Steamed

by David Koenig, staff writer
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It’s been an iconic sight at Disneyland since 1955—the Disneyland Railroad conductor loads his final passengers and calls, “All aboard!” He jumps onto a small platform alongside one of the last cars and there he stands, ever vigilant, as the train makes its “grand circle tour” around the Magic Kingdom.

The system, of course, was designed long before Disneyland’s Safety Patrol launched its quest to identify and rectify any possible potential falling hazards (see my article, “Indiana Jones Goes Under the Knife,” from August 14, for details).

The Safety Department now wants the conductors to stand safely inside the railroad cars, in a specially designed booth. During the steam engines’ two-month rehab from September 4 to November 6, one train at a time will be removed from service to be retrofitted with the new booths, as well as to receive other safety enhancements.


Disneyland Railroad conductors currently stand on a small platform on the train. Photo by Laura Koenig.

Reducing the attraction’s capacity by one train won’t present much of a problem. However, some observers are bothered by the idea of cutting into and adding on to the venerable vehicles. Others fear that placing the attendant inside the train “means the attraction will lose an extra set of eyes and ears necessary for its safe operation.” No one I’ve spoken with can name a single problem that has arisen from the conductors standing on their current platforms.

No one is against improving safety, but privately, cast members sound irked that the Legal and Safety departments seem to be “running out of control.”

Twelve years ago, after a spate of much-publicized accidents, Disneyland began “idiot-proofing” onstage, to ensure that even the most oblivious and clumsy of guests didn’t get hurt. Considering the current safety overhauls to operations—and all the warning signs, designated paths, and crosswalks now visible everywhere backstage—the resort is now trying to do the same for employees.

New Borders for Club 33

Club 33 has long wanted to expand its boundaries, hoping to take over as much as it can of the second floor of New Orleans Square. Most of the desired acreage, of course, is the private suite originally envisioned for Walt—an apartment he would not live to see completed. Club 33 did co-opt a small portion of the apartment when it was converted from the Disney Gallery to the grand-prize suite for the Year of a Million Dreams promotion.

The Club would love even more, but in the meantime has settled for a new bit of square footage: the merchandise stockroom above the French Market. Of late, several contractors have been spotted surveying the facility. Sources say the stockroom will be relocated across the railroad tracks, most likely near the Westsider Grill.

The larger the Club can be expanded, the more dinners they can serve per night and the more members they can add to the rolls—generating tens of thousands of additional dollars apiece.

Christmas Mix-In

After successfully converting this year’s Grad Nites to “mix-ins” (allowing regular day guests inside the park during the once-private events), Disneyland has now announced plans to make the once-private holiday cast member nights at the park “mix-ins” as well.

For decades, the park was open just for cast members for two nights out of the year during the Christmas season, allowing them to celebrate with their family, friends and co-workers. No more, according to the following letter to employees from last Friday, September 6:

Dear Fellow Cast,

With the recent opening of our multi-year expansion, the Disneyland Resort is gaining popularity with our Guests.  Our parks, hotels, and Downtown Disney District are as busy as ever, and we look to continue that trend throughout the holiday season.

Based on the increased popularity and changing visitation patterns of our Guests, it has become necessary to make adjustments to our operating hours in order to meet their needs while continuing to provide the legendary Guest service for which we are known.

For this year’s Disney Family Holiday Celebration, we have decided to move to an all mix-in format with an expanded number of dates, including weekends, as well as deeper discounts for Cast.  This change will enable us to accommodate our growing Cast population and allows more flexibility for you to enjoy the parks. The extended mix-in format will also allow you to customize your visits with friends and family, and the extended time period will enable you to visit the resort during slower periods.

This year there will also be exclusive discounts and special holiday offers such as complimentary popcorn and drinks for all Cast Members with the Disney Family Holiday Celebration discount booklet. Disney Family Holiday Celebration theme park admission tickets, ornaments and booklets will be available at TEAM Centers beginning in mid-October.

More details about the Disney Family Holiday Celebration, including the Toys for Tots drive, will be available in the coming weeks.

