“Por favor mantenganse alejado de las puertas…”. If you recognize this “World” famous quote from Jack Wagner, then you know exactly what this article is going to be about. Yes my Main Street friends, we’re going to take a ride along the Walt Disney World monorail. If you’re anything like me, the monorail is almost as symbolic to Disney World as Cinderella’s castle, Spaceship Earth, or the Tree of Life. It is personally my defining moment that I have actually made it to Disney World. There really doesn’t have to be a monorail present per se, but just seeing the tracks show me that I have made it there again. To me this is something I have to ride just as much as any E-ticket attraction, and not having to pay to ride it is always a plus. So “Ladies and Gentlemen, please collect your belongings and watch your step. Please assist small children by the hand” as we board the Disney monorail.
Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren, (who you may ask?) was one of the wealthiest men in the 1930″s. He was an industrial magnate whose fortune primarily came from the appreciation that the industrial vacuum cleaner could be used for domestic use. He persuaded the swedish lighting company Electrolux to buy the patent to a cleaner and pay him for his sales with company stock. By the early 1930″s he became owner of Electrolux, who was the leading brand in vacuum cleaners and refrigeration technology. He also later diversified into newspapers, banks, and arms manufacturing. One of Wenner-Gren’s other interest, was the monorail train systems.
He later founded ALWEG, which is an acronym for his name. The company was based out of Fuhlingen, Germany, a suberb of Cologne. ALWEG would later become best know by Disney fans for developing the original monorail train for Disneyland in California.
The original monorail does date back a little further than ALWEG. They date all the way back to 1820 when the first one was built by Ivan Elmanov of Russia. The term monorail, originates from the words mono (single) and rail. The straddle beam monorail is the most common type of monorail in use today and also being the type popularized by ALWEG. On a trip to Germany in the 1950″s, Walt Disney saw an updated version of the monorail. He originally envisioned this unique transportation to be a practical form of public transportation, but this was during a time when America’s love for automobiles was becoming very prevalent. So Walt decided to include the system into a new theme park he was developing. So with the opening of Disneyland in 1959, the first Disney monorail known as the Mark I made it’s glorious debut.
The original red and blue Mark I monorails consisted of 3 cars each and was originally an attraction in Tommorowland. In 1961 the 4 car Mark II made its debut. It also added a yellow train and extended the track to leave the park and make a stop at the Disneyland Hotel. The arrival of the Mark III train in 1968 brought about the 5 car length, became more streamlined and added the Monorail Green to its line-up. In 1971 the Mark IV burst onto the scene at a brand new Disney theme park in central florida. The stainless steel shells were done away with and the smoother white shells took the place. There were originally 10 colors in the Walt DIsney World set-up. There were Monorail black, blue, gold, pink, purple, yellow, red, silver, green and orange. In 1985 Disneyland’s Mark III had started to show their age, so Imagineering stripped the trains down to the chassis and rebuilt them as the Mark V trains. It took on the look of Disney
World’s Mark IV monorail trains. In 1984 Bombardier was commissioned by Disney to build a new fleet of monorail vehicles, so in 1989 the Mark VI began it’s operation. The Mark VI brought along with it some new benefits. The guest capacity was increased by 30% and the new trains were also taller. It also brought along the mixture of being able to stand and sit. Better suspension, better air conditioning and an improved sliding door were also added.
You want to know where the most heavily traveled monorail system in the world is located? If you guessed Walt Disney World, give yourself a pat on the back. It operates over a 14.7 mile span on two distinct routes. There’s the dual beam Magic Kingdom route, which is the Express and Resort Loop. The Express route goes between the Magic Kingdom and the Ticket and Transportation Center. It runs counter clockwise on the outer loop. The resort route runs clockwise and is a round trip on the inner loop. Its stops are the Magic Kingdom, the Contemporary Resort, the T.T.C, the Polynesian Resort, and the Grand Floridian was added in 1988. There is also the single beam EPCOT route that was added when EPCOT was built and runs clockwise on the loop between the T.T.C and EPCOT.
A 600 volt electrical system powers the eight 113 HP motors that drive the trains. There are also 7 inverters onboard that converts the 600 VDC to 230 VAC for use by
the air conditioners and the air compressors. Ever wonder what happens if the track loses electricity? A diesel powered work tractor can come onto the track and tow the train which are equipped with towing knuckles at each end of the train so it can be pushed or pulled back to the monorail shop.
The monorail shop which is located around the corner from Space Mountain can provide space for up to nine monorails on the upper level. The four locomotives that circle the Magic Kingdom are housed on the west side of the shop and the bus repair facility is located on the east side.
The concrete beam that the monorail runs on is 26 inches across. The beams were shipped to Florida from Oregon and contain a polystyrene core to lighten the weight. It is then wrapped by steel and concrete. There are 400 individual columns and each one’s height was built depending on the location it would be placed. The highest column is located at the enter/exit of the Contemporary and stands at 65 feet above the ground and there is about 50 feet between each column.
Each train cab has what is called MAPO which maintains safe spacing between each train via a moving blocklight system. The monorail beams are divided into block and are based upon the column numbering. The MAPO color that is currently illuminated indicates how far ahead the train in front of you is. If it shows green the leading monorail is 3 or more blocks ahead of you. If amber is showing, it means that the leading train is 2 blocks ahead and if red is showing it means that the next train is in the next block. A block is around 500 to 1000 feet long. For safety reasons, monorail trains must be kept at least 2 blocks apart during operations. If a red MAPO occurs, the on board computer will lock out the driver and apply the emergency brakes. If a driver gets 3 red MAPO’s in a two year time frame, they will lose their driver privileges and be transferred to a different department.
So Next time you are at WDW enjoying a ride on the monorail, remember what an intricate work of engineering it is and enjoy a free ride on the world’s most traveled monorail system.
Facts about the Monorail:
– When EPCOT was being built, Florida residents could get complimentary tickets for a round trip on the EPCOT line to get a sneak peek at the new park
– Each train is 203′ 6″ long and can carry 364 guests
– 40 mph is the maximum speed of the monorail
– The driver of the monorail is actually called a pilot
– The “monorail one” is the manager who oversees all the monorail operations during a shift
– No train will ever be left outside two nights in a row
– It takes 3 weeks to paint a monorail train
– Each and every mile of track cost on average one million dollars
– The WDW monorail transports more than 50 million people every year and has carried over 1 billion since 1971
– On June 6, 2002, Chip Young won an auction for the retired Monorail Red on Ebay.
The going price, $20,000 plus shipping and handling.