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TPI editorial: It's time for Florida to transfer control of Reedy Creek

By Robert Niles
Published: July 7, 2009 at 10:31 AM
The Orlando Sentinel today published an insightful graphic describing what's been widely reported, here on Theme Park Insider and elsewhere, about what happened during Sunday morning's fatal monorail crash at Walt Disney World.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, and it appears that the federal agency will have much to criticize in its report. Not only does there appear to have been operational failures by monorail personnel, leading to the accident, but also Disney's monorail system design was fatally flawed.

The accident appears to have happened because Monorail Pink, which was to have transferred to another monorail beam, did not make the track switch, and instead proceeded backward down the Epcot line, back into the station where it collided with Monorail Purple, killing driver Austin Wuennenberg. Apparently, the monorails' automatic collision avoidance system was switched off during the track switch.

And that is the design flaw. An anti-collision system should never be switched off so long as operations is in control of the track and there are guests on board the system. (Only when the system is clear of passengers and maintenance takes control of the track should safety systems be allowed to be turned off.) If overriding the collision system is standard operating procedure during any moment of the monorail's normal operation, including for track switches, a scenario such as what happened Sunday morning should have been easy to anticipate.

Relying on operators, many of whom have less than a year's experience, to not make a mistake is not good enough. Disney should know this - indeed, that's why the monorails have an anti-collision system in the first place. But that system can't work if it is turned off.

If the scenario described is indeed what happened Sunday night, the NTSB should:

  • Order Disney to change its track switch procedure to ensure that its anti-collision system remains on at all times while operations is in control of the track and passengers are in the system.
  • Order Disney to ensure that the anti-collision system is bi-directional, that it can prevent collisions between trains moving in reverse as well as forward.

In addition, the state of Florida should take this opportunity to take a hard look at whether it should transfer control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District from the Walt Disney Company to Orange County. The public should have oversight of operations at the Walt Disney World Resort, as it does for all other Central Florida theme parks. If the NTSB can investigate a monorail accident - and it should - then fire, ambulance and inspection responsibilities at the resort should be under public oversight and control, as well.

Disney made a reasonable case 40-some years ago that local governments were not sensitive to the unique planning and zoning needs of a theme park resort, so the Disney company needed its own quasi-government control. Today, that's simply no longer the case.

Orange County and City of Orlando planning and zoning authorities oversee development at the Universal Orlando resort as well as at SeaWorld Orlando. Orange County's emergency response departments are perfectly capable of managing the existing fire and ambulance teams at Reedy Creek. In fact, integration with Orange County's emergency response resources might conceivably improve response at the resort in a catastrophe.

And public oversight would put more eyes on operations such as Disney's monorail system, allowing inspectors to identify design flaws such as this one, before they cost the life of a young cast member.

The Walt Disney World Resort straddles Orange and Osceola Counties. This hasn't created a jurisdiction problem, as the services typically provided by the county have until now been provided at the resort by Reedy Creek. But Reedy Creek is to revert to county control, it should go to one county or the other, and not be split in two. I'm arguing control should go to Orange County, given that county's experience in overseeing two other major theme park resorts.

In making the switch, Orange County residents should not be asked to pay for support services at the Walt Disney World Resort. Reedy Creek has paid its own way, and should continue to do so, with new levies on Disney to pay Orange County to manage the former Reedy Creek services.

But it is past time to lay to rest the idea that certain business should operate outside of public oversight. The people of Central Florida, and all visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort, deserve the peace of mind that an outside set of eyes are watching what happens inside the resort, to help ensure that all of Disney's guests are being kept as safe as possible.

Readers' Opinions

From 72.189.55.92 on July 7, 2009 at 10:53 AM
I completely agree that a comprehensive investigation of what happened and why it happened should be managed by an external party. I believe that the NTSB is very much the appropriate party to perform that investigation since they have no regional, political bias in their approach.

If operating methods need to be changed, and technologies updated to 'improve' safety, they should certainly be undertaken. An external party performing the investigation can ensure that there is no perception that anything was 'hidden' from the public. It will only be to Disney's advantage to have this a completely open and public discovery.

Suggesting that this tragic accident should be used as a reason to abolish Ready Creek is a gross over-reaction that I can only assume is being used for political gain by someone. Like every governmental entity (including Orange County), Reedy Creek is not perfect. However, a monorail system that has run for nearly 38 years without a fatality suggests that the parties involved are doing something right. I don't believe any other municipal transportation system of any type anywhere in the nation can report such a safety record.

Every few years, something happens within the bounds of Reedy Creek that some local politician uses to get on the news and make a name for themselves. It gets someone in the newspaper and on the evening news to suggest such a change, but it's only done for their own personal gain.