Thank you for continually creating happiness for our Guests and your fellow Cast Members here at the Disneyland Resort.

George Kalogridis
President
The Disneyland Resort

Cast members sounded uniformly perturbed at the news. One CM quipped, “Is it that difficult to let us have the park for two nights with our family and friends?” one complained. Another added, “We have to share the park with guests? Sounds like (Team Disney Anaheim) took the ‘Family’ out of the Family Holiday Celebration.”

“In the good old days,” bemoaned a third, “it was a unique experience having the park open just for us during Christmas. It was a lot more fun and relaxed. Those are now just pleasant memories.”

Parking Pains

Cast members also continue grumbling over being forced to park farther and farther off-site, for no apparent reason. Every time management, expecting enormous crowds, has allowed guests to park in the cast member lots, there turned out to be ample capacity in the visitor lots and parking structure.

On the fourth remote parking day—August 26—early-morning employees were directed to park at the Honda Center. The Katella Cast Member Lot would then be reopened to employees arriving after 11:15 a.m. By 10 a.m., management realized there was still plenty of room in the guest lots, and re-opened KCML for cast members.

“As in the previous three times we were kicked out of KCML, it was all for nothing,” said one worker. “The attendance numbers have been good for the summer, but there was more than enough parking without using KCML. The lot has never been full. Most of the time it was empty. This has pissed off a lot of cast members. The Master Services contract is up for renewal in 2013, and you can bet there will be something in it about this. This experiment to ‘ensure the best experience possible for Guests on peak attendance days’ proved to be one big, fat failure.”

As a result, despite heavy crowds on Labor Day weekend, management allowed cast members to park at KCML and instead directed overflow guests to park at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Comments

  1. By rph13

    I am by no means a regular at Disneyland, having only been three times total, but I have to agree with the Cast Members that taking away the cast member and family holiday parties and making cast members park so far away just isn't good employee/employer relationship. My company grew so large that they have now taken away almost all exclusive benefits and those of us still around definitely resent it.

  2. By olegc

    I think what TDA is losing sight of is that most cast members have two families - their own and the (sometimes large) extended family of Cast Members they have. By having private nights in the park this probably allowed them to share with others and create new special memories that are not available to them during regular operating hours. THis is another sign that TDA does not get the psychology that Walt, Van Arsdale France, and others new - if your employees love where they work and who they work with - they will be happy to work hard and make guests the top priority. Now it's just another way to "tuck in" a perk for cast members.

    BTW - The Mix Ins were successful for grad night probably not because of their preferred model, in my opinion. Prices were up, and it was the only thing available, and if a school felt it was compelled to keep offering it to their seniors it would not matter what the park offered. Part of me believes that when TDA says it was successful, it means that it did not disrupt normal operations - which means it did not cause any changes to the spreadsheet analysis - just added to it for overnigh ops.

  3. By Jimbo996

    Do the mix-ins mean the guests are not asked to leave early like what they do for the private Halloween Events? My concern is that both parks have different hours. DCA still closes earlier than Disneyland. Could they not accomodate the CMs with at least some private events? It seems so minor. Yet at the same time, company holiday parties are largely a relic of the past. My company has changed its tune so many times that people don't expect anything.

    I don't the understand the negativity expressed on the train alterations. No one should denigrate efforts to make working conditions safer for employees. A life is important. It is not worth accidents just to maintain a train's old style design. The horrific accidents to guests have hurted employees as well.

    No one Iíve spoken with can name a single problem that has arisen from the conductors standing on their current platforms.

    No one could have foreseen the accident that occurred at the Columbia. It happened only once.

  4. By jedited

    As a former DL Cast member in the late 80s and early 90s, I used to LOVE the Christmas party! It was so much fun to attend, but also to work. DL also allowed non-DL Cast members to work on those nights. It was so strange to see a man working HM with a REALLY long beard.
    While working on those nights DL allowed us to do things on-stage that were FORBIDDEN, like eating on-stage or riding attractions in costume on our breaks. It was also fun to try and guess where the guests worked. I will ALWAYS remember when a number of the character voices came into my store and the voice of Minnie at the time was SO nice and REALLY encourged me. It was also a chance to meet high level executives (Eisner always used to "work" at Coke Corner).
    With a mix-in ALL that is lost. That is such a shame. :-(

  5. By currence

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    No one could have foreseen the accident that occurred at the Columbia. It happened only once.

