Is this the end for the Epcot monorail at Walt Disney World?

January 12, 2018, 2:10 PM · If you've visited the Walt Disney World resort any time in the past decade, you've likely faced a monorail downtime. Disney's once-futuristic transportation system now seems anachronistic in a different way — a throwback to an unreliable system now running in a more automated age. Monorails are frequently out of service, backing up the lines at the ferryboat dock and bus lanes, as guests look for alternate ways to and from the parks.

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.

Monorail red is not having a good day and I'm having a panic attack. #disney #monorail #thisisfine #callmaintenance

A post shared by abbieprimeknits (@abbieprimeknits) on

A post shared by abbieprimeknits (@abbieprimeknits) on

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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Replies (41)

January 12, 2018 at 2:25 PM · I'd hate to see it happen as the monorails are just part of the Disney landscape, an icon in so many ways. They do need upgrading but hard to see them just vanish.
January 12, 2018 at 2:46 PM · “Por favor manténganse alejado de las puertas ...”
January 12, 2018 at 2:54 PM · Disney is spending BILLIONS to upgrade the parks. So $90 million is too much for them? The track already exists. The net cost to just replace the monorails shouldn't be that much. It makes me wonder what made Disney refuse the offer from Siemens to replace their existing monorails in exchange for a corporate sponsorship.

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.

January 12, 2018 at 3:01 PM · But my bus driver told me they're going to expand the monorail to go through the middle of the Dolphin hotel any day now.
January 12, 2018 at 3:39 PM · Putting new trains on an existing rail would be a drop in the bucket, comparatively. The monorail is as iconic as Mickey. Replace and expand!
January 12, 2018 at 3:54 PM · Just pony up the cash and fix it. Getting rid of it would only further strain the other transport systems. Think how many busses run from the TTC and take 1/3 of that number and add to it. That’s what it would take to get people from there to Epcot daily. That would get ugly quick.

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.

January 12, 2018 at 4:15 PM · Please update the story to mention that Disney said the report was completely false. It’s also interesting to note that most urban subways in the US do not yet have the crash prevention technology so disney is services a lot less people thus has less risk.
January 12, 2018 at 4:27 PM · Oh please....dont listen to the scaled back EPCOT idea....this is exactly what disney wants. Any reason to scale back further. In 5 years from then it will be well lets scale back the MK line now...BS. Disney pony up you cheapskates. Use the Tax reduction to overhaul the system.

Taking in account that they were down 2 monorails for 2 years and the rest had to bare the brunt of 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 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

January 12, 2018 at 4:41 PM · Didn't they just laid out 63 Billion on a buy out ????? They have the money,This just didn't happen its been going on way before the accident in 2009 that killed a cast member. They have kicked the can many years on this subject and now its really going to hit them in the wallet !!!!!
January 12, 2018 at 4:41 PM · Don't worry guys, they're putting in a skyway ;)
January 12, 2018 at 4:43 PM · To the West Coasters out there....

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!

January 12, 2018 at 4:48 PM · If they go we won't be returning that's in my opinion the best way to get around busses suck and takes way to long
January 12, 2018 at 6:16 PM · Disney — Fix this!! Why do you let your parks fall apart?!
January 12, 2018 at 8:40 PM · Anton m are you kidding me you want people to pay for ferry monorail ect .... er hello have you seen the price of the tickets lately and they are going up 2 adults and 2 kids 2000 we are paying enough thats just 1 family . Thats not gonna happen people wont be impressed by that . Just fix it Disney.
January 12, 2018 at 10:06 PM · The monorail lines are 35 and 46 years old, relatively low capacity for rail, and time consuming to switch in and out of service. There’s an average 160K Park entries a day likely swelling to a quarter million at peak,40-50000 employees a day, and over 30K hotel rooms, it’s all about capacity at peak travel.

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.

January 12, 2018 at 11:51 PM · How much did Disney pull in last year...Fix it!
January 13, 2018 at 1:11 AM · I would be astonished if they removed some of the monorail. It is used on so much of the marketing for WDW; it is iconic. It allows them to charge ridiculous prices for the "monorail hotels". Even just removing the Epcot line will have an effect on that. Not to mention the proposed Epcot resort hotel which will instantly become less attractive.

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.

January 13, 2018 at 1:55 AM · I don't see Walt Disney World dumping the Monorail System. It's far too much of an iconic part of the Walt Disney World experience.

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.

January 13, 2018 at 4:10 AM · I know artist renderings aren't meant to be 100% accurate, but in the D23 announcement that showed the future Future World (or whatever it will be called) the monorail is clearly still there. Of course they could have put it there just so people don't get mad, or they could change their mind at any time.

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.

