History of the Disney Monorails
The Disney Monorail System

Since the time he first conceived the idea of Disneyland, Walt Disney was interested in the possibility of installing a practical monorail system there. During a visit to Europe in the Summer of 1957, Disney's engineering group examined the experimental monorail developed by the Alweg Corporation, near Cologne, Germany. After further investigation, the group reported to Disney that this design appeared to offer  the best prospects for economy, stability, and all-around practicality, noy only for Disneyland but for municipal transportation systems in general. The Alweg Company had been operating their test monorail in Germany since 1952. It's beamway was on a long curve approximately one mile in length, without grades. Disneyland and Alweg joined efforts in the Summer of 1958 to develop the basic system into a working prototype for use at Disneyland.

The monorail system at Disneyland has been purposely designed and developed to include curvatures of 120 feet radius, overpasses, and grades of 7%, in order to demonstrate  the practicality of this system under different construction and topographic conditions. The beamways and pylons, as constructed for the Park, are on substantially the same scale that would be used for any metropolitan single track system. The trains were designed by Walt Disney Imagineering (then known as WED Enterprises).
The design for the cars, including their motive power and braking and safety systems, could be used utilized by any metropolitan transit system. For a city monorail, however, the cars would have to be larger to provide for standing room.

The original monorail system at Disneyland, which opened in 1959, included two trains, one blue and one red, and eight-tenths mile of track. A gold train and additional cars for the red and blue trains were added in the first years of operation to expand capacity.

In June, 1961, the monorail was extended to the Disneyland Hotel. This made it the first monorail in America to run adjacent to a major highway (Harbor Boulevard) and to cross a city street (West Street). The total length of the system was 12,300 feet-nearly two and a half miles.

In 1969 Walt Disney Imagineering designed and manufactured a new fleet of four five-car trains to replace the original trains, at a cost of more than two million dollars. This was almost twice the original investment for the entire 1959 monorail system including beamways. These new vehicles had greater capacity, operated more efficiently, and had fewer maintenance requirements. In 2001 Disneyland again expanded it's monorail system when they opened Disney's California Adventure and Disney's night time entertainment district "Downtown Disney".
Each train has ten pneumatic tires that ride over the elevated beamway and carry the weight of the vehicles, In addition, there are 44 smaller pneumatic tires that run along the sides of the "T"-shaped beam to guide and stabilize the train. Both dynamic braking and air braking are employed on the drive wheels.
The monorails are electrically powered, operating on 600-volt direct current transmitted along a pair of copper and steel buss bars mounted on the right side of the beam. Each train is powered by four 100 horse power traction motors and can reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour. For use at Disneyland, the monorail system has been designed and developed for a top running speed of 35 miles per hour.
The concrete beamway is composed of precast I-section girders. They were cast in steel forms that can be adjusted to produce either straight or curved sections.
In 1987, a new fleet of monorail trains, dubbed the MARK V were put into service at Disneyland. The first three generations of Disneyland monorails were named, respectively, MARK I through MARK III, the Walt Disney World Monorail system was the MARK IV.


The MARK V and MARK IV featured an upgraded version of the chassis and an all-fiberglass body which gave them a lighter and more energy-efficient unit than the old metal bodied versions. An onboard computer system kept daily maintenance records and operate control functions.

The Walt Disney World monorail system has been in continuous operation since 1971 with double beam track that circles the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of the Magic Kingdom. Originally, the monorail system connected the Contemporary and Polynesian hotels with the Magic Kingdom and Transportation and Ticket Center. In later years, the Grand Floridian was added to the loop. Disney expanded the monorail system in 1982 by adding a four mile extension that travels from the Magic Kingdom resort area to Epcot's entrance.

The current model of monorail began operation in 1990, with the full fleet of 12 in service by early 1991. The Mark VI has a higher passenger capacity as well as improved air conditioning, door systems and improved safety features. Each Mark VI train consists of six cars. The overall length is 203 feet with a capacity of 365 passengers.

Walt Disney World's monorail is 13.6 miles. The monorail system carries over 150,000 guests to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot parks on an average day.

While the monorails at Disneyland and Walt Disney World are without a doubt monorails, the Tokyo Disney Resort Line has been, due to its scale, referred to by many as the first real Disney park monorail. Unlike the systems in California and Florida which are 3/5ths scale adaptations of Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren's original Alweg design, the trains of the Tokyo Disney Resort Line, which are 275 feet long and carry up to 571 passengers, are built to full scale.

The system's particularly large beams are the result of not only the trains' size, but also the desire to increase the span between support pylons.

Under normal operation, the system runs four Liners at once, with the fifth in reserve, but it is capable of operating all five at one time if desired.  

There's something else about the Tokyo Disney Resort Line that certainly deserves mention - Its trains are driverless.  The individual Liners (as they are called) are controlled from a central location by an automated (but monitored, of course) system.  A single Cast Member rides in the tail of each Liner to ensure that guests have fully boarded the vehicle before its doors are closed.

For a little more monorail history, and a short version of what lead to Disney monorails, scroll down to the bottom of this page past the Disney monorail pictures.

                                       Monorail Gold                                                                           Then and Now

                                                               Disneyland Monorail Beams Under Construction

                         Monorails were not always free                                                         Repair Train on a Job

                             Monorail at Disneyland                                                         Monorail at Walt Disney World

        Nice view of the Monorail passing the Matterhorn                                  View from the Front of the Monorail

                           Tokyo Disneyland Monorail                                             Interior of the Tokyo Disneyland Monorail

      What happens when you go to fast and suddenly stop?                                               You go...Splat!

1825 - Cheshunt Railway

The first passenger carrying monorail celebrated a grand opening June 25th, 1825. It had a one-horse power engine...literally pushed by a horse. Based on a 1821 patent by Henry Robinson Palmer, the Cheshunt Railway was actually built to carry bricks, but made monorail history by carrying passengers at its opening.


1952 - ALWEG Monorail

Swedish industrialist Dr. Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren was the first to build a monorail test track after World War II. Wenner-Gren's first system design was geared more towards a high-speed city to city rail system. Seen here is the scaled-down train which attained speeds near 160 km on an oval test track in Fuhlingen, Germany. While impressive in speed and banking capabilities, the ALWEG system didn't find its niche until a later version was developed and unveiled in1957


1957 - ALWEG Monorail

Based on knowledge gained from the original test track of 1952 and subsequent modifications, ALWEG unveiled what has become the most successful monorail system in July of 1957. Located at the same Fuhlingen test sight, this was ALWEG's first full-scale monorail. It caught the attention of Walt Disney, which resulted in the world's attention to the design after Disneyland opened their ALWEG monorail in 1959. Today ALWEG-based systems exist all around the world and many more are in the works.


1959 - Disneyland/Alweg Monorail

No monorail in history captured the attention of the public quite like Walt Disney's Alweg Monorail did when it opened in 1959. The result would be the unfortunate type-casting of monorails being "theme park rides," except in Japan. Later versions of the Disneyland monorail improved on the Alweg system and in 1971 a much larger dual-rail system was built in Florida at Walt Disney World. An Alweg monorail is currently under development for the Tokyo Disneyland Resort area.


1964-1965 AMF New York World's Fair

In an effort to promote their Safege licensed monorail, AMF installed and operated a one-station I-Beam monorail for the two-year New York World's Fair. The dual-rail system looped around the amusement area. An earlier Disney monorail plan to surround the entire fairgrounds was rejected, probably due to a much higher price tag. While AMF never sold or built any Safege Monorails, this installation was responsible for many of today's enthusiasts first ride on monorail.