    If I recall, that accident was caused by a combination of poor training and wood-rot. Both of those are preventable and having accident occur when either is allowed is foreseeable. The specifically tragic nature of the actual event may not have been predicted, but that something bad would eventually happen certainly could have been.

    I'm surprised they don't just add a chain so that the conductors can secure their standing platforms much like they do the guest areas.

  6. By Jimbo996

    Quote Originally Posted by currence View Post
    If I recall, that accident was caused by a combination of poor training and wood-rot. Both of those are preventable and having accident occur when either is allowed is foreseeable. The specifically tragic nature of the actual event may not have been predicted, but that something bad would eventually happen certainly could have been.

    I'm surprised they don't just add a chain so that the conductors can secure their standing platforms much like they do the guest areas.

    You partially explained the accident, the boat was also traveling too fast and the boat was roped off too soon. The crowds were on the dock.

    The Columbia incident could still have occurred today; however, injury to the guests are prevented by keeping them in the waiting area.

    Asking the conductor to be within the train is two-fold accident prevention. (1) If the train is experiencing technical difficulty (earthquakes, derailment, stalling, etc.), the conductor will be protected within the train. (2) If the conductor slips and falls out the train, the new waiting area completely prevents this from occuring.

  7. By smd4

    There is nothing inherently unsafe about the current Conductor "safety position." I can see any changes actually making things less safe, for both crew and passengers. The Conductors NEED to have the ability to embark or disembark a moving train immediately when necessary. Encumbering them with a "booth" or chains is just silly--a solution for which no problem exists.

    As a trained railroader who works under the oversight of the Federal Railway Administration on a full-size tourist railroad, I can tell you that "booths" are not going to prevent accidents. The best way to do that is with proper and complete training, with certifications and recertifications every couple years.

  8. By currence

    Quote Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
    As a trained railroader who works under the oversight of the Federal Railway Administration on a full-size tourist railroad, I can tell you that "booths" are not going to prevent accidents. The best way to do that is with proper and complete training, with certifications and recertifications every couple years.

    I wonder if this is part of a shift to have less trained railroad staffing? The more "idiot-proof" you make the attraction, the more idiots you can hire (at lower wages) to work the attraction.

  9. By smd4

    Quote Originally Posted by currence View Post
    I wonder if this is part of a shift to have less trained railroad staffing? The more "idiot-proof" you make the attraction, the more idiots you can hire (at lower wages) to work the attraction.

    I would say you hit the nail (or is it "spike"?) squarely on the head.

  10. By Jimbo996

    Why do the conductors NEED to board or leave a moving train? There is no need. However, I'm sure the platform will still remain in place in case the conductors will use them on an "as needed" basis.

  11. By oregontraveler

    Quote Originally Posted by currence View Post
    I wonder if this is part of a shift to have less trained railroad staffing? The more "idiot-proof" you make the attraction, the more idiots you can hire (at lower wages) to work the attraction.

    I hope that is not the case here. I have encountered many 'Conductors' who love the job and are quite knowledgable about the history of the DL Railroad. It may seem routine, but I'm sure they are aware of the dangers 'riding the rails'.

  12. By smd4

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    Why do the conductors NEED to board or leave a moving train? There is no need.

    You seem to speak with quite a bit of authority.

    A good example: A conductor I once interivewed told me a story of when his train was coming into Frontierland Station. He was on the front safety position. Suddently, he heard the whistle start screaming wide open--an emergency signal to all crew--and saw the sparks as the brakes were applied. He looked ahead, and on the track a toddler was starting to climb onto the track (the station was unattended by CMs; the parents thought it was "cute"). The conductor immediately jumped from the moving train and sprinted ahead of the train, grabbing the girl and returning her to her parents with a stern warning.

    Please, unless you have some experience with railroading, don't make such blanket statements as you do above.