January 13, 2018 at 5:41 AM · I could see them replacing the Epcot line with something else. Maybe light part of a larger system???? But regarding replacing the monorail with buses....buses aren't free. They cost between $750,000 and a million each, require more expensive fuel, more drivers and need replaced more often. And they require roads to travel on that are not cheep to build. If they had extra road capacity and spare buses they didn't need then maybe it would be a big savings...but i don't think they have either. Ignoring the issue of limited road capacity, I'd guess they would need more than 50 busses to replace the Epcot line. That by it's self is 35 to 50 million+. The life of a Disney bus is probably 10 years at best- more likely 8. Do the math. I don't see the savings vs. 100 million for new trains that will last 25 years.
January 13, 2018 at 7:13 AM · They keep rebuilding California why not some love other than timeshares , be built in Orlando
January 13, 2018 at 7:33 AM · EPCOT was used as the sole drop off point for my hotel shuttle when I visited... spaceship earth wouldn’t be the same without the monorail circling it.

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.

January 13, 2018 at 1:09 PM · Maybe Disney is planning to reopen the airstrip east of the main parking lot. The proximity of the EPCOT monorail prevents use of the runway.
January 13, 2018 at 2:50 PM · Let Tesla do it!
January 13, 2018 at 6:48 PM · Im getting pissed with WDW more and more... If the monorail goes, I may too.
January 14, 2018 at 12:25 AM · Can someone explain to me why the monorail purchase was feasible during the early stages of Disney World construction, but now they can't even seem to be able to come up with the money to maintain the lines they already have in place? Is the monorail made of some precious metals that don't exist anymore or something, what gives?
January 14, 2018 at 11:47 AM · The Monorail is the blood stream of WDW. Di$ney spends bucks on everything else it up keeps so this should not be dismissed. Replace the aging trains with modern ones and move on. The Dream is here. Monorail revival to save teh system!! And sell the trains intact to a collector for BIG BUCKS to off set the cost of new ones.
January 15, 2018 at 6:29 AM · I can see Rocket Rods 3 coming soon along those tracks haha.
January 15, 2018 at 2:16 PM · They should put an inverted monorail like in Japan. They are really cool. And there's always the good ol' bus lol.
January 15, 2018 at 9:08 PM · They should put in an inverted monorail system like in Chiba, Japan. They are really neat. There's always the good ol' bus too lol.
January 15, 2018 at 2:36 PM · Did someone say guests should pay for WDW transportation between their resorts and parks? You mean, like cab fare? If you mean incorporate such charges into the hotel room rates and admissions fees, that's one thing, but if you mean fork it over or you're walking to EPCOT from your WDW resort...I won't use the kind of language that inspires here. You get where I'm coming from.
January 16, 2018 at 11:26 AM · I agree with Chad H -- "skyway 2.0" is a cheap stopgap that doesn't fit into the disney landscape. For whatever reason, Disney doesn't want to invest in the monorail. Not surprising when they are doing things like buying Fox.

Disney is interested in spending the very minimum they can to keep things sorta functional.

January 16, 2018 at 4:06 PM · What about a modern version of the WEDWay People Mover connecting all of WDW at ground level. Zero pollution and no vehicles.....just as Walt wanted with Progress City.

January 16, 2018 at 5:10 PM · I agree with Prof Plum.
January 17, 2018 at 5:24 AM · Phew! Panic over. Disney Communications has said that there are no plans to retire the system.
January 17, 2018 at 1:10 PM · Has anyone thought to pick-up the phone and call the guy who invented the Disneyland monorail; Bob Gurr - which is what the WDW monorail system is based on - while he's still alive?
January 17, 2018 at 1:14 PM · The monorail as an iconic figure to WDW as the castle. They need to Genghis figured out and keep it running
January 17, 2018 at 4:33 PM · I remember in 2002 talking to the monorail driver - he said one of the reasons that the MK line wasn't updated to the Epcot line standards (faster moving switches, for one thing) was because Michael Eisner was fixated on eliminating anything he could that Walt Disney had put in the parks.
January 17, 2018 at 5:14 PM · The problem that Disney has is that it's current Safety Features are grandfathered in. If they appreciably alter the system, they will be required to bring the entire system up to current standards. This would cost substantially more than $90M. They need to bite the Bullet and not only fix the existing system but expand the system to all the parks. The Monorail is an Iconic part of Walt Disney World. To just get rid of it would cause a terrific backlash from the guests.
January 18, 2018 at 7:42 PM · The monorail crash was human error. As for the technical issues, the current units need to be replaced. They have been in service longer than any other version at WDW or DL. It's just that simple. The tracks/rails are still in good shape.
January 19, 2018 at 5:13 AM · >>>Can someone explain to me why the monorail purchase was feasible during the early stages of Disney World construction, but now they can't even seem to be able to come up with the money to maintain the lines they already have in place?

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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