How to Operate the Disneyland Monorail

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disney History, Disneyland Resort, Samland

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Published on August 22, 2013 at 3:00 am with 10 Comments

Recently, as I was sorting through some files, I came across a 1966 operator’s manual for the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System and thought I would share some of the highlights.

As was the custom with Disneyland University documents, the first section is always The Story Behind The Story. The Cast Members were reminded that the trains had been in operation since June 14, 1959 when Vice President Richard M. Nixon and his family took the first ride before a national television audience. Ever since then, the attraction had been a favorite for “kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers” and million of others.

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Walt Disney always wanted a monorail for Disneyland and the earliest plans showed the futuristic vehicle. In 1957, he saw what he was looking for on a trip through Cologne, Germany. That is where he first spotted an experimental monorail train running on top of a one mile curved track. Alweg had been testing the system since 1952. Walt not only saw a new attraction for Disneyland, he found the solution for congestion in modern American cities.

WED Enterprises and Alweg partnered in 1958 to produce a system for the park. The manual tells of a wonderful, cooperative story between the two companies but, as I detail in the soon to be released The Disneyland Story, this was simply not the case.

The original system consisted of two three-car trains and an .8 mile loop around Tomorrowland. In June 1961, the system was expanded to the Disneyland Hotel. The park was proud to have the “first Monorail in America to run adjacent to a major highway (Harbor Boulevard) and to cross a city street (West Street). The track grew to 12,300 feet or almost 2 1/2 miles.

During the Disneyland-Alweg’s first 7 years, more than 22 million guests had ridden on the “Highway in the Sky.” The Blue train had traveled 195,227 miles during 16,303 hours of operation and the Red train traveled 178,066 miles during it’s 14,880 of operation. A new Gold four-car train was added in 1961 and it had logged 157,573 miles during 11,342 hours.

By 1966, total investment in the system was $3.3 million. The system was capable of a theoretical hourly capacity of 2,100 with a crew of thirteen Cast Members at peak periods. Park operations was proud that unscheduled maintenance was 68 hours during the first year but was cut down to less than 9 hours by 1966.

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Back then, the trip was divided into five segments. The first segment was the Tomorrowland Station. At the entrance were specially selected palm trees that were “in effect, a living fossil.” The trees forebears date back two hundred million years to the Mesozoic Period. A 45-second trip on a speedramp built by Stephen-Adamson Company took the guests up to the loading platform. The platform acted as a roof over the Submarine Voyage queue.

The next segment was along Harbor Boulevard. Here, the trains left the park and traveled alongside the same street that most guests used to enter Disneyland’s parking lot. Oleanders were planted along the parking lot’s edge since they grew rapidly and could be trained as shrubs, hedges or trees.

When the monorail takes a sharp right hand turn past the Disneyland marquee, it enters the Parking Lot Segment. At the time, Disneyland’s surface parking lot was 125-acres and could accommodate up to 11,000 cars. That is more than what could fit inside of the Mickey and Friends parking structure of today. So that guests could find their car at the end of the day, the parking lot was divided into 14 different sections. To protect the cars from liquids spilling from the monorails passing overhead, blue translucent panels were placed on the underside of key sections of the beamway.

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The Hotel Segment was next. Guests had the opportunity to disembark at the Disneyland Hotel and shop, dine, rest or get an adult beverage. All they had to do is get their hand stamped. By this time, the Disneyland Hotel had grown to 600 rooms with a shopping arcade and an olympic-sized swimming pool. For golfers there was a driving range, a nine-hole, three-par golf course, and a miniature golf course.

Once the trains have left the Disneyland Hotel they enter the Main Gate Segment. Although New Orleans Square was not quite open when the manual was written and could not be seen by the monorail, the new “land” was prominently featured. The Cast Members were taught that the Mickey Mouse floral display was made up of 2,600 flowers in the summer and 3,200 flowers in the winter. For those guests wondering what goes on in the backstage buildings that can be seen from the ride they would be told that those were the Grand Canyon and Primeval World show buildings as well as a new Administration Building. Important stuff to know when a guest asks.

The final segment was Reentering the Park and Tomorrowland. Here, the monorail trains reached their highest point, 31 feet over Tomorrowland, providing a terrific vista. Keep in mind, at that time the WEDway PeopleMover track had not been installed and the tree canopy was still relatively immature. Below were the two Autopia miniature freeways, the submarine lagoon, and just ahead was the Matterhorn. Other highlights of the trip included a pass near the Richfield Eagle at the entrance to the Fantasyland Autopia, a pass over the Disneyland Naval Yard, “home port and rehabilitation center for the Disneyland Submarine Fleet,” and the “Roof Garden” over the caverns. Bordering the beam were Ash, Monterey Pine, and Silk-Oak trees.

