Former Monorail Pilot’s Explanation of Crash

Update: NTSB preliminary report is now out with best details about accident so far.

A former Monorail Pilot has made a video with what looks to be the best explanation so far of exactly what happened this morning at 2AM that resulted in the tragic death of a fellow Railie.

Previously: Disney World Cast Member dead in Monorail Accident.

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25 Responses to Former Monorail Pilot’s Explanation of Crash

  1. Aimee says:

    Very interesting and informative analysis of a tragic situation. We are avid Disney fans and are so sad for pilot’s family and all involved. Our hearts go out to the other pilot as well, he must be devastated. I have to admit though, when I think about all the times myself and my children have ridden up front, I shudder. On a sidenote, I will be very surprised if the co-pilot practice is allowed to continue after this.

    Not being familiar with monorail operations at all, the video explanation provided by Mr. Martens certainly seems very plausible. It seems to be one of those situations where a number of built-in safety systems(failing to look in rearview mirrors, overriding auto pilot, not listening to radios, etc) were disregarded (intentionally or not) simultaneously, resulting in the tragedy.

    The only comment I have is that I wonder if the purple driver wouldn’t have been able to back up if a family was boarding the train, even if he saw pink coming? I wasn’t really clear if those folks with the stroller were on the train, or just waiting for it, or actually in the process of boarding?

    Thanks for the great newsreporting!

    • Sue says:

      The two trains did not collide in the TTC, it was on the rail between the TTC and the Entrance gates (where the trams stop). I was on the Resort Track monorail during the crash (presumably, b/c we were delayed at the Contemporary) and an announcement came on saying something about multiple monorails on the track so we were awaiting clearance. when we arrived, we went to the other track to catch the monorail back to Epcot. We walked up & saw pink “stuck” and them saw that it had hit purple. I snapped a picture very similar to the one shown in this video and also took pictures from the ground of the debris on the ground. They must have moved the trains into the station before our train got there. The firemen and ambulances had just arrived and there was a maintenance worker on top of the purple train. People seemed very confused, the Disney employees were trying to escort guests to take buses to Epcot (which is what we had to do) and the sheriff onsite told us to put our cameras away.

      the explanation about the driver not knowing he was on the wrong track is what I heard from a reliable source, and it also seemed to me that Austin’s train was too close to the TTC, not to mention that there was no driver in the back of pink, otherwise there would have been another injury, if not another fatality.

      Very sad that this happened and my friend (who I was at the park with) and I were up until about 6am between driving back to Pasco and trying to find a news station who would listen to what we had just seen. One had told us they had phone calls but were awaiting a statement from Disney. We knew we had a huge news story on our hands, and my friend left a message with FOX before he went to bed. When we got home, I tried to find something out online, but nothing was reported in a Google search except a blog post. The first reports came out after 7am, from the AP News wire. We followed the story all day and my friend was interviewed by the Orlando FOX affiliate, who also aired our pictures on Sunday’s 10pm news, which we watched online.

      I believe the monorails are VERY safe and will ride again when I return to the Disney parks. I was on Austin’s train going to Epcot to see the fireworks that night. We had just missed Pink and caught Purple, which had pulled right up after pink left. We did not realize how severe the accident was until we examined our pictures (from a camera and a BlackBerry) and saw that the driver of Purple would not have survived, but did not get confirmation of a fatality until the next morning when speaking with the FOX reporter.

      My friend later explained about the monorails switching tracks at the end of the night & Said he has been there many times when he did it and felt that the track was not switched over when pink backed up. I also heard from a very valid source about people not being where they were supposed to be, which is what the engineer in this video reported as well.

  2. Pingback: One Cast Member Dead in Disney Monorail Crash | The Disney Blog

  3. Adam says:

    I am also a former Monorail Pilot. I agree completely with the assessment. There were several unfortunate circumstances in the accident. The track switch between the Epcot and MK Express lines is a soft switch, meaning that higher speeds are permitted (15 mph as stated) rather than the usual 5 mph through a hard switch, like from Express to Resorts line or back to the roundhouse. Also, the Epcot line Pilot being in the cab while on instruction from Monorail Central to hold in the TTC for the switch. He could just as well have been standing on the platform out of harm’s way. Thirdly, it’s horrible for the driver of Pink, as they are responsible for a death. My heartfelt condolences to all the crew there.

  4. Sabrina\ says:

    The pilot of Purple was pulling into the station, rather than sitting there. As a monorail pilot, and you supposed former pilot, you should know how difficult it is to leave the train when it’s moving. You cannot “pop” the door as normal but must stick your hand out the window and pull on the door handle.

