Disney World reopens monorail, crash victim had his dream job

Posted Monday, July 6, 2009 11:52 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Walt Disney World is reopening its monorail system today -- with new safety sensors added to monitor track switches, according to a note to employees this morning. Saturday's collision occurred as one of the trains was being transferred off the system's Epcot line, which ferries guests between the Magic Kingdom and Epoct, according to Disney's note.

Read more from The Orlando Sentinel.

See also: Crash victim Austin Wuennenberg had his dream job piloting monorail, from The Orlando Sentinel.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 12:18 PM

Hmm...interesting to me that they had the equipment on hand to make these changes/additions so quickly. It does beg the question: why weren't they already installed?

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Monday, July 6, 2009 12:41 PM

They had the parts on hand or were able to obtain or fabricate them this quickly because this is Disney. I've seen their maintenance shops; they are amazingly well equipped and well supplied. As an example of the kind of capability they have...when I visited, they were building their own wheel rims for the parking lot trams, something which you would expect to be an off-the-shelf part.

As for the question of why the equipment was not already installed...again, this is Disney. I would not be surprised to learn that the problem was identified, the solution determined, the engineering done, the parts fabricated, and the new system installed and tested yesterday.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 4:21 PM

The article does not really state that equipment was changed or updated, only that "new safety steps to monitor track switches" are in place and that "additional verifications of track switches" have been added. I think these are just procedural changes and additions for the operators, I doubt that any real hardware changes were made.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 4:47 PM

Good point. I know when I first heard that it wasn't a rear-ender, that pink had actually backed into purple, my first question was, "Why was the operator at the forward end?" They can pilot those things from either end, and by backing up the operator was basically driving blind. Had he moved to the other end, he would have been able to see the switch and the other train. That's just one example of a purely proceduraql change that could be implemented immediately.

My point still stands, though: if engineering changes were needed, I have no doubt that Disney could implement them literally overnight. Remember, too, that this is Florida where, if it is considered an amusement ride, the State oversight is pretty minimal if the park employs more than 1,000 people.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 5:05 PM

If you're not in the station, it'd be really hard to go from one end of the train to the other.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 5:53 PM

There sounds like there is a fairly simple fix. When they are switching from the EPCOT line to the Express line, they should have two pilots (one at each end, if it can be run from either end).

I remember several years ago participating in a survey about raising ticket prices to expand and redo the monorail line. I think now would be good time to do this. I think they should update it with a system that can handle the switches and allow Monorail Central to see on a board or computer where every train is.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 6:35 PM

I can't say for sure but I seem to remember noticing camera's at the switch points, I know it was dark but if they can move concrete beams remotely they can surely activate lights for a camera. Even without camera's seems like a sensor should be there to let them know where the switch beam is pointing. It's a shame regardless..

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Monday, July 6, 2009 7:53 PM

The Monorail Expansion has been a highly debated topic in other forums. I belive the final outcome was that it was extremely costly and that it more than likely will never happen. This is a shame, I love the monorail and cant wait to take the trip around the seven seas lagoon or to to a spin thru future world on the epcot line. I have always wanted it to extend the The studios, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, and the Animal Kingdom, It could be a scenic route or routes. It could also be a much "greenier" than the bus system.

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Monday, July 6, 2009 8:26 PM

My hope is that someday its expanded as well. Anyone ever think how it could work?

My personal attempt is this:

Theme Park Express: Connecting the Epcot spur to the non Resort MK loop, and extending it to stop at DHS and then Animal Kingdom this is the transfer line making every theme park and the TTC a hub/transfer station.

MK loop: The resort loop currently, expanded to have stops at Ft. Wilderness and Wilderness lodge.

Epcot/DHS loop: Goes to Epcot and DHS and all the hotels on the lake inbetween.

Animal Kingdom Loop: Animal Kingdom, WWS, Blizzard Beach and the surrounding hotels (Coronado, All Star, AKL, etc.)

Downtown Disney Loop: In a perfect world this is a duel loop (ie a line that goes clockwise and counter clockwise) because its so huge but it stops at Downtown Disney, the resorts around there (OKW, Port Orleans, etc.) Typhoon Lagoon and has its connection to the Theme Park Express Loop at Epcot.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009 1:17 PM

If you're not in the station, it'd be really hard to go from one end of the train to the other.

True, and in a switch operation on that beamway set, you have to reverse directions at some point. So, you'd need to have two pilots for any switch maneuver. What's more, apparently, only one cabin is "live control" at any one time, and the train has to be effectively reset to change ends. You could still imagine that they will require a spotter with a radio at the "back" end from now on, though. That, too, would have dedicted at least one more pair of eyes that might have noticed that the expected switch wasn't taken.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009 1:34 PM

^ - more-so, someone at the back of the train who could see the track switching. I can't imagine they stop the train too far from the switch track, so he'd be able to easily see that it hadn't made the change before his pilot even begins reversing.

I wonder if this will see the development of the Mark VII monorail. The nosecones at the very least should have a more rigid frame interior to the fiberglass. I realize what the anti-climber would do, but I can't imagine it working too well with brittle fiberglass supporting it. Rebuild the nose/tail cones to have a steel frame that would be able to support an anti-climber and I think you make the trains safer.

Here's a good image that I found that lays out not just the guest tracks but the maintenance spurs as well. Really helps to read what's being said and then look at the map to see what areas they are talking about.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/WaltDisneyWorldMonorailSystem.jpeg

Last edited by Juggalotus, Tuesday, July 7, 2009 1:37 PM
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Wednesday, July 8, 2009 10:33 AM

Here is a video from a family that rode in the front of the monorail with the deciesed(sp) driver days before the crash.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/orl-bk-disney-monorail-austin-wuennenberg-070709,0,2265988.story

Very sad to see, but it just shows how nice of a guy the driver was.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009 11:08 AM

Ugh, that's awful. Very sad. Such a pointless death.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009 11:53 AM

Yikes. That makes it much more personal.

The first thing I thought of when this happened was riding up with the pilot with my 3-year old last year.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009 12:08 PM

Ditto. We did it with a newlywed couple. The woman had a cast on one foot, wearing her veil, while the dude had a top hat and a nose ring. The image of being up there is really vivid, and it's just sad to think of that fun space as a tomb.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009 11:41 PM

That was one if the first things that I thought of as well when I had heard about the accident. I guess hundreds of thousands of people can say "I've ridden up there!", though, it hits closer to home when you know you've been in a cabin.

In 2007, my wife and I were the only two in the front cabin, as we stayed at the Magic Kingdom for at least an hour after closing while we took pictures and the train heading back to the parking lot was practically empty. That's one of the nice things about the parks, they're not in a hurry to kick you out. They even made it a point to tell us that while we were in Epcot. Pretty awesome site to see when they blow off the excess propane from one of their Illuminations barges.

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