A Friday Visit With Jim Korkis: The First Disney World Monorials
By Dave Shute
THE ORIGINAL WALT DISNEY WORLD MONORAILS
By Jim Korkis
Zooming along on a sleek concrete beam high in the sky for over forty years, the brightly colored Walt Disney World monorails have provided eager park guests with not only a different perspective of the vacation destination but also a glimpse into the transportation of the future.
According to Disney press information released in 1969 about the monorails at Walt Disney World:
“The principal means of travel from the parking center and main entrance to and from the theme park and hotels will be aboard the Walt Disney World-Alweg Monorail trains. Current plans call for the building of six five-car trains, some to stop at every hotel on the way around the circuit, while others carry passengers non-stop directly to the Magic Kingdom.”
Those newest monorails featured greater safety, comfort and efficiency than the ones operating at Disneyland at the time. They were dubbed the Mark IV and each one cost approximately six million dollars to build. The Mark IV had a high capacity design that could hold up to 210 guests in the five car train that was 171 feet long. There was improved air conditioning (considered vital in the Florida heat and humidity) and new door systems.
These newest monorails were designed in Burbank under the direction of Imagineer Bob Gurr and built in Orlando by the Martin Marietta Corporation.
The seats in the Mark IV were a rich royal blue with four aisles between guests facing each other going across each car. Each car had four doors, except for the middle car that had a special double door type of setup to allow guests in wheelchairs.
Just like for the trams today, back then there were waiting queue slots for guests that held roughly the number of people who could fit in the empty seats in each aisle to help control the boarding. There was no standing room capability.
At the Magic Kingdom during the early days, guests boarded the monorail by going up the middle ramp and exited the train by going down the side ramps. It is the reverse today because it proved to cause congestion when the park closed at night and guests flooded out of the Magic Kingdom to leave.
In theory, it all sounded smooth and seamless. Yet on Opening Day in October 1971, only three monorails were operating. A fourth would be brought on later that month and a fifth was being constructed. Even with light attendance, they were not enough to handle the guests clamoring to get to the park and spend their money.
Other forms of transportation were rushed into service, including six steam launches and other water craft including the Mike Fink keel boats from Frontierland. Half of the parking lot trams were needed to haul guests from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom and they frequently overheated and broke down on the incline near the Contemporary Resort.
Over the decades, additional improvements were made in the design and capacity of the monorails but guests were still awed by the originals when they debuted. Today, the improved Mark VI version of the monorail carries guests to their destinations at Walt Disney World.
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Thanks, Jim! Come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis.
In the meantime, check out his books, including The Vault of Walt, Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South?, and The Book of Mouse, and his contributions to The easy Guide to Your First Walt Disney World Visit, all published by Theme Park Press.
MORE DISNEY WORLD HISTORY POSTS FROM JIM KORKIS
- “Summer Magic” on Main Street
- Muppets and Mama Melrose
- Peter Dominick and the Wilderness Lodge
- Dixie Landing and Port Orleans Riverside
- The History of Splash Mountain
- The First Disney World Hotel
- The “Sharing the Magic” Statue
- The First Disney World Monorails
- The Water Park River Country
- The Epcot Fountain
- The Fireplace at the Wilderness Lodge
- Sid Cahuenga at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Spaceship Earth
- Downtown Disney
- The Missing Resort Hotels
- Echo Park and Echo Lake
- Typhoon Lagoon