Reports are coming in about the collision overnight at the Epcot Station of a monorail collision. The incident happened around 2:00 AM when one monorail train collided with another one at the station, killing its driver. Our condolences go out to the family of this cast member, his friends and the Disney cast for their loss.
Statement from Disney
Today, we mourn the loss of our fellow cast member. Our hearts go out to his family and those who have lost a friend 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 steps.
Mike Griffin, vice president of public affairs at Walt Disney World
The monorail service to Epcot has been suspended today pending an investigation; no word on when it will reopen.
UPDATE: 2009.07.05 8:59 am
This is the first fatal monorail incident in 38 years since service began at the Walt Disney World Resort. Reedy Creek Emergency Services were on site and pronounced the driver of the monorail that crashed dead at the scene of the accident. The driver of the other monorail was transported to a local hospital. There are no other reports of injuries.
UPDATE: 2009.07.05 10:00 am
Just got off the phone with the folks at Walt Disney World Guest Services. They have informed me that the entire monorail system will remain closed until further notice.
UPDATE: 2009.07.05 12:00 pm
Just back from Epcot and the Ticket and Transportation Center(TTC) at the Walt Disney World Resort. The accident occurred on the Epcot line at the TTC.
Walking up through the TTC, I snapped a couple of pictures with my iPhone before being confronted, in a friendly but forceful manner, by a castmember who informed me that no photography was allowed in the entire TTC area. When I asked for clarification, she forwarded me to one of the managers, who stated clearly that there was no photography allowed until further notice regardless of the usage. Out of my respect for the Disney company, I have not posted those photos here on the site.
Also, they would not answer any questions directly related to the accident, so I was unable to obtain any further information as to whether the NTSB is onsite, or how long the monorail system will be out of commission, etc. When I spoke with a Disney security guard, she provided the same response – “I do not know“.
The castmembers were all very helpful, as usual, even under this difficult situation. I can’t help but think, however, that someone should have been able to provide some sort of response for the media. It is a tough day for the Walt Disney World Resort family and our heart goes out to them all.
Again, our sincerest condolences go out to the castmembers friends and family as well as the entire Walt Disney World cast for their loss.
UPDATE: 2009.07.05 3:56 pm
We finally have confirmation through Orange County Sheriff reports that the collision killed Austin Wuennenberg, 21, the driver of one of the trains.
According to a Facebook page purported to be the pilot’s, he was born April 25, 1988 and was attending Stetson University with a projected graduation date of 2010. He had listed that he had been a monorail pilot since October 2008.
The pilot of the other train, although apparently unhurt, was taken to the hospital as a precaution.
There were also 6 passengers who were evaluated on the scene and released by paramedics.
UPDATE: 2009.07.05 7:00 pm
We learn through statements from Mike Griffin, vice president of public affairs at Walt Disney World, that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is onsite and working with investigators on the crash.
There is also a tremendous amount of speculation by many media outlets; we will not participate in rampant speculation in this tragedy. We will only provide facts from legitimate sources for this story.
UPDATE: 2009.07.06 10:55 am
Reports are coming in that the monorail system has been undergoing testing this morning. The monorail system may be re-opening as early as this afternoon with added safety procedures. More information as we obtain it.
UPDATE: 2009.07.06 2:46 pm
The Magic Kingdom line of the monorail system at Walt Disney World is now open to guests. The Epcot line, however, remains closed for the time being. Disney spent the better part of the this morning testing systems on the Magic Kingdom line and are obviously confidant enough in its safety to have opened it to guests as of 2:30 pm today.
UDPATE: 2009.07.06 4:00 pm
Reports are coming in that although OSHA has cleared the monorail station its investigation continues. Also, Disney has suspended the practice of allowing guests to ride in the cockpit of the monorails, indefinitely, stating in a Magic Kingdom memo:
Out of respect for the monorail pilot during this difficult time, we are not allowing guests to ride in the front cabin.
UPDATE: 2009-07-07 6:10 am
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) takes an unprecedented move and announces it will investigate the deadly monorail crash at Walt Disney World. This is in addition to the rerported two OSHA investigators already assigned to their investigation as to whether workplace rules were violated during the timeline leading up to the accident.
We’ll be going on scene and working with Disney there. We understand that OSHA is already involved. We’ll be looking at operating control systems, and their procedures, and the different procedures they use on the monorail to position trains.
Peter Knudson, NTSB Spokesman
Despite never investigating a private transportation system on private land in the agency’s history, the NTSB claims to have jurisdiction over this matter. Disney has offered their full cooperation with all investigations.
In the meantime, Austin Wuennenberg’s family has announced that there will be a memorial service in his honor this coming Wednesday at 2:00 pm in The First United Methodist Church Kissimmee.
