The Walt Disney World Resort is currently operating twelve Mark VI monorail trains on three lines of service. The monorail system opened in 1971 with two routes and with Mark IV monorail trains, expanded to three lines in 1982, and switched to Mark VI trains in 1989.
The Walt Disney World Monorail operates over a span of 14.7 miles, with around 50 million Disney guests traveling on the monorail each year.
The three routes on the Walt Disney World Monorail are:
A spur track connects the Express and Resort lines to the maintenance shop. Another spur connects the Epcot and Express lines and is located northeast of the Transportation and Ticket Center.
The system opened with the rest of the Walt Disney World Resort on October 1, 1971. It initially featured four stations: the Transportation and Ticket Center, Disney's Polynesian Resort, the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Contemporary Resort. The Epcot line and station were added during that park's construction, opening officially on October 1, 1982. The most recent addition was the Grand Floridian station, which was opened in 1988 along with the resort hotel.
During the construction of Epcot, Florida residents could request a complimentary ticket for a round-trip on the Epcot line to get a sneak preview of the park.
The Disney employees that operate monorail trains are called pilots, and are a distinct group of operators separate from those who drive the resort buses and receive separate training. One employee acts as Monorail Central. "Central" controls the operation of the entire monorail system, usually by issuing instructions to pilots via radio. Central is responsible for setting up each day's operation in the morning, for handling contingencies and emergencies that occur during the day, and for moving trains off the system after all parks have closed. An employee can act as Central only with a history of safe train operation, the ability to train other monorail pilots, and a rigorous training period during which they must successfully triage and treat simultaneous simulated emergencies. Monorail Central operates out of the glass booth on the Epcot Load platform at the Transportation and Ticket Center.
The manager who oversees all monorail operations at Walt Disney World is called "Monorail One". This Guest Service Manager (GSM) handles guest matters, including complaints and arrangements for alternative transportation, such as ferry boats or buses, in the event of monorail downtime.
Monorail workers refer to the system's stations as follows: The Base includes the load and unload platforms for the Epcot beam at the Transportation and Ticket Center. The Concourse includes the platforms for both the express and resort beam at the Transportation and Ticket Center. The stations at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Contemporary, at the Magic Kingdom, and at Epcot are named after each location.
Each train is identified by a colored stripe, and given a name according to that color. The complete list of colors used is below. To help visually identify Green from Lime and Pink from Coral, the Lime and Coral stripes have a white delta on each car.
In some cases passengers may request seats in the front cab of the train with the pilot. There are two bench seats in front of the control console, with room for a total of four riders. These seats provide a unique panoramic view not available from the passenger cars. Front-cab access is controlled by Disney employees and is generally granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Guests who board the front of either the Express or Epcot trains must disembark at the next station, while those boarding the front of a Resort train generally are allowed stays no longer than a single round-trip circuit. Monorail pilots may give out souvenir "co-pilot license" cards to guests riding in front with them.
The monorail system uses a set of pre-recorded announcements to instruct and entertain passengers. Prior to departure, a recorded announcement asks guests to "please stand clear of the doors; por favor manténganse se alejado de las puertas." A popular T-Shirt is now sold at stops along the Resort Monorail Line which references the Spanish "please stand clear of the doors" message. One of the most known phrases within the resort, it was recorded by Jack Wagner, who was known as "the Voice of Disneyland." During the system's early years, the trains featured Wagner's narration of the sights and scenery along the way, as well as information on special events, the resort, and the monorail system itself. Since that time, other announcers have provided these narrations, yet the "stand clear" announcement remains in Wagner's voice.
The monorail shop holds ten of the twelve Mark VI trains on its upper level (the bottom level houses the four steam locomotives that circle the Magic Kingdom). On any given night, two monorails are parked either in the Magic Kingdom station, the Epcot station or the Transportation and Ticket Center station. On nights where the temperature drops below freezing, the trains will be parked inside the Contemporary resort but in practice trains can be left in any station (even on the express side of a resort station). No train will ever be left outside two nights in a row because routine maintenance is performed nightly.
The maintenance shop also has a painting room which is elevated 25 feet off the ground and has a lift mounted on the wall for the painters. It takes 3 weeks to paint a monorail. To access the wheels and underside of the monorail, the maintenance shop has a removable part of a beam to allow access to the wheels and underside.
Safe train spacing is maintained via a moving blocklight system, referred to as MAPO, installed in the cab of each train. MAPO appears in the top center of the pilot's console and looks similar to a horizontal stop light. There are three lights—green, amber, and red—and a push-button labeled "MAPO override". The term "MAPO" itself comes directly from Walt Disney, who formed a new company to deal with Disneyland's transportation system directly from the profits made by Mary Poppins.
Each monorail beam is divided into blocks based upon pylon numbering. The currently illuminated MAPO color indicates how far ahead the leading train is currently located. A green MAPO shows that the leading train is 3 or more blocks ahead, amber means 2 blocks ahead, and red indicates that the next train is in the very next block. A block is roughly between 500 and 1000 feet (about 150 and 300 m) long, although this varies. The start of each block is called a "hold point", as pilots may need to hold their trains at that location until the train ahead moves away. Guests riding in the front cab of a monorail can identify hold points by the yellow reflective tape around a pylon's number and by two yellow reflectors attached to the top outside edges of the monorail beam at that pylon.
For safety, trains must be kept at least two blocks apart during normal operation. A red MAPO indicates that train spacing has become unsafe. When a red MAPO occurs, the train's on-board computer locks out the pilot's propulsion control and applies emergency brakes. The pilot cannot resume control of the train until either the MAPO clears or the pilot presses and holds the MAPO override button.