This was without a doubt a tragic accident, and much can and should be learned from it. However this sort of political agenda should not be connected to it in any way.

From 24.167.239.195 on July 7, 2009 at 11:03 AM
I couldnt DISAGREE more!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The last thing that is needed is for Reedy Creek to become another branch of government that doesnt work properly and will just institute more fee's/taxes to gouge the guests at WDW to pay for services that arent related to the theme park.

Accidents sadly will happen and the problems that caused it should be fixed, but shouldnt be used as an excuse to give government more control over WDW as it is run in a very safe manner. With this way of thinking I hope you will propose that the Wash. D.C. subway system be turned over to a private enterprise because the government in that city showed it cant safely run a subway.

Its a tragedy whenever someone dies in this type of accident, but it is no reason to change a entity like Reedy Creek which has worked out great and doesnt need to be changed!!!!

From 216.153.170.128 on July 7, 2009 at 11:08 AM
I do not want to diminish what the author is saying, however, I am sure, there were plenty of eyes on this as it was developed. Also, as time went by, I am also sure that others looked at the control system as well. If disabling the system was a part of the procedures, that is of course wrong. However, I do not necessarily think adding government "eyes" on something makes it better. I work in an industry where sometimes the people who put some standard on the equipment, force a designer to make it less safe, by following the government issued protocol. This is because the original safety design was better, but did not fit withing the narrow sighted design guides by an overseeing body that can not see the whole picture because they do not fully understand a system. They take a glanced view and make recommendations.
I am not saying that an overseeing body does not help make things safer. But sometimes the overseeing committee go as far as they possibly can. When this happens, people start looking at items which work fine, but they envision something different which they feel will be safer. When this happens, there is a learning curve to take the bugs out of the system, and sometimes the system is far less superior to the original system.
Just realize that throwing some random eyes on a problem, may not always make it better.
From TH Creative on July 7, 2009 at 11:11 AM
As I noted in the comments section of another TPI blog this is only the second collision between two monorails in 35 years of daily operations and that this is the first death as the result of a collision. Hundreds of millions (perhaps more than a billion) of guests and CMs have ridden the system safely.

But to respond specifically to this article, a person only has to consider last month's train accident in Washington DC (seven people killed, more than seventy injured) and last fall's Metrolink accident in Chatsworth, CA (seventeen people killed and more than 135 injured) to realize that greater public oversight offers exactly ZERO guarantee that safety will increase at Walt Disney World.

One death over 35 years is one too many. And (again) our prayers and sympathy extend to the family and friends of Austin Wuennenberg.

But (respectfully) BEFORE a full investigation is complete and just three days after this tragedy, it's FAR TOO EARLY to draw the hard and fast conclusion "It's time for Florida to transfer control of Reedy Creek"

From William Clark on July 7, 2009 at 11:18 AM
Orlando and Orange County governments have been unable to come to an agreement on a consolidation of fire services amongst themselves. Whether or not the political will is there to force state and local oversight of Disney World remains to be seen. Rich Crotty (R), Orange County mayor has his sights set on a U.S. House seat. Buddy Dyer (D) Orlando's mayor, is in his second year of his second full term. Will they exert the political will necessary to overcome likely strong Disney opposition? Will Charlie Crist(R), who has his eyes on the U.S. Senate seat now held by the outgoing Sen. Mel Martinez(R), seek to impose limitations on the self governing accord with Reedy Creek with elections coming next year? Will the Republican held Legislature even take up the issue when it meets again in normal session in March 2010. Possible but unlikely.

More likely is Disney World cooperating totally and completely with OSHA, NTSB and the Orange County Sheriff's Dept to find the root cause of this tragedy and remedy the situation so that it can not happen again. We have seen this before with the tragic death of a cast member at Primeval Whirl at Animal Kingdom in November 2007. Disney paid a fine and installed changes in the ride so that the same accident cannot happen again. I believe this is the approach Disney will take here.

From 66.32.82.135 on July 7, 2009 at 11:22 AM
Hindsight is 20/20. One monorail fatality in 38 years of operation transporting millions of guests is assuredly better than the record would have been had it been under "public" control. No doubt the safety problems will be corrected immediately and this will never happen again. I have more trust in all operations on Disney property than I could ever have in anything "public." Disney does care about the safety of guests, as well as the Disney reputation. When something is publicly controlled, everyone passes the buck and the blame for any incidents.

Nothing and no one is perfect, but Disney comes as close as one could imagine. Those who bring up deaths on Mission:Space or after Tower of Terror, etc., are forgetting that all of those people had pre-existing conditions for which multiple (ignored) signs warned them not to ride those attractions. As for other incidents, Disney can not cure guest stupidity.