UPDATE: 2009.07.07 11:08 pm
Reports are surfacing that the NTSB investigator will spend the better part of a week investigating this weekend’s tragic crash. After that, they may spend the better part of a year to reach their conclusions and provide any direction.
We needed to get an investigator on the ground to run a complete investigation of what occurred so we can identify any safety issues and hopefully make the system safer than it already is.
Peter Knudson, NTSB spokesman.
All theme parks in the state of Florida are not subject to any state regulation, essentially following their own safety procedures and guidelines. This is the first time the NTSB has investigated Disney and they will be looking into all procedures and activities leading up to the fatal crash.
UPDATE: 2009.07.08 6:30 pm
According to preliminary reports from the NTSB investigation, it would appear that the driver of the purple monorail, Austin Wuennenberg, tried to back up his monorail before the collision with monorail pink. The NTSB has released a preliminary report to Central Florida News 13 and we are trying to obtain more information directly from the NTSB offices.
UPDATE: 2009.07.08 7:15 pm
Just received the media advisory directly from the NTSB Media Contact.
The National Transportation Safety Board has developed the following factual information from its investigation of the collision of two trains on the monorail system at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, that occurred early Sunday morning:
At about 2 a.m. on July 5th, a Walt Disney World monorail train, designated the Pink train, backed into another monorail train, designated the Purple train, near the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) monorail station. The operator of the Purple train was fatally injured; the six passengers on that train were treated at the scene. The operator of the Pink train, who was transported to the hospital, treated and released, was the only one aboard that train at the time of the collision.
Prior to the accident, the Pink train had been instructed to detrain all passengers at the TTC station and then to operate without passengers past the station and a switch to a point where the train could be backed through the track switch from the Epcot loop over to the Magic Kingdom loop. The operator of the Pink train moved the train past the track switch and stopped.
The Pink train was then instructed to back through the track switch, towards the Magic Kingdom loop. At about the same time, the Purple train, which was inbound to the TTC station, was instructed to stop at the station to detrain passengers. For undetermined reasons that are currently under investigaton, the switch had not changed position needed to allow the Pink train to be routed to the Magic Kingdom loop, which resulted in the Pink train backing down the same track it had just come from, putting it on a collision course with the Purple train. The Pink train passed through the TTC station and struck the Purple train while it was outside the station.
There are indications that the operator of the Purple train had brought the train to a stop and had attempted to put the train in reverse prior to the collision. To this point in the investigation, no anomalies or malfunctions have been found with the automatic train stop system or with any mechanical components of the switch or with either of the trains.
The on-scene phase of the investigation is expected to continue for several days.
The parties to the investigation are Walt Disney World, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Orange County Sherriff’s Office, and the Transportation and Communications International Union.
UPDATE: 2009.07.10 7:31 am
Central Florida News 13 has confirmation that the Walt Disney Co. has placed three castmembers on paid leave. The Disney representative told Central Florida News 13 that his action in no way implies disciplinary actions, but is rather part of the investigative process. Disney would not release the names of the employees, but they are said to be: a monorail transportation manager, a monorail shop worker, and a monorail pilot
UPDATE: 2009.07.10 2:40 pm
Disney announces a change in policy stemming directly from the monorail accident this past weekend. This change, is actually reverts back to previous standard operating procedure, requires monorail drivers to operate their trains from twin controls in the rear cab when switching off of the resort’s Epcot loop.
UPDATE: 2009.07.11 7:14 am
The NTSB has stated they have finished their on-site investigation of the monorail crash at Walt Disney World. They have released no new information since the media advisory from earlier in the week. The next phase in their investigation will begin once they return to their offices and begin a comprehensive review of the data they have collected during their time in Florida.
ClickOrlando is reporting there will be a vigil Saturday evening in honor of the monorail driver killed in this accident, although few details have been announced at this time.
Meanwhile, the driver of the other monorail involved in the collision, Alan Rubino, has released a statement through a friend.
Alan wishes to extend to family and friends of Austin his deepest and heart-felt condolences. Given the current investigation, it would be inappropriate for Alan to comment.
UPDATE: 2009.07.16 6:47 am
The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that a castmember mistakenly believed he had activated the switch that was supposed to shift the monorail to another line. That failure to complete the switch caused the monorail to reverse into the stationary monorail holding at the station. The investigators believe this was not the only error that lead to the fatal crash. NTSB spokesman, Peter Knudson, says the agency may release another public update presently.
About the Walt Disney World Monorail
The Walt Disney World Resort currently operates twelve Mark VI monorail trains on three lines of service: from the ticket and transportation center to the Magic Kingdom, the resort line around the hotels near the Magic Kingdom, and from the ticket and transportation center to Epcot. The monorail system opened in 1971 with two routes and with Mark IV monorail trains, expanded to three lines in 1982 to service the new EPCOT Center, and switched to Mark VI trains in 1989.