The Disney World Monorail opened in 1981, with an extension to Epcot opening in 1982 when that park opened. It serves the Magic Kingdom and Epcot theme parks, as well as the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), the location of the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom. An extension to the Animal Kingdom theme park was proposed when it opened but never made it further than the talking stages. The beams for each of the routes are easily recognizable. They are concrete and look similar to the concrete used on the Washington MetroRail's elevated structures. From the ground, it looks like there are two rails. But, upon careful inspection, you will realize that one of the rails is the "third rail", providing power for the train. The other is the one actually guiding the train. The top of the beam itself is flat and has nothing on it other than the markers (described later). The train merely rides above the top of the beam. In addition to one beam for each of the routes, there is a connection between the TTC-Epcot beam and the TTC-Magic Kingdom beam. There is also a siding that runs along the edge of the Magic Kingdom near Tomorrowland. I believe it leads to the "shops and yard" for the monorail.
There are a total of 12 trains for the monorail, each manufactured by Bombardier. The exteriors are painted white with a colored stripe around the whole body below the windows. It is this stripe that identifies the train for communication purposes. The colors of the stripes are red, blue, green, yellow, orange, black, purple, pink, gold, silver, lime, and coral. Each train is 6 cars. The cars are permanently coupled with articulated joints between each. There is a full width cab (no railfan window) in the end cars. The interior of all the cars is the same. There are two rows with 5 seats each at each end, as well as two rows of 5 seats in the middle of the car. You cannot pass between the two halves of each car. There are two doors on each side of each car that open outwards, like the front doors of an RTS bus. There are also poles for standees.
The trains, contrary to popular belief, are not automatically driven nor do they have the capability to run automatically. This is quite astonishing since systems capable of using Zero Person Train Operation were already in operation as early as the 1960s. There is a single lever controller with five points for accelerating and five points for braking. The first point will bring the train to 15 MPH, the second to 20, and so on until the fifth and final, which will have the train reach its maximum speed of 40 MPH. Each train is equipped with the MAPO system, their form of cab signaling. Unlike on the Washington MetroRail, where the operator is given a speed readout, MAPO merely illuminates one of three lights, green, yellow, or red. A green light means the train in front is far enough ahead to operate at the maximum speed for that section of track. A yellow light means your train is too close to the one in front and you either need to stop by the next "marker", a set of four reflectors on the top of the beam, or have a really good reason for having not stopped the train on your own. If you chose the second option, once you pass the marker, you will get a red and the train will go into emergency braking and stop on its own. Operators are allowed 3 such overruns before termination. The door controls are located on a vertical panel on the exterior of the train on each side next to the door to the cab.
There are three routes. The first two run on the same route, a loop serving both the Magic Kingdom and the TTC. The first route runs in a counterclockwise direction on the outer track, making no other stops other than the TTC and Magic Kingdom. The second route operates clockwise on the inner track stopping at the TTC, Polynesian Resort, Grand Floridian Resort, Magic Kingdom, and Contemporary Resort. The third route runs from the TTC to Epcot. The best way to tour the entire system is once you finish your tour of a park (days you end at Magic Kingdom and Epcot are the best but don't try this after the evening shows) to start at the TTC (if you start at Magic Kingdom, you will do that loop one and a half times but that is perfectly OK, it means you do that much more railfanning), do the express loop once, then ride to Epcot and bus to your hotel, provided you are staying at a Disney resort other than the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, or Polynesian. If you are at Epcot, do the reverse. Start at Epcot, go to the TTC, then ride the TTC-Magic Kingdom loop and catch the resort bus at Magic Kingdom. If you are at the Contemporary, Grand Floridian, or Polynesian, you have monorail stops in your hotels. Just get on board and start the tour. The whole tour takes approximately 60-90 minutes, depending on how patient you are for cab rides. If you want to ensure you get a cab ride (highly recommended), tell one of the attendants at each boarding station you want one and they will tell you where to wait. Keep in mind due to the popularity of cab rides (yes, non-railfans like them too), you most likely won't be able to do full loops in the cab (you won't make it from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom and back to the TTC without waiting for the follower or riding in the passenger car for the second half). There is also a maximum capacity of 4 people in the cab (not including the operator). Happy railfanning, and don't forget to visit the theme parks!
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