Things will not always go as they should in any aspect of life, but Disney takes all recommended safety precautions, is always striving for improvement, and takes responsibility for their actions. As soon as I drive onto Disney property, I feel safer than anywhere else. If they don't maintain their own control, that will no longer be the case.

From Anthony Murphy on July 7, 2009 at 12:04 PM
I could not disagree with you more that Reedy Creek should be handed over. While it is good to have oversight, Disney has had problems when outside forces have made them do stuff. For example (and this is OSHA so not exact example), OSHA forced the African workers who were working on the real thatched roof of Kilimanjaro Safaris to wear shoes. Disney brought these artisans over from Africa and they did their craft barefooted (they actually used their toes in the process). When they went up on the thatched roof with shoes, one sliped and fell and hurt his back. OSHA then allowed them to go back up there barefotted.

Also, let us not forget that this accident was quite a freak one. In all of the years the monorail have been around, I really can't think of too many times they have actually crashed into each other.

Still, the main findings of the accident on how to prevent it from happening is correct. Make sure that there is the failsafe breaks that can NEVER be turned off.

For anybody freaked out about Disney and safety, there is a County Sheriff at every park and entertainment area 24/7.

Again, I don't think Reedy Creek should be turned over. As TH mentioned, there have been alot of accidents with trains in the current times which might say something about this day and age. My father told me about how the traim monorails thing at O'Haire Airport in Chicago (similar to the one in the Orlando Airport) had failsafe measures that it would NEVER break down (an insurance guarantee) and guess what? It almost flipped over!

Very thought provoking though Robert. I must say TPI has really been on the ball with this story (as it should be). I would venture to say its better than most of the newspapers on this story!

From Jill Harrington on July 7, 2009 at 12:00 PM
Given the current administrative issues with police and fire in Orlando, I can't imagine making a transition this large at this time would be a good thing...

That being said, I think that Disney needs to do some serious thinking about their operations. They do some things so very well, so well that other industries pay thousands and thousands of dollars to copy what they do. And they do some other things really, really poorly... This seems to mainly fall in the 'keeping up with technology' area. None of their systems seem to speak to one another, there is little efficiency in their operations (serious redundancies across systems, etc), etc. To think that this important of a process (the changing of monorail tracks) is a MANUAL one in today's world is really crazy.

Don't know how they fix the problem - but I don't think transitioning control to Orange or Osceola County is the answer...

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Austin's family and friends.

From Brian Emery on July 7, 2009 at 12:02 PM
I agree with TH Creative – Disney has a great safety record. And it appears the let’s all yell Fire attitude is a little over the top.

A safety device should never be off – is the only change that is really needed.

I believe the local authorities would be better off trying to get the DWI’s down to 0 instead of worrying about one incident in 38 years. Imaging if Orlando only had 1 death from Drunk Driving in 38 years…

Just my 2 cents… Which might not be worth that much.

From Anthony Murphy on July 7, 2009 at 12:15 PM
BTW, the Monorail techology is pretty much dead now due to its extreme price. I think Disney, if they can afford it, put the monorail at least at DHS and perhaps a couple of resorts such as Wilderness Lodge. I hear its $1000000 a foot!
From Matthew Gallagher on July 7, 2009 at 12:38 PM
I have been a fan of the site for a while now and wish to add my opinion to some of the points you bring up in your editorial.

This accident, like so many other tragic mass transportation accidents, probably could have been avoided. It is a loss for the family and friends of the young man and his fellow castmembers within the company and my heart goes out to them all.

In your piece you state that the accident's cause was from a design flaw when in actuality it was a procedural flaw. The design of the monorail system itself works in the movement of the trains to their destinations and on and off the various lines in the system. It is the procedure of moving trains on and off of the lines that is the most likely cause of this accident.

These procedures are most likely what OSHA and the NTSB are going to focus on considering this is the first fatality in the nearly 38 years the monorail has been running at the Walt Disney World Resort. There are very few other mass transit systems that have moved so many people for so many years with such a safety record as the Walt Disney World monorail system.

Procedures can always be updated to make travel safer for all and hopefully that will be the outcome of these investigations. Using this tragedy, however, to rally around the dissolution of what has been an effective governing body is really not the appropriate time for this type of discussion.

A point you mention is the need for Disney to cede the Reedy Creek Improvement District to Orange County. This is flawed for a couple of reason, but the main point you address and ignore - the district spans two separate counties. Ignoring that fact and handing sole oversight to Orange County would be an arbitrary decision based on your perception that Orange County is better equipped to handle the task. I would imagine there are some citizens of Osceola County that would argue with your position.

