(Photo from Wikipedia.org)
We generally focus only on the fun and exciting news from Orlando’s theme parks and attractions but today we feel its necessary to report on the tragic incident that took place at Walt Disney World early this morning.
Two monorails collided at around 2 a.m. at the Transportation and Ticket Center, which is the hub for Walt Disney World’s transportation system. While the trains were reportedly mostly free of guests due to the late hour, Austin Wuennenberg, the pilot of Monorail Purple (pictured here from his Facebook page), was killed in the the accident. He was a 21-year-old Disney
College Program seasonal cast member.
In an official statement, Zoraya Suarez of Disney’s Public Relations told us, “Today we mourn the loss of our fellow cast member. Our hearts go out to his family and to those who have lost a friends and coworker. The safety of our guests and cast members is always our top priority. The monorail is out of service and we will continue to work closely with law enforcement to determine what happened and the appropriate next step.”
Currently, the entire Walt Disney World monorail system is closed pending investigation. OSHA and other law enforcement are on the scene. This is the first fatality on record for the Walt Disney World monorail system since its launch in 1971 and it will likely take quite some time to figure out exactly what went wrong.
The specifics of how the crash occurred are still unknown. It appears that Monorail Purple was stationary when Monorail Pink backed into it. We talked to a former Disney monorail pilot (who wishes to remain anonymous) who spoke with several of the monorail cast members who were working last night.
Every night, the monorails are brought into the shop behind the Magic Kingdom for maintenance. The pilot we spoke with explained that in order to move from the main monorail lines onto the beams that lead into the shop (a “spur line”), the monorails must travel to a switch in the track. The Walt Disney World monorail system does have an anti-collision system built in. However, in order to perform the switch, the anti-collision system must be disabled first.
It appears that in the case of this accident, Monorail Pink should have been on its way back to the maintenance shop and likely had its anti-collision system disabled in order to make the track switch. What is unknown is why the monorail did not follow the spur line toward the maintenance shop and instead headed to the Transportation and Ticket Center, which is located on the opposite side of the track loop from the shop.
The former monorail pilot we spoke to told us that during the anti-collision override stage, the monorails can travel a maximum of 15mph. If Monorail Purple was stationary at the time of the collision, then the two could not have collided at a speed greater than 15mph. If Monorail Purple was moving, the combined speed of both monorails could not have exceeded 30mph.
Monorail Central is located at the Transportation and Ticket Center, within the blacked-out windows guests can see when waiting to board. It is their job to keep track of where the monorails are on the tracks and direct them to their destinations. Unfortunately, as we learned, the cast members within Monorail Central do not have a visual representation of where the trains are on the tracks. Instead, they radio to the pilots to determine their location.
So in this case, we do not yet know if the pilot of Monorail Pink incorrectly reported his or her location, was unaware that he/she did not make the needed switch onto the spur line to head to the shop, or if there was some other factor involved.
On his Facebook page, Austin Wuennenberg, the unfortunate pilot of Monorail Purple, posted a status update on June 9, “has a 14 hr shift today.” On May 30, he similarly posted, “is working Monorails 1:00 to 1:00.” It’s clear that monorail pilots regularly have long work days so fatigue on the part of the pilot of Monorail Pink certainly cannot be ruled out as a possible contributing factor to the crash.
Here’s a round-up of other media covering the story:
One news organization has also posted a video taken moments after the crash but I will leave the link out of this post as it is potentially disturbing for some viewers.
If you have any more information on the incident, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below. Feel free to remain anonymous.
Update (7/6/09): The Walt Disney World Monorail system was back up and running today. Inspections made by Disney and OSHA have shown that the monorails are safe to ride. However, no guests are currently being allowed to ride in the monorail cockpits with the pilots.