Exclusive Look at The Walt Disney World Railroad
Each and every day I ride a hot, packed, ozone-layer killing train. No, it’s not the Walt Disney World Railroad! I descend a dated, dirty set of steps that appears as though they’ve survived the second World War. The platform is either packed to the brim with angry commuters waiting for the late train, or completely empty because you’ve missed that late train by a mere 30 seconds.
As I watch the red brake lights of the train I just ran to catch speed away into the black abyss, I always find myself thinking of quite a different train, in a far-off World where riding a train is a pleasure. I imagine that I’m standing on a different platform, at the Magic Kingdom Train Station, and if I close my eyes hard enough, I can almost hear the whistle coming around the corner.
If you’re as big of a fan of the Walt Disney World Railroad as I am, I’m sure you’re disappointed that the train won’t be running again until at least next year…but don’t fret! One of the trains that make up The Walt Disney World Railroad is parked and open for visits. I got to get up close and personal with one of the engines. Let’s take a look!
The Current Main Street Train Station
Climbing aboard a train powered solely by steam is not an everyday opportunity in 2019 Americana. There won’t be an opportunity to ride the train at Magic Kingdom until 2020. That makes it the prime opportunity to learn all about the engines you’ve likely been taking for granted!
Until the Railroad re-opens, guests can experience the trains like never before- from a historian’s point of view! I had the chance to speak at length with a Cast Member who operates the trains. From the reason for the refurbishment straight on through to a little history behind the steam engines, let’s dive into the rich history of the Walt Disney World Railroad!
Because of construction on the new Tron attraction slated to open in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary in 2021, the Walt Disney World Railroad was one of the two attractions that was forced to go ‘down’ due to inhibiting construction.
The portion connecting Fantasyland to Tomorrowland has been ripped up to make room for the Tron coaster construction vehicles. The Railroad can’t operate without a connecting track system. Disney is using this chance to refurbish all the engines and cars in the fleet!
A History of the Walt Disney World Railroad
With 4 engines in operation and a 5th used solely for parts, the engines comprising the Walt Disney World Railroad have a history of their own…a history that has everything and nothing to do with Disney.
The engines were not built to transport Theme Park guests. Disney Imagineering is responsible for creating most other ride vehicles around the Walt Disney World Resort. These trains, however, were built long before Walt Disney World opened its doors to the public.
Built in the early 1900’s and acquired on a Walt Disney Company research trip to South America in the 1960’s, the trains were discovered on real, working farms! Steam trains contributed in large part to the production of crop turnover in the early part of last century. The trains’ industrial, no-frills exteriors would need to undergo some major renovating before their Magic Kingdom debuts.
Disney purchased 5 trains on that trip to the Yucatan, and each one is still owned by the Company today! When the engines made it to the States, 4 of the trains purchased were re-built from the wheels up, while the 5th was reserved solely for parts. Everything from the drivers’ quarters through to the decorative steam chimney were Imagineer-created and designed to fit in with the Magic Kingdom Story!
Since these are real, steam-powered engines I asked the knowledgeable Cast Member who graciously took the time to give me a full-blown history lesson just how far the trains could go on one tank of steam…and his answer shocked me! The Magic Kingdom loop takes about 22 minutes to complete. The train can run for nine hours though without needing to take on any water!
Disney likes to keep the tanks full to prevent any strain on the engines though, so the conductors and drivers fill up in Fantasyland every other time the train stops at the station. When the trains were re-built for the Park, new water tanks were installed and sit behind the driver, allowing for more gallons of water to be stored on each train!
The train that I had the opportunity to explore was the first of the fleet to undergo a refurbishment, and I got a taste of what the finished products will look like when they’re completed in 2020. I certainly miss the steam-powered tour of Magic Kingdom.
Having the rare opportunity to discover secrets and history about one of the most famous attractions at the Resort is an experience every guest should take advantage of in 2019 and beyond! Do you miss riding the Railroad? Have you had the chance to learn more about the engines during this time of refurbishment? Leave me a comment and let me know!
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