TPI editorial: It's time for Florida to transfer control of Reedy Creek
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.
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.
I couldnt DISAGREE more!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Let's try a shorter, more general version:
Pinks back on the track, watching it on the news right now (Reporters are on it)
All I will say is this:
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.
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!
Now that Robert has been beaten up a little, he did write a nice article.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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):
OK just a few things to say. (*Note. If I have misunderstood a part of this discussion please forgive me)
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.