system's stations as follows: "Concourse" includes the load and unload platforms for the Epcot beam at the Transportation and Ticket Center. "Base" includes the platforms for both the Express (the exterior beam) and Resort (the interior beam) beam at the Transportation and Ticket Center; however, the monorail workers refer the Resort side of base as "Base Resort". The stations at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, at the Magic Kingdom, and at Epcot are named after each location.

The seating arrangements for the Mark IV

Removal of the Mark IV monorail with Tow #2 and a very large crane

Mark VI Monorail installation

The monorail system uses a set of pre-recorded announcements to instruct and entertain passengers. Prior to departure when the pilot closes the doors, an announcement asks guests to "Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas." One of the most known phrases within the resort, it was recorded by Jack Wagner, who was known as "the Voice of Disneyland." In 1988 following the construction of the Grand Floridian Resort stop, Kevin Miles replaced Jack Wagner as the voiceover. Wagner can still be heard today as the "Please stand clear of the doors ..." phrase remains with his voice, partly as it is installed on a separate system. Miles worked in Epcot as part of the 'Voices of Liberty' in the American Adventure pavilion at World Showcase. Sometime before 1998, Disney employee Matt Hanson replaced Kevin Miles, and in 2004 Hanson was replaced by Joe Hursh. Hanson is still with the Walt Disney Company. During the system's early years, the trains featured Wagner's narration of the sights and scenery along the way, as well as information on special events, the resort, and the monorail system itself. Disney monorail workers refer to these narrations as "spiels." On April 13th, 2012 at around 5:00 EST, Disney activated a newer version of the spiel on the monorails that features a new narrator. The new narrator is Tom Kane.

Jack Wagner "the Voice of Disneyland"

The Monorail Shop is Disney's monorail maintenance facility located a short distance northeast of the Magic Kingdom, and provides space for up to nine of the twelve Mark VI trains on its upper level (the bottom level houses the four steam locomotives that circle the Magic Kingdom on its west side, and a bus repair facility on the east side). On any given night, two monorail trains are parked at various stations on the system. On nights where the temperature drops below freezing, the trains will be parked inside the Contemporary Resort; but in practice, trains can be left in any station (even on the express side of a resort station). No train will ever be left outside two nights in a row because routine maintenance is performed nightly. The Monorail Shop also has a painting room located on Beam 10 that is elevated 25 feet off the ground and has a lift mounted on the wall for the painters. It takes three weeks to paint a monorail train. To access the wheels and underside of the monorail, a portion of Beam 1 inside the shop is removable, primarily used to change load tires. The diesel-powered "work tractors" are the tow trucks of the system, and can tow a train to the Monorail Shop, located around the bend from Space Mountain. Monorail Operations at the Walt Disney World resort has three separate tractors that allow for the simultaneous towing of three different monorails. In the event of a power failure on one of the monorail lines, the tractors are still operational, as they are powered by on-board diesel engines.

Construction of the Monorail Shop (Notice WDW's powerplant in top of photo)

One of the first monorails being delivered to the Walt Disney World monorail barn

A monorail "work tractor" as seen towing Monorail Green on the maintenance access beam

The current train identification colors include:

  • Red
  • Coral
  • Orange
  • Gold
  • Yellow
  • Teal
  • Lime
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Silver
  • Black
  • Peach

Retired colors:
  • Purple
  • Pink

The Monorail Graveyard pic 1

The Monorail Graveyard pic 2

III. Tokyo Disney Monorail System:

While the monorails at Disneyland and Walt Disney World are without a doubt monorails, the Tokyo Disney Resort Line has been, due to its scale, referred to by many as the first real Disney park monorail. Unlike the systems in California and Florida which are 3/5ths scale adaptations of Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren's original Alweg design, the trains of the Tokyo Disney Resort Line, which are 275 feet long and carry up to 571 passengers, are built to full scale.

The system's particularly large beams are the result of not only the trains' size, but also the desire to increase the span between support pylons. Under normal operation, the system runs four Liners at once, with the fifth in reserve, but it is capable of operating all five at one time if desired. The trains are designated as such: 1-Blue / 2-Yellow / 3-Purple / 4-Green / 5-Peach.

There's something else about the Tokyo Disney Resort Line that certainly deserves mention - Its trains are driverless.  The individual Liners (as they are called) are controlled from a central location by an automated (but monitored, of course) system.  A single Cast Member rides in the tail of each Liner to ensure that guests have fully boarded the vehicle before its doors are closed.

The Disney Monorail System is just another amazing feat to come to the Disney parks thanks to Walt. It's a must ride for each visit as its nostalgia and sights can't be topped. Whether it be in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, or Tokyo Disney, the monorail will always be "your highway in the sky!"  


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four.

Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

No comments:

Post a Comment