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After the Mark V production design was finished and construction was well on its way, I was told I would be doing the concept design for Walt Disney World's Mark VI Monorail.

Concept design defines the exterior form, interior layout and basic human factors. This is followed by production design which involves all exterior and interior detail drawings including graphics.


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Additional good news which, as I recall, came from Dan Welsh, Mark VI Project Manager, was that Messerschmitt Bolkow Blohm (MBB) recommended to Walt Disney World that I follow through with the production design for their new monorails. It was nice to know of this behind-the-scenes comment. The Mark VI contract went to Bombardier Transportation of Montreal, Canada. This I saw as a precursor to Walt's dream of Disney monorails serving our cities and airports.

From the first meetings I attended with Walt Disney at WED, his interest in transportation was very evident. He told us at one meeting that a major airline CEO was very interested in the WEDway. After Walt's untimely death, a division was formed to market the systems, called Community Transportation Services (CTS). The first WEDway PeopleMover sold was installed at the Houston Intercontinental Airport, (now George Bush Intercontinental Airport/Houston). It was powered by Linear Induction Motors (LIMs) with no moving parts, a system that had been developed for WDW's Magic Kingdom.

Bombardier followed CTS as marketer of Disney's Mark VI Monorail and PeopleMover. An advanced version of the Mark VI is soon to be operational in Las Vegas. This new Bombardier monorail (designated M-VI) will be fully automatic and driverless, consisting of nine four-car trains. The trains will provide direct service to eight major resort properties and the Las Vegas Convention Center. The approximate 1.6 km guideway of the MGM-Grand Bally's monorail line, which used two Mark IV's, will be integrated and re-equipped. These twice-retired trains were built in the '80s and—since retirement from WDW—have operated for over seven years in Las Vegas.

Working in remote locations

An interesting feature of the monorail contract related to trade laws. A percentage of construction would need to be in the United States, so the majority of our design review trips were to La Pocatiere, Canada and the tail end reviews were in Burlington, Vermont. The Vermont portion had to do with final assembly. New York subway cars were also being finished at the same time as our monorails. A feature of the subway cars was their slick anti-graffiti finish; I definitely preferred our finish.

Our team, led by Dan Welsh, made at least a dozen trips to the two locations of construction. The story below gives the details of the experience, but I must say Bombardier treated us well in our off hours. We were provided with snowmobiles for trips through woods and over frozen lakes. This experience of a high-speed dash across the lake was a new one for this Southern Californian. Another great treat was during the maple syrup season. The local custom is to have a feast at the maple tree farms and pour maple syrup over all the food. Not surprisingly it was a delicious treat.

Designing the Mark VI

Working with Bombardier's Project Manager, Paul Larouche, and their Project Engineer, Alain Rheault, was a pleasure. We cooperated on design changes that always seemed to produce a better design. An example was the effect of enlarging the wheel doors for maintenance reasons. This reduced the size of the fresh air intake grill I had designed (a copy of the Mark V's), so it didn't look right. We came up with a machined grill, mounted with screws, that had a high tech look. Another detail I was happy to achieve was the louvered, operable windows at each end of the car. Guests open these four windows should the AC fail; they are small, but effective.

The Mark VI monorail team poses in front of the full-scale mockup at the Bombardier plant. Pictured include Dick Nunis (second from left), Marty Sklar (fourth from left), George McGinnis (seventh from left), Dan Welsh (eighth from left), Paul Larouche (tenth from right), and John Hench (seventh from right, in hat). Photo courtesy of Paul Larouche, from the collection of George McGinnis.
The Mark VI monorail team poses in front of the full-scale mockup at the Bombardier plant. George McGinnis is seventh from left. Click here for a complete list of team members in the photo. Photo courtesy of Paul Larouche, from the collection of George McGinnis.

The major change from Mark IV to Mark VI for WDW was the reduction to half the seats of the Mark IV. This created space for standees, and increased the capacity of the trains. The trains were to be full-sized, which presented a problem with the Contemporary Hotel's hurricane doors. These doors were the height-limiting factor.