A glossary of terms and a schematic drawing of the latest monorail train was also provided. For Walt, the monorail was not an amusement park ride. He believed he found the solution to a contemporary problem and wanted to use the park to demonstrate the reliability of the technology. If only more cities listened….

BOOK REVIEWS
Seen, Un-Seen Disneyland: What You See at Disneyland, but Never Really See

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Russell D. Flores
2012194 pages
$19.95
Synergy-Books.com

Russell has put together a delightful book based on a simple premise; focus on Disney details that are hidden in plain sight. This journey into authorship was the result of 2005 trip when Russell noticed how Disneyland themed it’s trashcans. Having met Russell a couple of times, I can see how this became an obsession. Over the years worked hard reading everything he could and started to document these little treasures. Along with trash cans, Russell documents other not so hidden treasures like ticket booths, Sleeping Beauty Castle, the sexy women of Disney (?), signs, “The Ghosts of Disneyland Attractions Past,” turkeys, and much more. If you are looking for secret knowledge to freak out your friends or to peel back another layer while visiting the park, the book is a good read. The book is filled with color photos. To his credit, he footnotes all of his information, adding much needed credibility. Watch for multiple volumes. 

This book was sent to me by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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That concludes another segment from the Samland files. Are you a Disneyland Monorail fan? Would you like to see more cities adopt it as a form of public transportation? Or is it more of a theme park ride in your opinion?

 

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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10 Comments

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  1. I’m always glad to read any history or info on the Disneyland Monorail System.

    The Mark VIIs have been a disappointment to me, though. I think the seating configuration compared to the Mark V is unnecessary. And why the resort decided to save money and nix the fourth train is beyond me. Maybe they didn’t realize that four monorails is necessary just to keep the minimum two running at all times.

    • I liked the old seating better, as well. It was easier to see what was going on on both sides of the vehicle. I guess they figured it would be harder to put arms out the window this way.

      • I’m not sure if you remember… When the Mark VII debut, the trains had windows that could not slide down. This was an aesthetic that soon proved to be dangerous because it did not allow for adequate airflow inside the car.

        There is a reason why it was like this on all the previous generations of Disneyland monorails. Eventually, the airflow problem was remedied when Disneyland removed the original windows and retrofitted new ones similar to the Mark V windows.

        And this wasn’t the only thing WDI tried to change on the Monorail without thinking. One of the many other issues the pilots have is with the rearview CAMERA that replaced the MIRROR on the Mark V. Pilots used the mirror to check the platform for safety as they left the station, and it was foolproof. Now, with the camera, pilots can’t even get an good enough image to see the dispatcher give a “stop” hand signal. Especially when sunlight causes the camera to overexpose.

    • I think the new Monorails look great and I like the efficiency of how they load now, compared to the previous configuration. However, I don’t like it that air conditioning wasn’t built into the main cabin design. It is very much needed.

      • The reason why I don’t like the current seating configuration is because, if you are unfortunate to be facing out the wrong side, you miss the views out the other side of the monorail.

        The new monorails do look great. However, remember all the problems the trains had initially when they couldn’t start carrying passengers from the outset? All those issues could have been avoided had WDI worked closely with Bob Gurr, Disneyland Facilities and Disneyland Operations.

        The result is what one veteran monorail pilot described the Mark VIIs as… “The most beautiful junk he’s ever seen.”

        To this day, monorail pilots continue to use various operational work-arounds just to accommodate the style-over-function (and safety) design by WDI.

  2. I miss riding in the bubble on the earlier models.

    Sam

  3. I can vividly remember riding the monorail once with a new trainee in the front bubble. As we pulled out of the hotel station and we started across the parking lot, the trainee was told “You are now driving the Monorail” The grin on his face was enormous. I guess that’s why I became a cast member too.

  4. Huge monorail fan here. Living in Orange County we never got to stay at the Disneyland Hotel, but I always envied those who did, and who could enter the park from there. You mentioned the miniature golf course, which I loved dearly and visited frequently as a kid, totally independently of visiting the park. Best course ever!

    Even now, age 57, I pretend that riding on my city’s light rail system is a ride on Disney’s Monorail.

  5. I always liked the monorail and I still have my card from when I sat in the bubble (around 1970). Great memories.

  6. I was a Mark 3 trainer in the late ’70s for Retlaw. Still have my manuals for monorail and steam trains.