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Riding with the Monorail Pilot

Riding with the Monorail Pilot

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Walt Disney World monorail concept art picture

 In the early hours of July 5th, 2009, Monorails Pink and Purple were involved in a collision at the Transportation and Ticket Center.  This crash resulted in the death of the Pilot of Monorail Purple.  When the parks opened in the morning, Monorail service was cancelled for the day and it was decided to retire both the purple and pink colors from the fleet.  On July 6th, the Monorails were cleared to operate again with increased visual safety procedures for Cast Members to follow.  It was also announced that Guests would no longer be able to ride up front with the pilot.  This is at least the third time guests have not been allowed to ride up front.  The others times were in 1974 after a non-fatal Monorail collision between Monorails Red and Blue and also after September 11th.  It's also possible that guests were not allowed to ride with the driver following the 1985 Monorail fire.  

Former Monorail Pilot (1974-1976) Charles Layne offers his experience with Monorail procedures and his take on what happened in the 1974 and 2009 incidents:

 "Each Mark IV monorail was equipped with an anti-collision system (at the time termed WABCO, but was later changed to MAPO), which automatically applied the train's air brakes if it moved too close to the monorail immediately ahead of it. The train had a two-stage braking system.  Electric brakes, which slowed the train's speed to around 5-10 MPH, were engaged first, then air brakes were applied to stop the train.  From what I was told then by cast members who were witnesses, and from what I am able to remember, the collision between Red and Blue happened due to complete loss of air pressure on Monorail Red, which was operating on the Exterior (express) beam.

 The train had been removed from operation at least twice that day, and shop personnel were unable to find any malfunctions after repeated mechanical checks. Several monorail pilots had complained about difficulty in stopping the train in the stations due to low or even no air pressure. When the pilot approached the Magic Kingdom station just prior to the accident, the train's WABCO system was activated, but there was no air pressure to apply the air brakes.  The pilot was severely injured, but he recovered and was able to return to work.  Fortunately, he had no passengers aboard.  The procedure was immediately changed so that no guests were allowed in the monorail cab, and remained in effect until management was certain that the accident would not be repeated.  I believe that guests were again allowed in the cab sometime in late '74 or early '75.

There were two other possibilities for such an event:

1. A manual bypass of the MAPO system, but this required specific and deliberate instructions from the lead at TTC ("Monorail Base"), a supervisor or the Monorail Shop.  If no such instructions were given, then a MAPO bypass would have been unauthorized and a violation of SOP.  This was grounds for immediate termination.  After the 1974 collision, the hold points were moved back: if the monorail immediately ahead of you was stopped, whether at the next hold point or in a station, passing your designated holdpoint would result in an abrupt MAPO stop.  The pilot was then required to radio Monorail Base and notify the lead there that they had experienced a MAPO stop, and was required to wait for instructions before proceeding.  At some point, and I don't remember when, the block light system was added, but it never was intended be used as a substitute for visual confirmation.

2. The MAPO system would not activate if a train was traveling in reverse.  This required specific instructions from Monorail Base and/or the shop and the pilot had to use extreme caution in carrying out those instructions.

 There was a mid-day procedure in which a monorail on the exterior beam would be switched over to the lagoon beam, and required the pilot to switch ends at the TTC and drive in reverse (only after clearance from Monorail Base) through the Contemporary Resort to the west side of switch beam #2, then the train would be moved over to the lagoon beam following clearance from the Monorail Shop.  The way between the TTC and Switchbeam #2 had to be clear, as the MAPO system would not function since the train was not being operated from the forward cab.

 So, as to what happened on July 5, 2009 and assuming that the newer Mark VI was an improvement over the Mark IV: if all safety procedures were being followed, the train's MAPO system should have prevented the collision.  The only answers I can come up with are that either some component of the MAPO system failed, the system was bypassed, or improper clearance was given to the pilot to enter the station.  At any rate, the death of a monorail pilot performing his duties is unprecedented and tragic.  It could very well be that the days of guests riding in the cab are over.

Watch Video of a Family Riding with the Monorail Pilot from Epcot and Taking the Ferry in 1984

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Monrail Co-Pilot Licences

 Guests were sometimes awarded Monorail co-pilot licenses when it was still possible to ride with the driver.  The bottom license was a variation with the 25th Anniversary logo on it.

Walt Disney World Monorail license

Walt Disney World Monorail system license.

25th Anniversary monorail license Walt Disney World

This is an unofficial fan site that is not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company or Disney theme parks.  All copyrights acknowledged.  Please respect the work I put into compiling both existing and my own information on this site by not linking to any text or pictures without crediting that they were located on this site.
See ya real soon!