It is the pilot's responsibility to avoid a red MAPO during normal operation. When the MAPO switches from green to amber, this indicates that the monorail is approaching the train ahead. The pilot must stop the train before crossing into the next block of beam way and hence before the MAPO switches to red. Should a pilot cross the hold point and receive a red MAPO, this counts as a safety demerit against the pilot. If the pilot ever has three demerits on their record, then they will be transferred out of the monorails department and into a different role at Walt Disney World.
Safety tests are performed daily to ensure that the MAPO system is working properly on each train. At the direction of Monorail Central, each train will intentionally overrun a hold point to verify that a red MAPO occurs and that the emergency brakes activate. Pilots perform tests in forward and reverse when bringing a train onto the system for the first time that day, and a forward test is again conducted mid-afternoon.
A red MAPO will also occur when the pilot approaches a section of un-powered beam, a spur line, or a switch beam thrown in the direction of a spur line. Pilots must engage the MAPO override when moving trains through a switch to the spur line. MAPO's occurring due to safety tests, switching, or beam power loss do not count as demerits against the pilot.
If a train is stopped at a station platform or at the work platform along the Epcot beam, guests can exit the train onto the platform. Exiting a train is possible even when the doors of the train cars are closed. The large rectangular window in the middle of each car is an emergency exit and can be removed from the interior of the car. A cast member outside the car can also forcibly open the rightmost door panel of the car by releasing the air pressure holding that panel closed. The air pressure release is a handle beneath the rectangular center window that is similar in appearance to a car door handle.
If a train is stopped on open beam, then guests evacuate through emergency exits located in the roof of the train. Guests open roof hatches by first removing decorative plastic from the ceiling above a bulkhead footstool and then by lifting open a hinged hatch that will flip across the bulkhead dividing two train cars. Guests evacuate to the roof by climbing through the open hatch onto the top of the train. The bulkheads separating cars are designed as firewalls that will contain a fire within a car to just that car. The open hatch allows guests in the affected car to transfer to an adjacent car where they can safely wait for evacuation by fire response crews.
If the emergency affects the entire train, then guests are evacuated to the surface of the beam. Guests again open the emergency roof hatches, but do not simply move to the adjacent car. Instead, they use a small handrail present along the top of each train car to move all the way to the front of the train. The train's pilot can attach a knotted rope to both the top and the base of the windscreen, and guests use the rope to shimmy down the windscreen to the surface of the beam. They finally start walking along the beam away from the train.
Reedy Creek Emergency Services provides fire response and rescue for the Walt Disney World Monorail System and maintains an all-wheel-drive fire truck specially designed for monorail rescue.
Some stations have remotely-opened or even automated gates that bar riders from approaching the monorail track (and, thus, any approaching or departing train) until the operators have determined that it is safe to allow people to board the train. The cast member at the station gives the riders instructions on how to board. Other stations have manually operated gates to serve this function.
The trains are powered by over 600 VDC, drawn from small rails (bus bars) running along the side of the beams. These bus bars are similar to the electrified or "third" rail of a subway train and they are incredibly dangerous.
As the train floor is slightly raised above the platform, a portable ramp must be used to load guests in wheelchairs. For many years, the Contemporary Resort station was not handicap-accessible. An elevator has since been added to the platform.
The Walt Disney World monorail system, despite a few notable incidents, has never had a fatal accident in over 37 years of operation.
In 1974, a monorail train crashed into the train ahead. One driver and two passengers were injured.
On June 26, 1985, a fire engulfed the rear car of the six-car Mark IV Silver monorail train in transit from the Epcot station to the Transportation and Ticket Center. The train was carrying 240 passengers, 40 of whom were in the burning car. This fire predated onboard fire detection systems, emergency exits, and evacuation planning. Passengers in the car kicked out side windows and climbed around the side of the train to reach the roof, where they were subsequently rescued by the Reedy Creek Fire Department. Seven passengers were hospitalized for smoke inhalation or other minor injuries. The fire department later determined that the fire started when a flat tire was dragged across the concrete beam, heated due to friction, and ignited.
On August 30, 1991, a monorail train collided with a diesel maintenance work tractor near the Contemporary Resort as the tractor drove closely in front of the train to film it for a commercial. Two cast members were treated at a hospital for injuries.
An electrical fire occurred on a train pulling into the Magic Kingdom station on August 12, 1996. The driver and the five passengers onboard exited safely. Two bus drivers who witnessed the fire and assisted were overcome by smoke and treated at a nearby hospital.
As one of the de-facto symbols of the Walt Disney World Resort, the monorail has become part of the resort's marketing and merchandising efforts. One of the most popular elements is a battery-powered miniature toy monorail, sold in numerous gift shops at Walt Disney World. Each year, a new edition of the toy is released, with a different color stripe; the 2008 edition is Monorail Green. Since its initial release, a number of accessories have been sold for the set, such as stations resembling those for the various monorail-connected hotels--like the Grand Floridian Station and the Polynesian Station--and even the A-frame tower of the Contemporary Resort. Colors to date have included: Red, Black, Yellow, Purple, Gold, Blue, and Green.
The monorail is also a major icon in the resort's pin-trading program. For example, Disney Cast Members received a series of monorail pins to add to their pin lanyards for trading with guests. These pins have been released in two sets. The first set contains Red, Blue, Black, and Green, Silver, Purple, Yellow, and Orange. The second set added Gold, Lime, Pink and a Maroon train (in lieu of Coral). The pins could not be purchased at the resort; they could only be obtained by trading pins with Cast Members, or with other guests who had already obtained them.