RUMOR: Walt Disney World Has Not Actually Ordered a New Monorail Fleet from Bombardier, Despite Mounting Safety Concerns

VIDEO: Monorail Teal Gets Towed Through Epcot After Yet Another Breakdown
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It’s been apparent to almost everyone who rides on the Walt Disney World monorail system that this once-futuristic mode of transportation is in need of an extreme makeover. Between the frequent mechanical troubles and mounting safety concerns, it’s clear that the current fleet of Mark VI monorails is in dire need of a major overhaul. No other fleet of Disney monorails has been kept in service past their 20-year design life. Earlier this year, we chronicled the history of the Disney monorails in our story entitled The Past, Present, and Uncertain Future of the Walt Disney World Monorail System.

The current fleet of Mark VI trains came online between 1989 and 1991, “completing the modernization of the Walt Disney World Monorail System,” as the announcer tells you as you ride from Epcot towards the Transportation and Ticket Center. With the system modernized in 1991, what does that mean 27 years later for the twelve trains of the Highway in the Sky that have a design lifetime of 20 years? It means Walt Disney World needed a new fleet about 6 or 7 years ago. Ever since the now-infamous door incident on Monorail Red in early January, it seemed everyone on earth except Bob Chapek and Bob Iger realized that the monorail fleet needed to be replaced.

We reported back in April that internal sources at Disney had been saying that a new fleet was ordered from Bombardier of Canada, the same company that built the Mark VI trains for Walt Disney World, and one of only a few companies in the Western hemisphere with the capability to build mass-transit class monorails. A short time after that, legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr, who was instrumental in the design of most Disney monorails, reiterated the very same information.

So what has happened since we reported those rumors back in April? A door fell off Monorail Green after an ECV struck the door at the Grand Floridian monorail station just last week.  In June, passengers had to remove windows from Monorail Lime after it became disabled without power for an extended time. Basically, nothing to make anyone think the monorail system in its current state can last much longer.

Photo courtesy of @stalecupcakes on instagram

But yet, it seems that Disney hasn’t, in fact, ordered a new fleet of monorails from Bombardier. A somewhat esoteric but far-reaching accounting standard called IFRS 15, which is an International Financial Reporting Standard promulgated by the International Accounting Standards Board, took effect in January 2018. This new standard deals with how companies recognize revenue from contracts with customers. In accordance with this standard, Bombardier must report “significant orders” from customers in its quarterly financial reports. Based on the past several quarterly reports and the 2017 annual report, these “significant orders” tend to be contracts of about $100 million or more.

I think it’s safe to assume that a new fleet of monorails for Walt Disney World would cost at least $100 million. If a new fleet would actually cost less than that, then shame on Disney for not upgrading the fleet sooner. How much money did they spend on rebuilding Monorails Pink and Purple after the fateful night in 2009 when Monorail pilot Austin Wunnenberg lost his life in a tragic accident? How much did they spend trying (and failing) to add a new signaling system to 20-plus-year-old trains?

Some estimates put the cost of a new fleet at $250 million or more. A 2017 order for 108 INNOVIA 300 cars was valued at $266 million, or roughly $2.5 million per car. A fleet of 12 monorails with 6 cars each would thus be around $177 million at that pricing. Even if Disney ordered the INNOVIA 200 model, which is based on the Mark IV and Mark VI system, the cost wouldn’t drop considerably. Even if the value of the contract is not disclosed, Bombardier still lists the contract in the “significant orders” section of their financial reports, as they did for sales of transportation systems to customers in Thailand and Germany last year.

But if you examine in detail Bombardier’s third-quarter report, which was released earlier this month, you’ll not see any mention of any orders placed by Disney in 2018 (nor in 2017). What does this mean? The most obvious answer is that Disney management seems to think that the current fleet of Walt Disney World monorails is just fine for at least another 3-4 years (which is likely how long it would take Bombardier to deliver a new fleet, even as a rush order).

It may be possible but, in my opinion, highly unlikely, that Disney placed an order for less than an entire fleet, so Bombardier didn’t have to disclose it as a “significant order.” This would be very shortsighted by Disney, because on one hand they are acknowledging that they need new monorails but on the other hand not willing to shell out the money to get enough of them to replace the whole fleet. Although it’s quite possible that even half a fleet would cost in excess of $100 million.

Another possible scenario is that Disney has actually ordered a new fleet of monorails, but not from Bombardier. We mentioned in our history piece that Hitachi built the monorail system at Tokyo Disney Resort. Although it is certainly feasible that Hitachi could build a fleet of monorails for Walt Disney World, it would likely take much longer since Hitachi isn’t at all that familiar with the system and its rather specific requirements, whereas Bombardier is quite familiar with the current fleet. Bombardier actually licensed Disney’s monorail patents in order to build the Las Vegas Monorail, which is also based on the Mark IV system. I would estimate that a Hitachi-built fleet would take significantly longer than 3-4 years to be delivered. The only other major supplier of monorails is Siemens, which was rebuffed by Disney on its offer of a new fleet of monorails for free.

