This week, Disney's monorail system endured additional public humiliation in addition to its long-standing operational challenges. A Disney World guest posted a couple of videos to Instagram earlier this week showing Monorail Red running with a door open.
Um, no. This simply never should happen with a modern transportation system, monitored by automated failsafe systems that would prevent a train from running with an opened door. Compare Disney's monorail with the terminal shuttle system at the Orlando Airport, which reliably moves tens of thousands of people per day around that facility. It's like comparing a Pinto with a Prius.
Fortunately, no one was hurt when Monorail Red's doors decided to let a little extra fresh air into the cabin. But Disney's monorail system has failed with deadly consequence in the past. In 2009, monorail driver Austin Wuennenberg died when Monorail Pink crashed into his Monorail Purple at the Transportation and Ticket Center. Again, a modern crash avoidance system should stop a monorail before it comes to close to another vehicle or other blockage on its track.
With this history, Disney must know at this point that it is playing a legal game of Russian Roulette by continuing to operate a monorail system without additional modern safety upgrades. The company has no plausible deniability that would allow it to escape a devastating legal judgment following any future incident involving an injury or death. The videos are out there for anyone to see.
So what would it cost to upgrade Disney World's entire monorail system? The airport shuttle replacement cost a reported $90 million. And that's for much less track and fewer trains than Disney runs, so the cost would be much higher for a complete Disney World rebuild. Disney has been investing in increased automation of the monorail system, but it's clearly not been enough to prevent incidents such as what happened this week on Monorail Red.
But what if Disney didn't rebuild the entire system? What if Disney threw in the towel on its Epcot line in order to focus its resources on better maintaining the Magic Kingdom line?
That's the possibility floated by Screamscape today and echoed by others I've heard within the Disney World community. It makes sense. With its new gondola system coming on line in the next few years, Epcot will be served by another "out of the ordinary" transportation system in addition to the boats and buses that guests can use in lieu of driving into a theme park's lot. Dropping the Epcot line would save an enormous number of miles each year on the monorail system's trains and allow Disney to take more of those trains out of service, giving them extra time for repairs or even allowing the worst of the current trains to be salvaged for parts to support the remaining trains.
Maintaining the Epcot line also creates a unique operational challenge for Disney whenever it wants to wrap its trains to promote a new Marvel film. Thanks to the licensing deal with Universal Orlando, Marvel-wrapped trains cannot run on the Epcot line, which goes into that park. That reduces Disney's flexibility in moving trains between routes to keep the system running. With no Epcot line, Disney can wrap all the trains it wants.
Ultimately, replacing the Magic Kingdom route with new trains and fully automated monitoring would cost much, much less than replacing both lines as they now run — perhaps enough less to allow Disney to justify spending the money for a rebuild.
It's hard to imagine that Disney World ever could stop running the monorail system entirely. It's invested too much in promoting the Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian as premium-priced "monorail" resorts, with dedicated "out of the ordinary" transportation to the Magic Kingdom. If Disney did not run a monorail through these resorts, it would need some alternative, novel system to take its place. Would that be any cheaper than just paying for a new monorail?
Whatever Disney chooses to do about the Walt Disney World monorail system, it's becoming increasingly likely that its most expensive choice is to do nothing new at all.
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I read an article recently that made fun of the current transportation issues in the USA. It was saying Disney World is so much ahead with monorails that it embarrasses America that didn't want mass transportation. If Disney doesn't see the value, what about the rest of America? Disney could just tax everyone. Or maybe follow the Tokyo model by having the passengers pay. Anyways, monorails, busses, and ferries should all be paid by the passengers. No more free rides.
Besides, how long has California has generation 7 monorails. Don’t be cheapskates. We pay for a premium experience, not to get stuck on a bus.
Taking in account that they were down 2 monorails for 2 years and the rest had to bare the brunt of running...im impressed they lasted this long. These are running on nearly 30 years and almost 50 years on the full system. Thats a long time that they have gotten out of this capital investment. Most machinery doesnt capitalize that long even.
I firmly believe Disney has been letting these fall apart slowly...in the hopes that people would want the monorails retired...They know that if it was simply closed by them it could be a public relations nightmare for them
Unlike the Disneyland Monorail which is more or less a ride novelty, the Disney World Monorail is a legit movement of people from resorts to the parks.
I am not sure taking down the EPCOT line would be simple. Park hopping will be a little difficult and the monorail does fit in the futuristic style of future world. Taking down those beams have got to be expensive!
Hey Robert! I thought the deadly crash was because the cast members turned OFF the safety systems. I could have sworn it was 100% human error. We could have an argument if that should be allowed too!
Put in high capacity transportation as that is high value today. Get people off the roads going to the parks by supporting regional rail instead of fighting it. Move people around the property with high capacity transport. Put light rail between all the parks and to many of the resorts. At least 11 of the resorts are over 1000 rooms.
At the Magic Kingdom, move the rail out to the parking lot instead of the excessively complex two step taking 45 minutes to get in and out. Move away from the complexity of monorail too simple to switch traditional tale. Use longer trains that can move 15-20000 people an hour with quicker load and unload. It will cost a a half billion dollars but allow you to keep up with demand. Most rail fails due to not meeting passenger projections, not a risk here. Cutting park transfer time will let you balance demand.
Service the customer by removing hassles that lead to frustration. Make it easy for me to let you earn my money by making me happy.
I've often thought that they should move the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom so that it is adjacent, more or less, to the Magic Kingdom (to the west of it). They could have moving walkways taking you to the front of the parking lot (much like they do in Disneyland Paris). They could then do away with the parking lot trams. Arriving and departing the Magic Kingdom would be so much easier, without the bottlenecks of the monorails and ferries. They could still do it really nicely, with a nice reveal of the Seven Seas Lagoon before you round the corner to the entry plaza. Costs would be massively reduced without the trams; they could even build a mini-Downtown Disney area to walk through on the way in/out. But importantly it would relieve an awful lot of the pressure on the monorail system as you'd only need the resort and Epcot lines. The land where the TTC and parking lot is could become a new, or even several new, resort hotels. With direct monorail access to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and prime position opposite the Magic Kingdom, they could charge whatever they like for it.
But they cannot afford, legally or ethically, to continue running these trains that have long outlived their reliability stage. There have been so many problems with these trains in recent years to ignore.
It's high time that Disney spend the money on new trains, automated or not. As far as I can tell, the track itself is fine, but those old trains need to hit the chopping (or auction) block. Heck, the cost of selling monorail cars to collectors could take a huge chunk out of Disney's out of pocket costs for the new trains.
When basic safety systems fail, it's time to act. As you said in the article, there's no plausible deniability if something tragic happens. For the sake of their public image, as well as for the sake of guest safety, Disney needs to act sooner rather than later.
I agree with the poster above even though WDW clearly does not want to spend big money on the monorail, I can't see them getting rid of the whole Epcot line. As much as they might want to it's too iconic and would cause too much bad press.
I don’t share the enthusiasm for skyway 2.0. It’s just a cheap stopgap measure, and I’m not convinced it’s gong to be happy in any sort of wind or thunderstorm, and you cant scale operation with demand easily- if at all. After I rode the similar “emirates air Line” in London I noticed it spent the entire evening non operational, despite thelast night of the nearby Monty python reunion being a sellout. As a permanent feature of London’s transportation System, it’s a failure.
Disney is interested in spending the very minimum they can to keep things sorta functional.
The difference is, back then there was a pair of people called "Disney" who could enforce the "vision". Now its money men, with short term "gains" of "shareholder value" more important than creating something lasting.
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