The Walt Disney World Monorail had a breakdown between EPCOT and the Transportation & Ticket Center, necessitating an evacuation of guests by the Reedy Creek Fire Department. This post shares what we know so far, plus commentary about the overdue replacement of the WDW monorail fleet.
To quickly bring you up to speed, monorail yellow suddenly stopped due to a failure of some sort (more on that below) this morning as it was carrying guests on the EPCOT beam at Walt Disney World. The breakdown was first reported at 9:50am Eastern by FOX 35 News in Orlando.
Reedy Creek confirmed to Central Florida news stations that the Walt Disney World monorail was stuck near the EPCOT toll plaza, and that both Reedy Creek Fire Department and Orange County Fire Department responded to evacuate guests. Based on the timing of photos and reports, it appears that the evacuation took a little over an hour (approximately) to complete.
One guest who was trapped on the monorail told FOX 35 News he could smell the burning rubber and a bit of smoke. “There was a loud bang explosion, and then we kind of saw a big flash of light. After that, the monorail slowed down,” the guest told the local Orlando news outlet.
Social media posts show emergency crews from Reedy Creek and Orange County evacuating guests from the Walt Disney World monorail with hydraulic lifts:
A Disney World monorail came to a complete stop this morning while on its way to Epcot. A passenger on board told me they heard a loud explosion sound & then a flash of light. His cart was evacuated about 15 mins ago. Working to confirm what caused it to break down. @fox35orlandopic.twitter.com/BhyMVQ6GSQ
Following the evacuation, Walt Disney World issued a statement: “This morning, the monorail experienced a flat tire near the EPCOT parking lot toll plaza. No guests or cast members have reported injuries, and all passengers were safely evacuated.”
Note that this is not the first time a monorail has suffered a prolonged breakdown in the last month. Monorail lime had to be towed by the tractor just last week; monorail yellow was stuck on the EPCOT beam about a month ago for several hours with no passengers aboard, causing the EPCOT line to operate in shuttle mode (meaning it doesn’t circle the inside of the park, just goes back and forth between EPCOT and the TTC stations…taking a lot longer as a result). And those are just the extended breakdowns we know about!
As noted above, it was monorail yellow that was evacuated on Halloween. Walt Disney World did a staggered refurbishment or refresh of the monorail fleet back in 2021, with yellow reentering the lineup in December of that year.
Regardless, nothing ever came of that rumor and it fizzled out even pre-COVID. Whatever chances existed of Walt Disney World getting a new monorail fleet were likely fully killed by the closure and phased reopening.
Irrespective of that, Walt Disney World will likely need to replace the current monorail fleet in the not-too-distant future. At some point, Disney’s legal department will step in and demand that the monorails either be replaced and the system (again) modernized, or they stop operating due to the liability they present.
Running this fleet indefinitely risks further incidents, which could expose the company to negative PR or worse. Walt Disney World’s monorails have become increasingly unreliable in recent years, to the point that if we have an ADR or are otherwise tight on time, we typically avoid them due to fears of a breakdown or delay.
Likewise, we actually now prefer staying at Skyliner resorts because the gondolas are more predictable and reliable than the monorails. (Save for during summer storm season, when that is very much not the case!) Not only that, but the pricing premium isn’t as high along the Skyliner.
This is really unfortunate, as longtime Walt Disney World fans likely remember a time when the monorail was nice and efficient. Likewise, those who have visited Tokyo Disney Resort in recent years no doubt have witnessed firsthand what that is still like, with monorails that run on time, don’t randomly break down, etc.
In fact, Tokyo’s much newer monorails were just replaced a few years ago with brand-new models! Tokyo Disney Resort replaced its well-maintained and reliable monorail fleet that was 18 years old at the time. Florida’s fleet has been in use since 1989, are now over 30 years old, and break down for extended periods so frequently now that it’s become a non-story when they do (unless there’s an evacuation!).
In fairness, it’s worth noting that, pursuant to laws governing public transportation in Japan, fares are charged on the monorail. Single use tickets are around $2.50, while 4-day unlimited passes cost roughly $13 per adult. It’s also fair to point out that the differences between the two resorts’ monorail systems are also reflective of cultural attitudes towards mass transportation.
Americans are comfortable with crumbling or non-existent mass transit infrastructure, and many efforts to improve public transportation have been undermined. We are a car culture, and in its defense, the roads around Walt Disney World are great–and getting better! By contrast, public transportation is the lifeblood of Japan, and there’s great national pride in these systems. It’s also easy for guests there to draw comparisons to their real-world rail options, such as the Shinkansen (bullet train). But I digress.
Many Walt Disney World fans have speculated that the monorails ceasing to run is exactly what management wants. In my view, this is a baseless conspiracy theory. Once you get past the operational expenses, it’s not all that plausible that Walt Disney World wants to get rid of the monorails. Yes, the system costs money to operate and maintain, and a new fleet would easily cost north of $100 million.
However, the monorails are the main selling point of Deluxe Resorts near Magic Kingdom. Without them, the price ceiling on those rooms is not nearly as high. While the argument can be made that the stratospheric pricing of all Deluxes is not in line with the offered amenities, that differential is most pronounced at these monorail results–and that’d be even more so without the monorail, which is a significant draw. Even with a perceived strong economy and operational monorail system, the occupancy rate at these resorts is nowhere near 100%.
If you’re skeptical of this, contrast room pricing at Pop Century and Caribbean Beach in 2024 with rates in 2019 and earlier. While all resorts have increased in price over that time, there have been outsized percentage increases at the Skyliner resorts. (This is something we actually just discussed at length in Skyliner Gondolas Closing for Routine Refurbishment in Early 2024. Pretty much the same sentiment applies with the monorail.)
To that point, replacement of the monorail fleet necessitating extended, system-wide downtime is actually a double-edged sword. Room rates at the Polynesian, Grand Floridian, and Contemporary are likely part of the reason a thorough overhaul has yet to occur to the Walt Disney World Monorail.
With each of the recent resort overhauls, refurbishments, and DVC expansions at these resorts, there have been issues. Guest satisfaction and occupancy have taken hits, as did the frequency of guest recovery efforts. All of this has had a cost, and so too would significant scheduled monorail downtime. Personally, I think it would’ve been savvy to do this before opening the new Poly DVC Tower and further burdening the already overburdened monorails, but what do I know!
Regardless, the current monorail system cannot operate indefinitely, so something has to give. Just like Spaceship Earth, an announcement of more than a ‘band aid’ refurbishment is an inevitability at some point. Although I wouldn’t bank on it, perhaps we’ll hear something official by next summer’s D23 Expo. Here’s hoping!
Have you experienced downtime or delays with the Walt Disney World Monorails in the last few years? Do you think the monorail fleet is due to be replaced? Have you experienced the monorail at Tokyo Disney Resort? How does it compare to the WDW Monorail for you? Think it’s time WDW guests held the monorail to a higher standard? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of this news? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!