    As far as sticking the train in reverse, anyone with a car would realize that putting your car in reverse while moving forward almost always can kill your car in several ways. Same with trains. Had he punched it in reverse, he might have been stuck anyways.

    My final and biggest point is that, if the switch was open as it should have been, and has it has worked for YEARS AND YEARS, then would you expect a train to be reversing at 15 mph toward you in the dark at 2 AM? Pilots are often extremely tired by then. Many things lead to this tragic accident, but it would have needed a miracle for the unfortunate pilot to jump from the train.

    And as a pilot, our jobs are first and foremost to drive the train and keep our passengers safe. Guests come first. If he had managed to bail, he might have endangered others, and this is much like a captain and his ship.

    I can’t believe all the horrendous comments I’ve seen, on this site or others. None of this was done out of malicious intent and none of this can be blamed one pilot or the other being stupid. I cannot believe people are heartless enough to say such horrible things. You know who you are and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

    • Jim says:

      As a first person witness pre- and post- impact, I will tell you that purple was at a stand-still at time of impact and even minutes prior. There was a yell of ‘stop, stop, stop’ just prior to impact. Our vantage point was outside the bathrooms on the NW side of the trains impact; not the SE side all the pictures/videos show.

  5. New post: Video explanation of what likely went wrong from former Monorail Pilot. http://is.gd/1ol42 It’s clear this tragedy was avoidable

  6. Kurt Nelson says:

    Complete explanation of monorail crash: http://bit.ly/yuWeM

  7. Steve L says:

    There are a couple of problems with this. First let me state that I was a former trainer on the WDW monorail system. Anyone that actaully worked or piloted trains there knows you cannot go whatever speed you want. This was not the case with the older Mark IV trains but the trains that are operating now, Mark VI, put into service on 1989, have automatic speed limits that change depending on the section of track you are on. The only exception is when the safety system is being overridden. So the comment about cycle times is completely false. Drivers cannot go as fast as they want whenever they want.

    Another false comment – you cant just flip the switch on a forward moving train and somehow head out in the opposite direction. This is a multi ton train using electric motors. The pure physics of this statement is absurd and impossible.

    As for long shifts – long shifts will take a toll on anyone but the fact is that pilots are rotated every hour. A pilot NEVER drives more then one hour at a time. You might be lucky to drive 3-4 times in a regular 8 hour shift.

    Many of the other statements have a few holes but are possible.

  8. John Cutter says:

    RT @TheDisneyBlog Video explanation of what likely went wrong from former Monorail Pilot. http://is.gd/1ol42

  9. RT @TheDisneyBlog: Video explanation of what likely went wrong from former Monorail Pilot. http://is.gd/1ol42

  10. JT says:

    I think that is a decent video of what could have happened, but there is one oversight.

    -“Furthermore, the inexperienced driver in Purple (of the WDW College Program) was holding. He could have seen what was happening and hit the reverse button and peeled out of there.”-

    It is common policy to have the load doors open while holding in a station during a switch, or when you would otherwise not be able to leave the station. Without engaging an override the train cannot move, and it is extremely dangerous to move a monorail with the doors open, and with guests in the cars with the open doors. Given the footage I have seen, since the doors were closed and there were people on board, he had closed the doors and was probably attempting to move the monorail backwards and away from danger. So 7 seconds to close the doors, 3 seconds to log in and throw it into reverse, and another 3-4 seconds for the monorail to move, he probably just didn’t have enough reaction time.

    • Mark says:

      “it is extremely dangerous to move a monorail with the doors open”

      It’s not possible to drive with open doors (unless a door mechanically fails). Switching a train into Run with the doors open will cause the doors to close immediately and violently. They close with enough force to rock the train from side-to-side, and they don’t bounce back open if someone’s arm is in the way. However, this causes scattered panel alerts up and down the train, which prevents the driver from moving without first engaging the Door Bypass. That’s a hard switch to find in a hurry… it’s behind the driver and in a row of identical-looking switches.

      Anyway, it’s a moot point. Purple seems to have been holding (or moving) on open beam a bit south of the station. The people on board were coming from Epcot. The doors were closed because purple hadn’t yet reached the platform.

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  12. Kris Ketz says:

    RT @WESH RT @TheDisneyBlog: Video explanation of what likely went wrong from former Monorail Pilot. http://is.gd/1ol42

  13. Christopher R says:

    I have a few problems with this story, but I’m unsure if procedures have changed or if the reporting is bad.