RCID has been instrumental in the development of the Walt Disney World Resort since 1971, which in turn has contributed to the overall growth of Orlando during that same time. Part of that comes from the RCID's focused directive to manage those lands comprising the resort as it has grown since it was first chartered.

For comparison: Universal Studios Florida is 444 acres, SeaWorld is 200 acres while the Walt Disney World comprises some 25,000 acres. Disney's Animal Kingdom, the fourth gate at Walt Disney World is 500 acres alone - larger than Universal's entire complex. The comparison that Orange County can manage Disney since it manages these smaller theme parks development plans is not entirely convincing given Orange County's history of mismanagement of tax-payer's money.

None of our local governments are perfect - many of them are barely passable. Few, however, have had a more direct positive impact for the greater Orlando metropolitan area over the years than that of RCID. It has been instrumental in aiding our small town Orlando turn into the number one tourist destination in the world.

None of the other development, amusement parks, destinations, etc. would have even considered Orlando over the years were it not for the Walt Disney Co. and the manner in which it has managed the Walt Disney World Resort's growth over the years.

Let's focus on correcting the procedures that most likely contributed to this tragedy and the loss of young Mr. Wuennenberg's life. Allow the investigations the time to define the causes, but more importantly, prescribe the solutions so this does not happen again. Let's not, however, use it as a battle cry for something more.

From TH Creative on July 7, 2009 at 1:10 PM
While I suspect some of the anonymous posters are Disney-affiliated (as am I, by marriage) I think this thread is fairly historic for TPI. Not only are the comments well constructed and complete, but they're also pretty much unanimous.
From Robert Behan on July 7, 2009 at 1:13 PM
I have to disagree with editorial "It's time for Florida to transfer control of Reedy Creek." I find it disappointing that after the tragedy many people are quick to blame Disney and their own oversight of the company and Reedy Creek.

A little history of myself, I work in local government and have a master’s in public administration. But I can say first hand that just because government has oversight it will be safer and better operation is not true.

Other posters have made references to other tragic transit accidents which are run by governments and didn't make them any safer the WDW monorail. I will also argue that WDW monorail system is under government oversight, you now have at least three government agencies (OC Sheriffs, OSHA, NSTB) looking into the accident. This accident was the first fatal accident since it opened and has transferred close to (if not more than) a billion people. Can safety be improved, yes, but you don't need (and probably would not get) it if Orange County oversee it. "Public oversight would put more eyes on operations such as Disney's monorail system, allowing inspectors to identify design flaws such as this one, before they cost the life of a young cast member." Not true. As stated before government run transit systems have accidents all the time. I rather have a WDW Cast Member that inspects monorails as part of his every day job than the civil servant inspector that dose a little bit of everything. I feel I can say this because I am a civil servant.

As part of you argument, you state that "fire, ambulance and inspection responsibilities at the resort should be under public oversight and control, as well," they are. The firefighters have to meet all state mandated requirements to be a firefighter and NFPA standards (Side note, NFPA is a non-government organization). Ambulance (EMT's, Paramedics) also have to be state certified (course is designed by US Dept of Transpiration) and most likely the ambulances are inspected by the state. So there is government oversight. Moving Reedy Creek Emergency Services into Orange County's for an improved response to a catastrophe has already been taking care of. There our mutual aid agreements between emergency services departments for decades (and became more official after 9/11).

I think one of the main reasons Reedy Creek Improvement District works for Disney is because it is in two counties. You agree that this is a problem and it should fall under Orange County, but this will not happen without a major fight from Osceola County. You are talking about money and control and I know one thing about government (mostly politicians) is they do not like giving up control. I do not see this working without major legal battles between the counties and Disney.

I think for what happened this past week we all need to wait and see what the investigation finds. We should not be telling these organizations what to tell Disney. I am sure that Disney will make the changes (if any) they are suggested to or told to. It is in their best interest that this does not happen again and if it does, it not for the same reasons this happened. Bottom line, I will ride the monorail again and if I ever get the chance I will ride in the front.

From Robert Niles on July 7, 2009 at 1:16 PM
The procedural error was made possible by the design flaw. Disney rightly installed an anti-collision system to prevent its operators from making a range of potential errors. That system should be expanded to prevent additional potential errors, such as this one.

Now, to the larger issue of allowing selected companies to operate without public oversight or control. I see no reason why Disney, or any other company, should continue to be allowed to operate without public oversight of its operations that directly affect public safety.

Factory farms shouldn't be allowed to produce and sell food without it being inspected first. Airlines shouldn't be allowed to fly planes without an inspection and flight crews should be subject to regulation ensuring that they are trained, qualified, sober and awake enough to do their jobs. Banks and traders should be subject to financial disclosure rules.

