The original Disney monorail debuted as part of an early Disneyland expansion in 1959, and was later carried over to the Walt Disney World property in Florida. It remains one of the Disney parks’ signature attractions, and the only one that doesn’t require a ticket to ride. Here are some fun facts you may not have known about Disney’s unique transportation system.
1. They’re Eco-Friendly
Each train is propelled by 904 horsepower motors running off a 600 volt electrical system, which means these skybound trains don’t require one drop of fossil fuel in order to operate. Elevated trains also offer the additional benefit of preserving more of the landscape than a traditional, ground-level train would afford by circumnavigating the surrounding vegetation rather than forging a path through environmental obstacles.
2. Its Safety System was Funded by Profits from Mary Poppins
Named after the iconic Disney classic, the MAPO system helps monorail pilots maintain proper spacing between trains through a series of lights also known as the Moving Blocklight System (or MBS). This system is used to establish holdpoints to create a buffer zone between trains and prevent collisions.
3. The Current Models Have Been in Operation Since 1989
Walt Disney World’s current Mark VI monorail trains were first introduced in 1989 as a replacement for the Mark IV model. The trains receive nightly maintenance, which helps them to retain a remarkable 99.9% reliability rate. And, in order to keep each train looking like new, the monorail cars are routinely repainted, a process that can take three weeks per train.
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4. It was Inspired by a German Suspension Railway
While touring the world in hopes of finding inspiration for Disneyland, Walt Disney developed a fascination with Germany’s Wuppertaler Suspension Railway, which dates back to 1901. However, some modifications were made to the design — which features free-swinging trains suspended from overhead tracks — after his wife suffered motion sickness during their visit. The Disney version instead features trains gliding atop a single rail, which provides for a more stable (and less nausea-inducing) riding experience.
5. They Can Reach Speeds of up to 70 MPH
While the average speed of the monorail trains is roughly 40 miles per hour, they are actually capable of going significantly faster. It has been said that during off-hours pilots have been known to reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour, making them more than 5 miles per hour faster than Epcot’s Test Track cars, the fastest ride among the parks.
6. Guests Used to be Able to Ride in the Front Car
For many years, up to four guests would often be invited to join the pilot in the front car where they could enjoy unparalleled views of the resort area. However, after an accident in 2009, this perk was abandoned in order to protect the health and safety of both passengers and pilots.
7. It Provided Views of Epcot Being Built
Walt Disney World’s original monorail lines debuted when the park opened in 1971, and a later expansion was completed to add an Epcot line while the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was being erected for its 1982 opening. While Epcot was still under construction, residents of Florida were offered complimentary monorail tickets that allowed them to view the new park’s progress.
8. They’re Featured in Free Collector’s Cards
In 2006, Disney introduced a series of collector’s cards featuring the property’s various modes of transportation (ie – boat, bus, and monorail). To date, there have been several series offered of these little-known collectibles and the best part is all you have to do to get one is ask your driver or any transportation cast member. Whether or not a given driver carries the cards is left to their discretion, so it may take some persistence on your part if you’re looking to collect an entire set, which can include anywhere from 18 to more than two dozen cards. Cards are color-coordinated and feature pictures of the transportation vessel as well as a card number, character, and the type of transportation spelled out in big bold letters. [It is currently unclear if this promotion is still being offered with the new COVID-19 protocols in place.]
9. Disney Tried to Market the Transportation System to Metropolitan Areas
Walt Disney was enamored with innovation, and Epcot was his vision of a prototypical community of the future. So it’s no surprise to learn that at one time the Walt Disney Company foresaw its monorail system as a template for mass urban travel. They even went so far as to create a sales booklet featuring the Mark IV model. Though the monorail has never been adopted on the grand scale the company envisioned, Mark VI trains (like the ones still in use at WDW) do ferry passengers around Las Vegas.