Mark VI Monorail

Walt Disney World's monorail system is the backbone of the resort's tranport network - but it was very, very difficult to build.

It's no secret that Walt Disney was a big fan of monorail systems. When the first major expansion of Disneyland was completed in 1959, it included the Disneyland Monorail - the first daily operating monorail system in the Western Hemisphere.

Walt had seen a monorail system in aciton during a trip to Europe in 1958, prompting him to bring the concept stateside. But he had much bigger plans than simply installing the very limited run of track that was possible at Disneyland. In fact, he hoped to make the monorail the backbone of the transport system at Disney World, the new resort that was planned for Central Florida.

A monorail system would also have played an important role in Walt's experimental city, EPCOT. It would have carried residents on longer journeys, to the Magic Kingdom theme park, to factories and research laboratories on an industrial park and to the airport on the fringes of the city.

In the end, Walt died in December 1966, almost five years before the newly-renamed Walt Disney World opened. EPCOT was never built (at least not its original guise as a living, working city) - but Walt's successors did follow through on some of his ideas. One of those was the monorail, which was to play a major role in moving guests around the sprawling resort.

As it turned out, installing a monorail system in what was then a remote, lightly populated, swampy area of Florida was easier said than done. Disney faced numerous problems that nearly derailed the entire project...let's take a look at some of them.

Problem 1: The concrete beams

Monorail from below

Florida in the 1960s was, in some ways, quite different to the modern day state. It was lacking the extensive infrastructure that Walt Disney World would require, so the company was forced to build much of it itself, such an as enormous food distribution facility.

One other thing Florida lacked was a supplier capable of producing the gigantic beams that would be needed for the monorail. In fact, the nearest source turned out to be in Tacoma, Washington - more than 3,000 miles away. The company that produced them had previously worked on the monorail beams for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

Problem 2: Getting the beams onto a train

Monorail beam
Image: Jay Malone

The concrete beams that would make up the monorail's circuit would each be some 26 inches wide and 85 to 110 feet long. Building them using solid concrete would have made them much too heavy to transport across the vast distances required.

Instead, the manufacturer constructed the beams with a lightweight polystyrene core. While, in theory, this made them easier to handle, they still weighed some 55 tons each. Three rail cars would be needed simply to carry one beam.



The struggles (and expense) with purchasing, building, and shipping the concrete beams are precisely why the EPCOT monorail extension is built of Florida-sourced limestone and not concrete. This is why the EPCOT beam "sags" just a little between columns, while the Seven Seas circle does not.

move the concrete track by sea.

In reply to by ed (not verified)

there's a seaway between washington state and florida without going thru panama or around south america?

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