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What should Disney change after Monorail Death?

Many voices in the theme park industry and across Disneyana are beginning to struggle with what should happen next at Walt Disney World. What should happen now that a life has been tragically and unnecessarily lost?

I’m not yet ready to make any suggestions as  own ideas are still developing, however, I think this opinion piece from Theme Park Insider editor Robert Niles is worth reading.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, and it appears that the federal agency will have much to criticize in its report. Not only does there appear to have been operational failures by monorail personnel, leading to the accident, but also Disney’s monorail system design was fatally flawed.

The accident appears to have happened because Monorail Pink, which was to have transferred to another monorail beam, did not make the track switch, and instead proceeded backward down the Epcot line, back into the station where it collided with Monorail Purple, killing driver Austin Wuennenberg. Apparently, the monorails’ automatic collision avoidance system was switched off during the track switch.

And that is the design flaw.

Robert goes on to suggest that as a consequence the Walt Disney Company should lose control of the Reedy Creek District. I’m not sure I’d go that far right now, but I can foresee a circumstance or two where I might get behind the idea.

I’m hoping the OSHA and NTSB reports will be very insightful as to what went wrong and what might be done to prevent this from occuring again (Disney has already implemented steps that will prevent it, at least in the short term).

There are lots of questions that are unanswered as to what went wrong. And that says something in itself. But for now we wait.

11 thoughts on “What should Disney change after Monorail Death?”

  1. The answer is actually quite simple and it comes from Disneyland:
    Anytime a monorail is backing up, there is a pilot and only a pilot in the rear nose cone, there is also at least a button that stops the monorail, as I recall there is also a button that immediately cuts the power to the entire track (or at least that section and the section before and after) in the Disneyland Monorail (at least this is how it worked when they were building California Adventure).

  2. Niles is obviously trying to cause controversy and get his article read. It seems a bit odd that a company can run a town’s government but it hasn’t been a problem in the past and even still isn’t. EPCOT codes are far more strict than those of Orange county. I feel safer on Disney property than on Universal’s. Even with that, more eyes don’t solve problems, they only cause it. Its been 35 years and they constantly modify and change procedures. Their track change procedure was obviously not the best, but a few more modifications will make it safer. This seemed to be a freak accident, but we’ll see what the reports say.

  3. I’m pretty sure he’s not just trying to digg up some hits. When you read down the comments he makes some very valid points. I’m not saying I agree with Robert, but they’re at least worth considering.

  4. There’s no need for Disney to lose control of Reedy Creek. These accidents are horrible and they shouldn’t happen, but they are very rare. The Disney/Reedy Creek pairing has a good record, especially when you consider that they are dealing with millions of people every year who are unfamiliar with the surroundings and only visiting.

  5. I’d rather be on a Disney run monorail then a public Metrolink we have out here in LA. Come to think of it I’d feel safer if Disney took over and ran the metrolink trains.


  6. On my recent trip over July 4 many cast members were complaining loudly and I didn’t think many knew what they were doing. Some seemed overworked. I am very interested in the business side of Disney, so I was surprised by what I saw. The uniforms even looked worn out. I also saw many maintenance issues within the resort and in the parks. Now, sadly, there is a death. While accidents are rare, Walt Disney World needs to maintain the high operational standards of years past.

  7. I think that given Disney’s remarkably LOW number of accidents overall, taking away their control of Reedy Creek would be quite unnecessary, and very much a knee-jerk reaction. Especially since, we just don’t know if it would actually help.

  8. I believe a simple thing can fix this entire problem.


    Its been said that the pilots can not see behind them, but what if they could? Yes, the safety systems are good to have in place, but if a wide-view camera was mounted, all decisions and commands can be finalized by the pilot, and they no longer need to rely on information that may contain errors.

    –Daniel L

  9. silly – as tragic as the accident was, it was made moreso mainly b/c there had never been a death (indeed, hardly an accident!) in 38 years of operation. for anyone to suggest they should lose ‘home rule’ seems… drastic. imagine applying the same standards to any other mode of transportation.

    was there a design flaw? almost surely. but is this alone reason to make “major” changes (e.g. scrapping the monorail or giving control to another entity)??? surely not.