Despite frighteningly frequent breakdowns, technical problems, and safety issues, Disney has yet to make any official statement on the future of the monorails at Walt Disney World.

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About the author

Jason Diffendal

Jason has been a lifelong fan of the Disney parks since his first visit at age 2. His biennial pilgrimages during his childhood accelerated into semi-annual visits by the year 2000, when he also Joined the Disney Vacation Club. Luckily, Jason’s bride-to-be was also a Disney fan, which allowed his infatuation with the Disney parks to continue, and ultimately culminated in their wedding at Disney's Wedding Pavilion in September 2003. Early in 2007, Jason began his involvement with the planning for what became Celebration 25, the unofficial fan gathering to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Epcot®. Soon thereafter, Jason met Tom Corless at a pin trading meet in New Jersey, and became part of the WDW News Today podcast starting with Episode 17. Jason has been involved with the WDWNT Network ever since, and can't seem to escape no matter how hard he tries.
Contact Jason at [email protected]

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  • Iger is far worse than Eisner, as bad as HE was, but I guess he wants to wait for someone to be killed or maimed before he does anything. Oh, if only Walt were still around…..

  • I will preface this with the agreement that I think Walt Disney World is due for a new Monorail fleet. That being said, I think Walt Disney World is being beat up a bit unfairly on the existing system issues.
    Let’s address the door coming off Monorail Green just recently, how is this a maintenance issue? A guest in a scooter rams the closed door, causing it to detach, if the same guest rams a wall in que for Peter Pan in his scooter with enough force, they are going right through the drywall, so why are we picking on Disney for the door popping open? Shouldn’t we be asking how fast and how large was the person operating that horrible scooter was going?

    Now Monorail Lime, and the windows beings removed, again, the issue was loss of power, The Monorail car is NOT self powered, it pulls power from the beam. You have a power system that was installed in 1970-71, 45 plus years old, the original engineers who built the system, are gone, there are probably incomplete records, and a direct connection to ambient temperature, and power fall outs, and weather issues, all of these factors makes troubleshooting a DC power system difficult. Why is it the Monorails fault that a car loaded with passengers needed to remove the windows for some well needed ventilation?? Most of the various issues with the system going down are all power related, so again, not an issue of the vehicles, just the power grid. Maybe we should be wondering if we should expect some refurbishment time for the beam? Just like all the attractions, nothing operates indefinitely without some occasional major refits.

    The accident with Monorail Black and Red was, tragically, operator error, and Disney has been working hard to automate the system to add another layer of safety. The fall out was guests no longer being able to ride in the front anymore, sad.

    Now there is the piece falling of Monorail Blue, as well as the door opening on Monorail Red, these certainly go directly to the age of the fleet, but I’m sure Disney has stepped up it’s inspection and maintenance checklist.

    So lets just take a deep breath before we trounce on the age of the fleet, yes, I think we all would like to see the next generation of Monorails, but even a brand new one is going to have to draw power from the older infrastructure. Disney does well to keep things close to their vest, I say let them do their thing, we have to admit, they still deliver an experience well above the rest.

    • First of all Big Al, the accident occurred between Monorail Pink and Purple… NOT Black and Red. And more importantly, it was NOT due to operator error. It was a completely avoidable incident had the responsible parties been where they were supposed to be.
      Furthermore, it was irresponsible for Jason (the author of the above article) to even reference the accident since this is about a rumor of the purchase of a new fleet.

      • You’re weave is a little loose..

        “it was NOT due to operator error. It was a completely avoidable incident had the responsible parties been where they were supposed to be”

        Per the NTSB report:The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report today citing a shop panel operator’s failure to properly position a switch-beam and the central coordinator’s failure to verify the position of that switch-beam before authorizing a monorail train to move in a reverse direction as the probable cause of a 2009 fatal accident on the monorail system.

        Sounds a lot like human error, I’m just saying.

        And why is Jason at fault for mentioning this incident in relation to a new monorail fleet?
        A) It’s his article to write as he deems.
        B) A new fleet will certainly have more safety features installed that were simply not available when the current fleet was built, certainly a major point of the article.

        Have some turkey sandwiches, and relax a little, you seem a little upset.

