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Monorail Blew
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It's been several weeks since our last update, and there have been some surprising changes around Disneyland. Some of them are good, some are not, and some still hold promise for the next few years. We've also got some news that will likely keep fans of DCA's upcoming Extreme Makeover: Theme Park edition excited, while other plans for the original Anaheim park will strike fear in the hearts of most die-hard fans. In addition to a few other news items, there's also the groaner of a new marketing campaign that will soon be announced as a successor to the bewildering Year Of A Million Dreams. (Before I forget, most of the photos here today were taken yesterday by yours truly.)

Got that decadent cupcake (with the heap of rich frosting) plucked out of it's paper cup? Have that mocha latte picked up from the barista already? Well then, let's get going; we have a lot to cover today! - Al

Monorail Blew

Let's start by getting some of the bad news out of the way, most of it centered on Disneyland. Things had been looking up for the original park in 2008, what with the new fleet of monorails arriving on property and some major refurbishments planned for favorite attractions. The first of the new monorails arrived to media fanfare and plenty of online chatter back in December, and we had told you that the original plan was to have the new train finished with testing on the beam by the busy Presidents Day weekend. Well, Presidents Day has come and gone and the new train has only made it around the beam once, and even then the trip was only accomplished by towing the train with the maintenance tractor. As it stands now, it might be many months before anyone is allowed to actually ride on the new train, while the remaining trains undergo major redesign at the factory up in British Columbia.

Insert tab A into slot B
It looked good, until...

What happened? Things began to go wrong just a few days after the new train arrived and was gingerly set down on the beam back at the roundhouse adjacent to Harbor Blvd. The arrival and installation of the train onto the track went fairly smoothly, with the exception of some scuffed up paint caused by the shrink wrap used for shipping. After securing the train inside the roundhouse, and ordering up some additional metallic reflective paint at a cost of over $1,000 per gallon, things were progressing smoothly on Disneyland's first new monorail in over 20 years. By the first of the year it was time to take the train out for a spin and begin the official test and adjust phase.

When the train was being moved out of the roundhouse and towards the track switch that leads to the mainline at the back of Tomorrowland, the front of the train began to ease through a gentle S-curve that leads from the roundhouse towards the track switch. It was at that point that a grinding and crumpling noise was heard from under the train itself, and the horrified engineer immediately brought the train to a stop.

Much alarm and consternation surrounded the initial cursory inspection of the damaged train, and eventually the monorail was eased back on to the straightaway and reversed back inside the roundhouse. A more thorough inspection of the underside of the train revealed a shocking discovery; that major portions of the cars chassis had failed to make the clearance in the gentle S-curve the train had slowly moved through. The structure of the chassis itself was heavily damaged, and the underside of the exterior body panels had been impacted as well. The response to this discovery was utter shock and disbelief amongst the assembled Imagineers and Disneyland maintenance team.

Must dust!
A look under a current train.

A further assessment of the situation revealed a fairly simple problem, that the chassis superstructure and suspension system had been incorrectly constructed in such a way that it was not making the clearance between the chassis itself and the cement beam. To make matters worse, this damage was only caused on a gentle S-curve of a turn that is far more mild than some of the sharper twists and turns the monorail would need to make out on the tightly wound beam way in and around Tomorrowland and the Matterhorn. If this much damage was caused by a very gentle curve at slow speed, then the Imagineers knew there was no way the train would be able to navigate the rest of the 49 year old bowl-of-spaghetti beam way at a normal pace.

While the new train sat silently inside the roundhouse awaiting repairs, a few weeks of furious meetings and finger pointing between Imagineering and the contractor up in Vancouver took up most of January. There is still a formal investigation yet to be completed, but the smoking gun now appears to be the original 1980's blueprints that were maintained by Disneyland and WDI. Apparently some changes to the chassis were undertaken back in the 1980's prior to entering service, but they never made it onto the blueprints kept on file back in that less technologically savvy time. When one of the old trains was dissected and used in a form of reverse engineering, the difference between the actual chassis and what the blueprints called for helped cause a miscalculation in the dimensions of the new trains chassis. The result is a new train that now has structural damage to the chassis and that still hasn't been able to make it around the track on its own.

Waiting for a duck
Plastered with ads, just like your local public bus

After the reconfiguration of some of the support arms on the chassis that were supposed to be a temporary fix, two weeks ago the new train was towed around the beam late at night by the biodiesel powered maintenance tractor used by the Disneyland Facilities Department. With some of the chassis structure removed and reconfigured, the train was able to make it around the track without crumpling body panels. While there was no major damage to the train itself, the reconfigured train still couldn't make the tighter clearances through turns and it ripped out dozens of brackets that hold the electric bus bar to the cement beam. It took hours to reattach all the damaged brackets to the beam and restore power to the track, and the Disneyland Monorail System remained closed to passengers well into the next day while the frantic repairs took place. Presidents Day weekend then came and went without the new monorail in operation.

Obviously a permanent fix will eventually be made and a new chassis structure will be fitted to the new train. But in the meantime, all work on the remaining two trains has been stopped up in Vancouver until a permanent engineering resolution can be found. As of this writing, there is not an estimate on how long it may be before the new monorail on property makes its debut. And with construction stopped on the rest of the fleet, there is also no longer an estimate for how long it may be before the second and third trains arrive from Canada. The original timeline called for all three trains to be up and running by Christmas, but that is looking very doubtful now. About the only thing that is certain at this point is next month's arrival of the snazzy new costumes for the Monorail Cast Members that were designed to match the new trains.

Unfortunately, there is still plenty of finger pointing going on and even the hint of legal action lingering in the air, so the arrival of the actual trains may be an ongoing story we'll have to keep updating you on in 2008. The fact that the original track layout and construction of the first two trains only took 12 months back in 1958-59 hasn't been lost on some in Imagineering. It's very disappointing that in this modern age of computerized design and instant global communication a simple oversight like this is causing further delays and cost overruns in what has already been a four year, big budget project.

Where's Bob Gurr when you need him?

it's a changed world

Meanwhile, right next door to the Disneyland monorail roundhouse work is well underway on the 10 month project to replace the flume in the sprawling it's a small world show building. While the Disneyland PR department did a bit of fancy doubletalk with the media in trying to convince them that instead of heavier 21st century Americans it was really just a "buildup of fiberglass" heretofore unheard of by anyone who actually works on the attraction that was somehow causing the boats to bottom out in the flume.

The fact of the matter is that the small world refurbishment project was driven by a clearly stated desire to allow today's lower riding boats to travel easier through the ride. The old flume from the World's Fair is being gutted, and a new flume conveniently designed to be one inch deeper will contain a new fleet of purposely lighter boats that ride up to an inch higher in the water. Those extra two inches of clearance will allow for several hundred more pounds of weight in each boat, keeping the churro loving tourists of today sailing through the ride just as easily as their lighter predecessors did back in the 1960's.

Evil lurks within

But it now appears that the inside of the attraction will be quite different from the original 1964 version that has hosted tens of millions of Disneyland over the years. Imagineers have recently been inside the ride placing temporary cutouts of Disney characters in scenes along the flume trying to determine where those characters would look the best in each scene.

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2008 Al Lutz

A Different look at Disney...
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