And theme parks should not be allowed to build and operate attractions that could potentially kill riders without the a trained representative of the public looking at their plans and inspecting their operation first.

Disney doesn't have to do that at Walt Disney World. And that, frankly, is absurd. It was absurd before this accident, and it is even more so now.

I don not buy into this false Republican meme that government is inherently inefficient. Indeed, evidence shows that government, freed from a profit demand, can do many tasks far more efficiently than can private companies. Nevertheless, many people long for a world without government oversight of anything. I say to them, be careful what you wish for. Anarchy is not an enviable state.

That said, no one is arguing that the government take over Disney's operations. No I am proposing that Orange County dismantle Reedy Creek and install its own fire and response crews. All I am proposing is the very reasonable suggestion that government be given the same inspection authority over Disney that it has over every other theme park in the country. And that Reedy Creek's fire and response crews be turned over to local government control, where they can be responsible to the collective will of the people of Central Florida, not business managers at the Walt Disney Company.

Heck, if Reedy Creek's teams are doing a better job than some of the folks in Orange County and Orlando, that'd provide an opportunity to promote those Reedy Creek managers to overseeing operations throughout the local area. Integration goes both ways.

My first goal at Theme Park Insider is to promote the safety of theme park guests and employees. My second is to promote the value and artistry of theme park entertainment, both by exposing it to consumers and keeping companies' feet to the fire to produce it.

Disney's done a fine job over the years with both, and has operated Reedy Creek well over that time. But private management of public safety is as much a systemic design flaw as turning off the anti-collision system when you switch tracks on a monorail system. If it hasn't bitten you yet, one day it will.

Disney does not need to maintain control of Reedy Creek to provide a safe and secure environment for its guests. It does well in California and its partners do well in France and Japan operating under government oversight. I want people working for me - through government - to have a role in protecting my safety. I don't want to leave that in the hands of businesses that have a powerful profit motive to cut corners, especially when so many businesses have proven over the years that they will endanger their customers whenever the government looks away.

From Robert Niles on July 7, 2009 at 1:26 PM
Let's try a shorter, more general version:

The public - through its government - should have a role in protecting its safety. The public should not leave its protection entirely up to private interests.

That way, if there is a failure in the protection, the public had its opportunity to prevent that, and will have a say in making corrections to prevent breakdowns in the future. And it is up to the people, collectively through elections, to hold their representatives' feet to the fire to make that happen. (If the public kisses that off, and is content with sleazy and ineffective reps, then that's the public's own darned fault. They can live with it. Private interests are always free to provide additional protection above and beyond what the government requires.)

Without a government (public) role, the public has no recourse against private interests' failures other than consumer boycott or lawsuits, both which can be highly inefficient, create substantial collateral damage and take years to affect any change.

If you believe these principles, and I do, then you cannot support Disney controlling Reedy Creek.

From Gareth H on July 7, 2009 at 1:41 PM
Pinks back on the track, watching it on the news right now (Reporters are on it)
From Vincent S on July 7, 2009 at 2:22 PM
All I will say is this:

I feel more safe riding the monorail 24 hours a day than driving around the roads within Disney or taking one of their buses to go to one park to the other.

No need to hand over Ready Creek. Nothing is perfect. I feel sorry for Austin and his family. But really its no need to hit the panic button.

And the public, the tax payer IMO shouldnt have to pay for a monorail system within a resort area.

From TH Creative on July 7, 2009 at 4:29 PM
Mr. Niles writes: Without a government (public) role, the public has no recourse against private interests' failures other than consumer boycott or lawsuits, both which can be highly inefficient, create substantial collateral damage and take years to affect any change.

I respond: The fact that the NTSB and OSHA are investigating the incident is a demonstration that public oversight exists.

Mr. Niles writes: And theme parks should not be allowed to build and operate attractions that could potentially kill riders without the a trained representative of the public looking at their plans and inspecting their operation first.

I Respond: The last time I rode the monorail was in the front cabin was two weeks ago going from the TTC to EPCOT. When I asked the pilot to "drop the hammer on this train," she smiled and reminded me that the monorail was not an attraction -- that it was a means of transportation. Also (as was demonstrated last fall in California and last month in Washington DC) government oversight of mass transportation systems offers no greater assurance of safety.

This is not to say Mr. Niles' comments may not have merit. But, having said that, it is FAR TOO SOON to draw ANY conclusions regarding the municipal status of the Reedy Creek Improvement District as it relates to guest and CM safety at WDW. The accident ocurred three days ago. The investigation is on-going. The conclusions of that investigation may very well indicate that altering the current arrangement would have NO IMPACT on the safe operation of the park.

To assume one way or another and (in turn) to advocate such a massive shift in municipal governance is extraordinarily premature.