      • Basketweaver, if you are going to be snotty to someone, at least get the facts right. From the NTSB final report:
        “The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report today citing a shop panel operator’s failure to properly position a switch-beam and the central coordinator’s failure to verify the position of that switch-beam before authorizing a monorail train to move in a reverse direction as the probable cause of a 2009 fatal accident on the monorail system.” “Operator error” refers to anyone responsible for operating the system, not just the monorail’s operator. This sure seems like operator error to me.

  • My concern is that even if Disney did order new monorails from Bombardier, would Bombardier be able to deliver?? They are WAY behind in their delivery of Toronto Streetcars and many of those delivered have already been sent back for welding repairs.

    ‘Under the original terms of the $1-billion purchase, Bombardier was supposed to deliver all 204 new vehicles by the end of 2019. But the company has consistently blown deadlines; it was supposed to have supplied a total of 148 cars by the end of 2017, but instead managed just 59.’ (credit: Toronto Star, Jan 7, 2018)

    I’m not sure if the area that handles monorails is the same one that handles streetcars but if it is I would be greatly concerned!!

  • Interesting article Jason. Just one other thought… it seems likely to me that, assuming Disney’s new monorails will be a custom design and not “commercial off the shelf”, I would expect Disney would probably first place a development contract with Bombardier. That contract would likely be valued in the tens-not-hundreds of millions of dollars. Then once the final design was approved, a separate multi-hundred dollar production contract would follow. I have no special knowledge of this particular project, but have done business with both Disney and Bombardier.

  • There is NOTHING WRONG with the old Monorails.

    This is nothing more then trying to create a BIG STORY over NOTHING.

    Does anyone know how old trains are on Amtrak??

    They are still using cars from the 50’s and had them updated.

    Trains last for 1 hundred years if rebuilt.

    How about the Walt Disney World Railroad??

    Engines built in 1925 still running, and Coaches built for the opening of WDW making them almost 50 years old.

    So suddenly Monorail Trains become some kind of an obsolete DANGER because they are 25 years old.

    I have no problem with riding the Monorails At Walt Disney World, and I am the kind that would not set foot on something which I though had any issue.

      • Typical Sulley comment with idiotic response.

        I have not been there in a few months, but I will be back after the holidays…

        Would you like to meet up and spend the day at Disney?

        I will point out the correct visions for you to learn what is right and what is wrong.

    • Yea, but Disney doesn’t maintain their trains and is overkill on cutbacks and cutting every corner and then some. Safety only matters a marketing ploy, no real concerns for guest safety matters, only ways to get more money from customers with giving them the very least.

      • There is plenty of maintenance which takes place.

        I believe Disney is “self insured” which means that they themselves have to pay any claims, so it would be in their best interest to operate safely.

        Cut backs have more effect on down time, then it does on safety; it just takes things out of service until they are repaired.

        In my opinion, the biggest issue with the Monorails, is the many times they just do not run them, and I personally think it could be a security ploy, not a maintenance issue.

  • I applaud you for checking the 10Qs. Regarding Bombardier, there is one other possibility which is that they received an engineering contract but haven’t gotten one for the actual purchase. I also think you are overestimating the issues that Hitachi would have adapting to the WDW system. Engineering companies do this sort of thing on a regular basis. If they didn’t, you would never see a company changing suppliers. Another possibility is that Disney wants to adapt some of the features of the Tokyo system at WDW. That would make sense if they want commonality or like some of the features of the Tokyo system. One final consideration is that the team that deals with these kinds of things is currently fully involved in the skyway project and they don’t have the manpower to deal with both.

  • I guess there waiting for someone to get hurt first at a $125 a day for a park ticket and $5 for a coke they cant afford it

  • OSHA or someone needs to shut the monorail down at WDW honestly. It’s borrowed time til an electrical system they don’t maintain right starts on fire or to smoke, and passengers in there have no chance. They’d depend on Reedy Creek Fire to save them..and they are owned by Disney and also huge cut backs in safety. Every company has a right to a profit, but Disney has stretched it too far with lack of safety and cut backs.

  • “Machines do not last forever, and typically in the transportation industry we design them for 20 year service.” Gurr responded “We’re closing in to the 30th year of service there” – Bob Gurr

    He also referred to the monorail as the “duct tape monorail”.

  • I am wondering when the author or any of the commenters last visited Disney. We have been recently, and we noticed two new monorail trains. To be fair, you would have to pay attention to notice them. The differences are minor. The most noticeable difference is the nose on either end is shorter. Also, the paint is obviously newer. I cannot remember the colors, so if anyone is particularly interested, I will check next time I am out there. In short, I suspect Disney is ordering a couple of trains at a time and just sliding them into service as a less obvious upgrade.

  • Sorry guy we are to focused on building Avatar land and other IP nonsense for our parks! We only care about the visitors money! Also Iger is really a clone of Eisner without modifications ;)

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