Home » 6 Things Every Rider Should Know About Disney’s Monorail Systems

6 Things Every Rider Should Know About Disney’s Monorail Systems

The monorails are a major aspect of many of the Disney resorts, yet they don’t get nearly as much attention as the other popular attractions.

Here’s an attempt to rectify that in the form of a history of the transportation system that Walt Disney implemented over fifty years ago and subsequent executives at Disney continued after his passing.

Here are six things to ponder about Disney’s monorail systems the next time you hop on board.

1. The inspiration

Image: Disney


Ever since coming up with the concept of Disneyland, Walt Disney had been considering a monorail system. As it was for many of his early animated films, Europe was a major source of inspiration for how he’d bring his monorail idea to life.

On a visit to Germany in the summer of 1957, Walt’s engineering group analyzed the experimental monorail developed by the Alweg Corporation. Alweg had been operating their test monorail in Germany five years before Walt Disney came along. The Disney engineering group told Walt that the design had huge potential in terms of economics, stability and overall practicality. Within months of hearing the good news, Disney partnered with Alweg in 1958 to develop a working prototype of the monorail for Disneyland.

2. The Disneyland debut

Image: Disney

Originally the production of the monorail was assigned to the Standard Carriage Works of East Los Angeles, but, pressed for time, Walt Disney moved the project to his Burbank studios. Legendary designer Bob Gurr ran a Disney team that designed and constructed the cars, chassis, suspension and propulsion systems.

The first trains, named Mark I, were completed just barely in time for the Tomorrowland re-dedication at Disneyland, opening on June 14th, 1959. At first the monorail was just a sightseeing attraction in Tomorrowland, but it wouldn’t take long for it to become a legitimate and innovative form of transportation.

3. The Disneyland Monorail system in the early days

Image: Disney

In 1961, the monorail system at Disneyland became a full-fledged operation. Tomorrowland station was lengthened in order to handle the new four-car Mark II and Yellow train. The track extended two and a half miles outside of the park and a second platform, Disneyland Hotel station, was created. A few years later in 1968 Mark III trains were added and again the platforms were lengthened.

4. The Walt Disney World debut

The monorail system at Walt Disney World opened at the same time as Walt Disney World itself, in October of 1971. Even so, the development of the system had its share of hiccups. Read this Theme Park Tourist article to get an in-depth look at those issues.

What made it so difficult was that the Orlando area was pretty remote before it became a theme park destination. Some of the specific problems the Walt Disney Company encountered included the lack of availability of concrete beams, the delivery of those beams and the difficulty of getting those heavy beams on to the trains. However, everything ended up sorting itself out and Disney World premiered its monorail system on October 1, 1971. It’s proven to be a wild success in the last 40+ years. Currently the Walt Disney World monorails carry an average of over 150,000 passengers daily.

5. The EPCOT connection

Walt Disney’s plans for the monorails expanded beyond theme parks. He believed that monorails could solve the growing transit issues the major cities. Sadly, monorails never really caught on in the United States outside of theme parks. By the time the system had debuted at Disneyland, America (especially Disney’s home Los Angeles) had become too attached to its automobiles.

However, the Disney monorail system was still of huge importance to Walt Disney’s original vision of EPCOT as an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. It was intended to carry residents on more lengthy journeys, from the Magic Kingdom to factories to research labs to the airport to the fringes of EPCOT. But city authorities moved too slowly on the installation of mass transit systems like the monorail, and by the time of Walt Disney’s death cars were already the dominating method of transportation. The only area to adopt monorails as a major transportation system in the U.S. was Las Vegas (which originally used second-hand trains from Walt Disney World).

6. Monorails today

Monorails never became the global game changer that Walt Disney wanted them to be, but they remain a memorable part of the Disney park experience. You can even consider the monorail systems the most expansive and elaborate attractions at the Disney parks.

Disney has gone so far as to theme the trains to promote certain characters and films. Walt Disney World debuted Monorail TRON, in commemoration of Tron: Legacy. Later Disney World would also theme trains after movies like The AvengersIron Man 3 and Monsters University and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Disneyland, meanwhile, used the monorails to celebrate the debut of Cars Land with trains with names and narrations based on the Cars series of films. The trains at both parks have since reverted back to their original narratives, but it’s fun to see that Disney makes an effort to make the monorail system more than just a form of transportation. It’s truly a technological marvel and an important part of the Disney parks legacy.