From Dan Babbitt on July 7, 2009 at 5:45 PM
Before I start I would like to say whatever Disney does I will whole heartedly support whatever they might do to prevent this anything else that could happen!

I need to say a couple points about this situtation.

1st) If Disney does relinquish control of Reedy Creek do you think that the Floridian Government's budget can handle this new task in oversighting the monorail system and by default the water taxis?

Imagine the new department that Florida would have to create to oversee Disney and not to be bias to just one company, all other theme parks and amusement parks in the State! It would be unfair of them to look at Disney and not the others but look at all the people they would have to hire, train and then come up with new guides and practices that they would have to create. Then they would have to implement for the department to stay viable and needed. Then when Disney wanted to make new changes, expansion, or anything they would need to get approval and inspections which would increase the price and time of the project.
And of course this means new taxes to pay fot the department which will either be put on the shoulders of the Florida residents or on visitors of the parks which means you and me! So now in this trouble economy means more money coming out of our pockets to pay for this.

2nd)The public having a say on their safety.

Indirectly we do have a say on our safety. There may not be a govenment department handling this issue put there is one but we just dont see it! As TH Creative says there a millions if not a billion guest and cm's riding the system over the last 38 years. If people have a bad feeling about going on the monorail or they just dont feel safe then we can just stop riding the system! Imagine of guest just stop using the monorail then Disney would get the point that somthing that was not right and do something about it!

These are my feelings, keep Disney doing whats its doing and trust that they will keep this from happening again.

From Brian Emery on July 7, 2009 at 8:40 PM
Now that Robert has been beaten up a little, he did write a nice article.

Hey, Sarah Palin is available for this “New” dept in Orange county.. hahahaha

Plus our Gov’t screws up everything.

From Anthony Murphy on July 7, 2009 at 9:15 PM
I will concede that Robert is right to be concerned about what Disney could do without oversight. Heck, in some ways, they can build bad buildings that don't fit "code" because Disney makes the building codes in their park.

Not saying that Disney is doing bad workmanship, but they could slack a bit if they wanted, but they aren't.

If you really check into it, Disney has some scary control over some things on their grounds that other parks don't have. Still, I think they go through alot of hoops to keep it that way.

From 76.234.98.158 on July 7, 2009 at 9:22 PM
Yes Disney has more control over their grounds and "town" more than any other private entity, but they have been doing a fine job up until now. Keep in mind, the EPCOT building codes are far stricter than most of the codes in Florida. I trust a disney ride and building more than i do one at say Universal. Even things like water operations, power lines, garbage, and building is strategically designed because of their tight control.
Giving up control to the state would only cause more headaches to the company and cause people to get in the way and ruin the Magic. One death is sad and unfortunate due to neglect but its one in many years.
From Mostly Anonymous on July 7, 2009 at 9:34 PM
I also disagree with the editorial. My reason is simple; in this case I think that the public is safer with Disney overseeing safety issues.

If the government is in charge of safety, and there is an incident, then the government gets the blame. The result? Some politicians may fail to get re-elected. Or maybe not, if they can redirect attention to other issues.

If Disney is in charge of safety, and there is an incident, Disney gets the blame. The result is the potential loss of revenue to Disney. Possibly a huge amount of revenue, if Disney's reputation for safety is compromised.

Disney has an enormous financial incentive to keep the resort as safe as possible. It's hard to imagine how any public entity could have as strong an incentive. Many government agencies have made gigantic blunders in the past, but continued to be funded.

From Matthew Gallagher on July 7, 2009 at 9:36 PM
How did a thoughtful discussion stemming from your article's thesis on an important tourism topic spiral into slinging mud at the Republican party? Also, what peer reviewed evidence do you have that shows that a government freed from a profit demand can do many tasks more efficiently than private government? Last time I checked the United States system of government was not a profit-driven organization and much of its current planning, at the Federal level, is built on the backs of future generations yet it still cannot provide some of the most basic services to its citizens.

Despite that brief sojourn into the weeds, you propose that government (you do not clarify, local state or federal but bounce between local and federal in your example) be given the same oversight over inspection over Disney as it has over every other theme park in the country. I will take it to mean a federal initiative. The problem with that is there is no federal standard for oversight of theme parks. Federal regulations only have oversight over traveling carnivals but not fixed theme parks. So, in essence, you have your wish and further discussion is moot.

But that is not what I think you meant in your statement. Theme park's across the nation are regulated, or not, by a patchwork of rules from all levels of government. Creating one standard to satisfy the breadth of destinations across the country, in this economic climate, is a long-shot at the Federal level.