While on a quick trip to Denver to review a type of door used on city buses (simple rotary actuator that we then used on the Mark VI), I threw a tape measure from top to bottom on a Boeing 767 door. Great! It was 72 inches. If it works for Boeing, it will work for us—airport shuttles such as the Skybus have 80-inch doors.

By making the door height 72 inches instead of 80, I had enough clearance to get a nice curve to the roof, though much less than the Mark IV. The folks at WDW loved their Mark IV's and wanted to retain the train's cross-section rather than the rounded side of the Mark V. While the trains are very different in materials and interior design, they present the same appearance to the casual observer.

The interior configuration

Cross-section models of the Mark IV (left) and Mark VI (right) monorails created for comparison purposes by George McGinnis. Photo courtesy of George McGinnis.
Cross-section models of the Mark IV (left) and Mark VI (right) monorails created for comparison purposes by George McGinnis. Photo courtesy of George McGinnis.

The Mark IV had four compartments with 10 seats each. Stepping in was similar to getting into a van—the door height was 5-foot, three-inches as were all monorail doors prior to the Mark VI.

The Mark VI individual car would have two large compartments with ten seats each. There would be plenty of room for standees. I saw the possibility of adding fold down seats in the center of each compartment between two vertical stanchions. In my mind they would serve to seat more guests when the morning standing-room-only crush ended.

I was aware of a preference by some at WDI for not losing Walt's concept of people entering the Magic Kingdom seated in a comfortable futuristic monorail. The fold-down seats that brought the total seats to 28 per car seemed like a compromise that would work. The seats, when folded, made a very attractive, narrow padded support between four vertical handholds. People could lean against it comfortably.

I had been on Christmas vacation in Arizona when Marty Sklar called for me to attend the Mark VI mockup meeting. I flew in the next day, honored that Michael Eisner wanted to view it.

I had mocked up a single compartment in plywood and foam core for management to review. The “buy-off” as we call it at WDI, went well, with Michael Eisner appearing pleased with the concept. There was one further review of the concept when Bombardier showed their very complete mockup.

Inside Bombardier's highly finished mockup. The seat is in the down position, lower right. Photo courtesy of George McGinnis.
Inside Bombardier's highly finished mockup. The seat is in the down position, lower right. Photo courtesy of George McGinnis.

Detail design continued as we made monthly trips to Montreal or to La Pocatiere, Canada, where construction took place. I had mentioned earlier the planned use of bus-type door mechanisms. I was concerned that we not have the big black rubber exterior seal strips around the doors that is usual on buses. My drawing set the gap at a quarter-inch for the seal, and Bombardier engineers achieved this with a very precise door.

The Bombardier engineers were very cooperative on many of the exterior and interior details. It was a pleasure to work with them. Dan Welsh, WDW Project Manager on the Mark VI, was a most pleasant person to work with and handled all the complicated matters of the project with utmost imperturbability.

I was very happy with the quality Bombardier brought to the Mark VI. The trains still look good. I was at WDW recently and found them, in my opinion, to be in excellent condition.

Future monorail designs?

From my experience of being forced to limit the height of the Mark VI for WDW, I believe the Mark VII for Disneyland, if there is to be one, can be larger, giving the riders more head room and a larger door, without looking out of scale in Tomorrowland.

The WDW Mark VI monorails are in their 14th year of operation, and will no doubt serve for many more. If ever they are replaced by Bombardier's M-VI, I can only hope they are delivered with Bob Gurr's interpretation of a “LearJet” front. I have carried it forward with the Mark V and Mark VI, as it is one of the most recognizable Disney icons.