    I just returned from a week in WDW a day or two prior to the accident. there are probably things I’d say could be changed/improved, but never once did I feel unsafe on the monorail (or bus, or boat). I read a quote from one woman who said she might never ride the monorail again b/c she wouldn’t feel safe… I’m sure she then promptly buckled into her car and drove 400 miles home – during which time she will surely have a far greater chance of being in an accident (fatal or not).

  10. From: The voice of MANY former Monorail Pilots

    First, we’d like to extend our DEEPEST SYMPATHIES to the Wuennenberg family and friends and to all of our former co-workers that are still with the WDW Monorail Department and will be forever haunted by this tragedy.

    Second, there are still some questions we have that maybe the FCC can help answer by making available for those that want to hear it (please not for the media to play publicly … the family has suffered enough) the Radio Transmissions of that night.
    However, based on the information that we have collectively received, I’d like to respond with this statement and have it heard by WDW Management and NTSB or OSHA officials so that an incident such as this never happens again !!!

    Yes, the Monorail system was designed with lots of “Bells and Whistles” as one former pilot stated on the air. HOWEVER, these bells and whistles that were placed on the trains and beams were only a part of the system that assured the utmost safety during switching procedures and during every day operations.

    The Standard Operating Procedures (s.o.p.) of old, used to be that we never solely trusted the computers or machines or even other people. The ultimate responsibility of the safety of the guests on board and to the Monorail Train itself was up to us as the Pilot in a train. It was critical for us to watch all other trains and to listen to all radio traffic going on to be AWARE of where the trains were or where they were headed. The computers were a “back up” system to assist us since it was nearly impossible to drive the trains visually only with so many buildings and trees that prevented us from seeing everything. Radio procedures were used as a back up as well when “visual clearance” was not possible – such as, it used to be necessary to call for “Radio Clearance to the Contemporary” because we could not see if a train was already in the station at the time.

    This being said, we do not fault the drivers alone for this tragic accident from this past weekend.

    It appears to all of us, that the Standard Operating Procedures that were drilled into us as being VITAL for safety have become “slackened” and/or that Management has become complacent and allowed such. Many of us saw this “complacency” coming …some of us tried to fight it. I’d like this statement read so that ALL are aware, and so that those in the position of being able to make change, will do so.

    * Central Leads used to have to remain in the “Central Console” at all times, but most importantly during any switching procedures. The reason for this was so they could monitor the lighted board that showed the alignment of the beams. Also so they would be in a “perch” of sorts and be able to visually see the trains with their own eyes. Most importantly, so that they would be in a place of little distraction so that they could monitor every radio transmission and every movement and whereabouts of the trains. This was extremely critical during switching procedures because of the intricacies of the procedure that caused the Pilots to have to “override” the emergency stop (mapo) systems. This system was only allowed to be bypassed by the Pilot with “Central’s” radio permission.

    * Maintenance personnel used to be required to stand beneath the switches in order to visually check that the beams were properly aligned when switched over. Our understanding is that now there are cameras for this. We see no problem with that as long as the cameras are working properly, someone is actually looking at them and that there is no confusion as to which beam / switch is being seen on that screen by that individual.

    * Switching procedures used to have to be done with the driver going forward through the switch. The Monorail trains were purposely designed to be able to be driven out of either end of the train. The driver would have to “switch ends” in a station and go in reverse on that main beam to be in placement to move through the switch and onto the spur line in FORWARD. This was trained to us as being necessary so that the Pilot was able to visually see as well that the switches were in place and that you were headed onto the spur line as being directed by “Central”.

    Current Monorail Pilots, please be vigilant in seeing that SAFETY is the utmost priority over “Courtesy, Show and Efficiency”. Drive Trainers, please stress the importance of following all safety procedures and hopefully the above mentioned are still in the S.O.P. – if not, it’s time to go back and change it again. Sadly, tragedy is often the only catalyst for change.
    All, PLEASE PAY ATTENTION AND BE CAREFUL. The safety record of the Monorail system is great compared to other transportation systems, but obviously is not perfect. Please strive for EXCELLENCE as was and should still be the “Disney” way.

    R.I.P. Austin.

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