The news doesn't get any better at the State and local levels. Considering that Florida's economy is built on tourism and these same theme parks are major contributors to the tax coffers at the state and local level, more regulation from these elected officials seems unlikely. The state has a huge budget deficit and anything that may negatively impact our tourism economy is sure to be DOA.

Furthermore, these same rules you are contesting that apply to Disney's self-inspection apply to Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld Orlando and any other fixed theme park in this state. To change this would require enormous expenditures to increase the staff, train and manage and grow a program that would have to inspect every themed attraction in the state on a continual basis; the scheduling of these resources alone would be a full-time task for a team of dedicated professionals. This would increase those current projected deficits to beyond what is palatable for the public and the elected officials trying to balance an already outsized budget.

Finally, please do not think the government is the benevolent soul as inferred in your equation. Need I remind anyone of events like: Love Canal, the Tuskegee Syphillis experiment, the nuclear testing done across the country, or other programs enacted by our very own government in their desire to further a current administration's agendas The government and corporations are two sides of the same coin. At least corporations answer to their shareholders and Disney has a fine record to stand on over the years.

I am more than comfortable with the Disney Co. managing the safety of their guests on property than I would be if RCID was transitioned to Orange/Osceola County. As I stated in an earlier post, none of our local governments are perfect but with Disney's history of managing my safety while on their property I will take that over your proposal any day.

I state again, let the investigators do their jobs and recommend the necessary procedural changes to: enhance the system, make it safer and avoid any further accidents. Let's not make this into a donnybrook that would have scores of unintended consequences negatively affecting our local and state economies for years to come.

From 69.141.103.90 on July 8, 2009 at 4:42 AM
Robert, while your editorial is passionate and well thought out, your technical understanding of how the monorail system operates is lacking, especially in terms of how the MAPO safety system works. Time for some technical research, buddy!

RCID under control of the Florida government? I don't think so. RCID even owns the mineral rights for the land Disney World sits on. They have the right to build a nuclear power plant at their discretion if they need to. They avoided having "residents" with voting power by de-annexing Celebration. Not going to happen.

1 fatal accident in almost 40 years for the monorail will not a coup make.

From Brian Emery on July 8, 2009 at 6:29 AM
Hey Matt,

Where did you check for the US gov’t being nonprofit? I was just wondering because if they had the opportunity they would make a profit. The only reason we don’t make a profit is because they earmark all of the money us taxpayers provide for all sorts of projects.. Plus if you may recall the first Iraq war called Desert Storm which I am a veteran of, the USA did make a profit. Many countries sent the USA million to defend Kuwait and we did not send back the extra money..

The Sara Palin mention was a real funny joke that obviously went over your head… I do not take life too seriously and you need to lighten up.

Basically I agree our Gov’t could mess up a wet dream.

From 66.165.26.155 on July 8, 2009 at 9:25 AM
The first time I rode the monorail at WDW I stood around and watched their operations for an hour or two. Having worked around trains (light rail) for 14 years, the first thing I noticed about the monorail changing tracks, excuse me, changing beams was that the operator, I mean pilot, ran the train back into the station from the far end of the train. In my opinion he couldn't see monorail purple in the station and collided with it. I guess it takes to long to change ends, or maybe they can't walk between cars. If that's the case, anytime they are making beam switches thery should have an extra pilot board the monorail to bring the train back into the station.
From Domenik Jost on July 8, 2009 at 10:02 PM
Just a short question, are each of the trains equipped with a kill switch as well or is it just the operations and shop areas that have this control?

1. If each train does not have on of those emergency kill switches already then I think Disney should seriously consider inputting these. From what I ready today that Austin tried to put his train in reverse could have been avoided if he could have pressed the kill switch and stopped all trains with that emergency switch and something like this collision could be avoided in the future in that each pilot has one of these in his cockpit.

2. Each station should also have a kill switch just like any roller coaster does. If something goes wrong there are more than one person that have to hold a switch for the coaster to leave the platform or station area or it will come to a halt thinking that there is a problem. If roller coasters can have this kind of safety feature, why can't the Disney Monorail system and other systems of its kind.

I'm just curious if any of these are in place already or not.