The Mark VI monorail team poses in front of the full-scale mockup at the Bombardier plant. Pictured include Dick Nunis (second from left), Marty Sklar (fourth from left), George McGinnis (seventh from left), Dan Welsh (eighth from left), Paul Larouche (tenth from right), and John Hench (seventh from right, in hat). Photo courtesy of Paul Larouche, from the collection of George McGinnis.
The pictured individuals are (from left with their titles at that time):

  • Edwin Riddell, Vice President Engineering, TGI (Bombardier Systems Subsidiary)
  • Dick Nunis, President, Walt Disney Theme Parks
  • Dick Wiedenbeck, Vice President, Walt Disney World Engineering
  • Marty Sklar, Vice President, Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Carl Bongirno, President, Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Howard Roland, Vice President Purchasing, Walt Disney World
  • George McGinnis, Art Director, Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Dan Welsh, Director, Walt Disney World Engineering (standing to the left in doorway threshold of monorail car)
  • Ted Crowell, Vice President, Walt Disney World Maintenance
  • Carl Mawby, Vice-Chairman, TGI (dark rimmed glasses standing to the right in doorway threshold of monorail car)
  • Jean-Yves Leblanc, President, Bombardier Transportation
  • Paul Larouche, Monorail Program Manager, Bombardier Transportation
  • Gaston Hébert, Vice President Engineering, Bombardier Transportation
  • Ronald Beaudoin, Director Production Engineering, Bombardier Transportation
  • John Hench (in hat), Senior Vice President, Design Walt Disney Imagineering
  • Pierre Goulet, Vice President Operations (production), Bombardier Transportation
  • Jean-Yves Bélanger, General Manager La Pocati?re Plant, Bombardier Transportation
  • Luc Fontaine, Coordinator Project Management, Bombardier Transportation
  • Alain Rheault, Manager Production Engineering, Bombardier Transportation
  • André Hudon, Supervisor Production Engineering, Bombardier Transportation
  • Clarence Leclerc, Manager Production Engineering, Bombardier Transportation


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(Send an email to George McGinnis)

Industrial designer George McGinnis began his career at Walt Disney Imagineering in 1966. His senior project at Art Center College of Design, a working model of a futuristic high-speed train, attracted the attention of Walt Disney. George was invited to Imagineering by Walt, who showed him the "WEDway PeopleMover" system in development. Walt proceeded to introduce George to Dick Irvine, President of Imagineering, who invited George to become an Imagineer.

George's first assignment was to design miniature transportation models for the Progress City display, for the Carousel of Progress attraction that opened at Disneyland in July 1967. He was also responsible for concept design of both the Mighty Microscope for the Disneyland attraction Adventure Through Inner Space and the Saturn-style "winged rocket with boosters" for the Tomorrowland Rocket Jets for Disneyland (1967). From 1967 to 1971, George designed WEDway PeopleMover trains and parking lot shuttle vehicles for Walt Disney World. In 1971, he became a show designer, involved with such major projects as Space Mountain for both Walt Disney World (1975) and Disneyland (1977).

In 1979, George became Manager of Industrial Design for EPCOT and later, Project Show Designer for the Horizons pavilion. In addition, he also designed "SMRT-1" and the "Astuter Computer Revue" for the Communicore pavilion. From 1983 to 1987, George designed the Mark V Monorail train for Disneyland, which debuted in 1987. Following that, George contributed design ideas for the Magic Kingdom attraction Delta Dreamflight/Take Flight, designed the Walt Disney World Mark VI Monorail, and designed tram vehicles for the Disney-MGM Studios Backlot Tour.

Between 1990 and 1995, George brought his skills as a show designer to several projects for Disney Theme Parks around the world: boat vehicles for Splash Mountain in the Tokyo Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom; Indiana Jones (TM) Adventure ride vehicles for Disneyland; Space Mountain ride vehicle concept for Disneyland Paris; river boats, safari vehicles, and "steam" locomotive and cars for Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Since retiring from Imagineering in 1995, George has continued to work for Disney as a consultant on the Rocket Rod concept vehicle for Tomorrowland, river rafts for Animal Kingdom and California Adventure and others yet to be announced.

George was born in Greenville, Pennsylvania. He attended Thiel College and Art Center College of Design, where he received a B.S. in Product Design in 1966. George currently lives in Glendale, California with his wife Marilyn. They have three grown children. In addition to his consulting work he enjoys history, traveling and designing projects for his home.