  13. By Jimbo996

    Quote Originally Posted by smd4 View Post
    You seem to speak with quite a bit of authority.

    A good example: A conductor I once interivewed told me a story of when his train was coming into Frontierland Station. He was on the front safety position. Suddently, he heard the whistle start screaming wide open--an emergency signal to all crew--and saw the sparks as the brakes were applied. He looked ahead, and on the track a toddler was starting to climb onto the track (the station was unattended by CMs; the parents thought it was "cute"). The conductor immediately jumped from the moving train and sprinted ahead of the train, grabbing the girl and returning her to her parents with a stern warning.

    Please, unless you have some experience with railroading, don't make such blanket statements as you do above.

    You have experience? That was a story told to you.

    I think the emergency whistle did it's job. It's not like standing on the platform would have made the difference as a look out.

    It's strange that the parents are describing the toddler as cute when it was about to be run over. Are you sure?

    As for authority, I don't need to tout any, but you certainly seem to need to. Who are you?

  14. By smd4

    Quote Originally Posted by Jimbo996 View Post
    You have experience? That was a story told to you.

    I think the emergency whistle did it's job. It's not like standing on the platform would have made the difference as a look out.

    It's strange that the parents are describing the toddler as cute when it was about to be run over. Are you sure?

    As for authority, I don't need to tout any, but you certainly seem to need to. Who are you?

    I have no need to "tout authority" (whatever that means). As I mentioned, I have experience in a real railroad setting, running steam with four passenger coaches and a caboose. I assure you, I know precisely what I'm talking about when it comes to railroad safety. I also know the Disneyland Railroad pretty well, having written two books on the subject. The Conductor is IN CHARGE of the train, and needs to be able to assert that control. There are only two Conductors on a Disneyland train, with up to eight cars and nearly 300 passengers. They need to be able to step off a train car and step back on a different one any time they see a guest doing something stupid--which happens maybe more than you care to admit. This is not a dangerous thing to do when done correctly. They need the freedom to do their job--not be sequestered in some "booth" or chained to their safety positions as you suggest. The current safety positions are plenty safe--wide areas to stand on and ample hand rails. There hasn't been a single instance of injury in nearly 60 years with this system.

    Simply put: If you want the Conductors to be 100% safe, just keep them off the trains. If a Conductor isn't riding a train, he can't get hurt by that train. What it sounds like Disney is doing is tying the Conductors' hands. Of course, with no on-board Conductors, that won't do much to protect the passengers...

    OK, that's me. Tell us what your experience or knowledge is that led you to your reasoned conclusion that there is NO NEED for a Conductor to step on or off a moving train.

  15. By disneywizard

    I personally witnessed a female conductor crush her pelvis between the station fencepost and the handrail of her safety station aboard 404, B end and leaning over to answer a question of a guest in A end of 405 (pictured by Laura) as the train entered Main Street Station. My first instinct was to reach out and grab her shirt to haul her in, but instead I just pointed to the hazard as she approached it. My hesitation stemmed from guest services training against touching people which I regret because it resulted in months of pain. Being observant of ones surroundings is essential as is adherence to adequate training.

    Years ago I was involved with proposed legislation requiring seatbelts for all students in schoolbuses. It was struck down in favor of rapid evacuation requirements. I changed my position for the greatest safety for the greatest number of people.

    The greatest safety on the Disneyland Railroad allows the conductors the greatest freedom of movement and procedures which maximize safety. A schoolbus driver wears a seatbelt to remain in control of the vehicle. A conductor is unrestrained for the same reason.

  16. By Cory Gross

    Grad Night mix-ins were successful? My girlfriend and I had the misfortune of being there on some of thsoe nights as regular guests and I would be hesitant about calling them even tolerable. I felt compelled to send a complaint letter off to Disney expressing my displeasure with us being herded around like cattle before the park had even closed to the public. It was a circus of screaming teenagers and pushy crowd controllers, with ropes every which way reducing access to whole areas that we should still have been entitled to by virtue of having paid the same price as any other day.

    It sounds like the plan to mix-in the cast member nights is just an attempt to make it miserable for everybody.

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