From Chet Crockett on July 9, 2009 at 9:53 AM
My comment comes from an "out-sider" perspective since I do not live in Florida and am not familiar with the politics involved. However, my family and I have traveled to Disney World many, many, many times over the past ten years. Also, my professional background is one of corporate safety, risk management and compliance for fortune 50 companies. Therefore, I believe I can make some educated response to what I am reading. Any injury or death on the job is a horrible event. I have personnaly investigated countless employee injuries and a handful of employee deaths. My point here is that Disney World appears to be very capable of handling all aspects of their safety program in-house. Infact, I would only hope that municipalities and large companies are as good as Disney is with their safety program. Disney has been doing it right for a long time. My advice is to learn from this event and let Disney do what they have been doing right for many years. Again, I am not familiar with the local Orange County politics on the issue of fire, rescue and police services to Disney. However, one thing is clear. 99% of the municipalities, manufacturing facilities, large corporations and city governments around the country only wished they had such a well organized safety program as Disney has. Disney has a lot to teach "big business". I would hate to see a government agency come into an organization like Disney and attempt to direct safety efforts. Just an observation from an outsider.
From 67.122.117.170 on July 9, 2009 at 1:11 PM
Robert, I couldn't disagree with you more. Open up WDW to "generic" governmental oversight and you invite all kinds of stuff we Guests wouldn't want and layers of red tape that would make expansion and enhancement more difficult and expensive for an already investment-averse management team that's looking for any excuse to spend as little as possible on things that don't directly generate profits. While I do agree that Disney ought to have someone accountable to the public at large looking over their shoulder when it comes to ensuring the safety of their mass transit systems, I think turning over Reedy Creek would be disastrous. The real issue in my opinion is the tight-fistedness of the management.
As a postscript, I expect the outcome of the NTSB investigation will mean that significant money will have to be spent on federally-mandated, designed-by-committee, and fundamentally wrongheaded "safety enhancements" that will summarily end all hope of future Monorail expansion. It is a tragedy that young Austin W. died because of a preventable occurrence - but because individuals at Disney are going to take this personally, I trust them more than I do the Fed to solve the problems properly.
From 24.91.188.238 on July 9, 2009 at 4:57 PM
Just some info to respond to some of the points/questions raised in this discussion from the perspective of a former monorail pilot (2006-2008):

The MAPO anti-collision system MUST be overridden during switching operations since the spur beams don't have the equipment necessary to allow the train to move normally. In order to change that the spurs would have to be retrofitted.

Clearing the entire line of passengers before switching trains would prove problematic since trains are routinely added and removed throughout the day as traffic ebbs and flows and as maintenance issues come up.

Pilots can't walk through their trains from one cab to the other. But it wouldn't be a bad idea to place a second CM in the back cab during the switch as a safety observer.

At least one CM on every platform carries a kill pack to shut down the beam's power in the event of emergency.

Each cab has an emergency stop button but it only affects that particular train, not the entire station/beam.

I will also offer my opinion that Reedy Creek should NOT be absorbed by any government agency. I currently serve in a regulatory inspection capacity for the federal government and feel that while there is a need for government regulations and standards, it is best left to the company to meet them with the government using the minimum amount of oversight needed to ensure compliance.

From Michael Santmyer on July 10, 2009 at 8:29 PM
OK just a few things to say. (*Note. If I have misunderstood a part of this discussion please forgive me)

1. I don't think the Walt Disney Co. would ever EVER build any attraction/building/transportation vehicle that could harm their guests. If one of their rides had a serious failure... (for example: if a car on Expedition: Everest would, god forbid, shoot off the track and kill 30 people) Disney's reputation would be seriously tarnished. The money Disney would have saved on building costs would be pocket change compared to the profit drop the failure could cause. This is why Disney has high standards when it comes to their projects. So, in a sense, Disney is a slave to the public. It exists to protect and entertain, and if it fails at either the theme park branch of the company would fall apart.

2. What happened was a terrible tragedy, but accidents happen. As mentioned, the Walt Disney World Monorail System had a nearly perfect record before this tragic event. The investigation will, as mentioned, point out the flaws of the Monorail system. Due to this I think Disney will invest the money to fix these problems and make sure they are far above even the highest standards.

3. As to Reedy Creek: *taken from the RCID website*

"The District is a public corporation of the State of Florida and is located in Orange and Osceola Counties in central Florida, about 15 miles southwest of the City of Orlando. The District currently encompasses approximately 25,000 acres or 38.6 square miles. Approximately 18,800 acres of the District's property are located in Orange County and 6,200 acres are located in Osceola County. Two cities are located within the boundaries of the District, the city of Lake Buena Vista and the city of Bay Lake."

A. I feel Disney has every right to control the safety services of their parks. When I go to Disney I trust them to take care of me, not the city of Orlando. Disney is in the business of taking care of it's guests, and they do this very well. Disney conducts it's own inspections for a reason, they have inspectors and technicians who are intimately familiar with the operating system. Disney would have no control and I feel, and apparently many others do, that that would cause issues.

B. Should the operation be transferred to the control of a county, Orange is the most likely candidate. Orange has 75.2% of the area inside its boundaries so it only makes sense. Downside: This could stress the services of the county to their breaking point. Plus, put a giant strain on the budget of the county.

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