    When I was a pilot at WDW (88-91) pilots were not allowed to back through switches. Therefore, a driver taking a train to shop from Epcot Beam would change cabs at either Epcot or Concourse (backing through the main-line aligned track in the case of a Concourse Cab Change), then drive forward through the switch onto Exterior and then around through the MK Station to the shop. That way, the driver is 100% sure of what is ahead of him or her. Does anyone know if this procedure has been changed?

    Another thing, why is there basically just one old man on the platform? Has the system become so “efficient” that Disney no longer staffs the stations? Why is this guy shooing a photographer away when there’s a kid trapped under Pink’s strobe?

    Very sad day for WDW Monorail System!

    Kudos to Steve L! You got your facts right! MKVI Monorail won’t speed and there is no way to improve cycle time by rushing trains around the beam. The only way to make the system faster is to accelerate the loading and unloading process, and that’s clearly not relevant in this accident. Similarly, pilots get cycled so they don’t get tired and the idea that long shifts or hot weather is responsible is just ridiculous.

    • Don S says:

      When I worked in monorails from 1986-1993, we were allowed to back through switches. We did it all the time. It was part of the Standard Operating Procedures.

  14. Heidi says:

    Such a sad event! Thank you for sharing this insight. I wondered about the rearview mirrors. I wonder if Disney will install cameras on the monorails for backing up procedures now. My heart goes out to Austin’s family!

  15. George M says:

    I, too, am an ex-railee, from 1978-1982, and drove the Mark IV. I went from Monorails to EPCOT the week that it opened, so drove the EPCOT beam just a few times. That being said, I do agree with the analysis given – makes a lot more sense than the scenario on the different news outlets. Regarding not backing through a switch – that was true also when I drove because of the sharpness of the switch, but was experimented with a few times when they were testing the new beam back in ’82 due to it being a “soft-switch”. And I worked many an extra-long shift when we were short-handed.

    A thought about the mirrors and visibility: On the Mark IV’s we did not have side mirrors, so the rearward visibility was almost non-existant. Because of this, we were trained to rely completely on the radio instructions we were given. Though I don’t know just how well a pilot can see out of the side mirrors, it strikes me that Pink was on a curve, which would have limited the pilot’s straight rear vision tremendously, and I would think that he was probably proceding strictly as instructed. Finally, it would seem that fatigue was definetly a factor, slowing down the reflexes of everyone concerned.

    My condolences to all at WDW and particulary Austin’s family and friends, and also to the Pink’s pilot.

  16. euripedes923 says:

    Shame on websites posting comments and/or videos, each with–at best–a tiny slice of the entire pie and everyone clamoring to display his or her ‘credentials’ as a so-called expert.
    OSHA and WDW have nothing to gain by whitewashing a complete investigation. I’ll wait until the professionals have painstakingly examined every aspect of the process and gathered all the facts, thank you.

  17. Pingback: Disney Fans Honor Fallen Monorail Pilot with Trending Topic Twitter | The Disney Blog

  18. Chris A. says:

    Google Reader: Former Monorail Pilot’s Explanation of Crash | The Disney Blog (via feedly) http://bit.ly/dxPsB

  19. Alex says:

    As someone who works at Disney in Engineering, I can ASSURE you that at low level, safety (termed Safe-D) is a pushed. Above the minimum wage employees and their low level managers, Disney is very frugal, all about $$ over safety, and cuts corners on safety EVERY day. You woudn’t ride a thing if you knew the huge problems lurking, and upper management knows, but knows they have people who believe in them, and will see what they are told. Point out an issue, and you are in trouble. There have been many monorail incidents, all covered up. BIG corners they would never get away with if not for antequated laws allowing immunity. You think the food now is poor quality and service stinks? Behind the scenes, it would blow your MIND! Guests are sheep at Disney, and upper management knows it. We were told the day of monorail wreck when it would be running, and their statement prepared. NTSB has minimal chance of fixing the broken mouse. Money is king. Quality and safety are embarassing.

  20. Kristin says:

    Alex, you must be a huge Disney Hater…..You should be thanking your lucky stars that you actually have a job…instead of complaining about the problems at Disney, why don’t you step up and try to fix them????
    It’s always the nice ones like Austin who gets the short end of the stick.
    Sympathy for his family.

  21. railroader says:

    I have over 25 years of service in operating trains in the passenger railroad industry. The fact that the Monorail was backing into the station, with passengers in the station on the platform, without someone in the rear pilot position is reckless and shows Disney’s lack of managerial awareness to the safe operation of a railroad. The NTSB will come down on Disney very hard.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young man who lost his life because of carelessness.

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