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The Science of Park Magic Explained
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Kevin Krock
Hello there!

Picture yourself...

Rocketing through the darkness of space on intergalactic shuttles... Exploring an old mansion filled with 999 ghosts... Joining Indiana Jones™ on an archeological expedition...

We've all experienced these fantastic adventures at Disneyland. If you've ever left one of these attractions wondering, "Wow, how did they do that?", you shouldn't feel alone. Over the years, I have heard both kids and adults ask these kinds of question over and over again. Sometimes, you might know the right answer, but a lot of times you don't...

Whether you are young or old, if you're curious about the science behind the Disney magic, Ask Doc Krock! is for you.

Since childhood, Disneyland and its magical attractions and environment have fascinated me, and I have always wanted to know how Disney made the magic happen. As I grew up into a scientist, it became part of my nature to try to understand how the world around me works. My love of Disney and science now allows me to answer your questions about the science behind the magic!

Maybe you're thinking, "Hey, it sounds like you're going to spoil everything!" Well, I don't think so. In fact, I believe that understanding how things work and having a bit of historical background actually increases your appreciation for the magic that the Imagineers create. However, to prevent spoiling any key attraction illusions, I will post a little "spoiler warning" so you don't accidentally learn information that might ruin your enjoyment of an attraction.

The magic of Disneyland is everywhere! Here are just a few of the topics I'm currently working on:

    Specific attraction illusions, like those in the Haunted Mansion, the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, and Star Tours

    General attraction technologies, like audio-animatronics, ride mechanisms, and theatrical illusions (lighting and fog)

    Historical attractions, like the Flying Saucers, Mission to Mars (or the Moon, depending on how old you are), and the Submarines

I encourage you to submit your questions so I can share them. Straightforward or complex, let me know what's on your mind. You'll get simple and fun scientific explanations of how Disney artists and Imagineers create the wonderful Disney attractions. When I can, I'll try to include references in case you want to explore the topic in more depth.


Today's Topic: The Disneyland Monorail

For my first column, I've chosen a topic that most of you are familiar with: the Disneyland Monorail. This classic attraction has been pleasing and transporting Disneyland guests since 1959 when it opened as the Disneyland- Alweg Monorail System. Did you know that its basic technology hasn't really changed over the last 40 years? As you'll see in a bit, the reasons for this are the rather simple concepts on which the whole Monorail system is built.

The Disneyland Monorail
Figure 1. The Disneyland Monorail

Let's take a look at the beamway (See Figure 2). The entire Monorail route is made up of many steel reinforced, "I"-shaped, concrete sections. Each section is bolted into place on top of precast concrete support pillars (see Figure 3). These beams may be fairly narrow, but they are extremely strong and can support several thousand pounds. Did you know that this modular beam design allows easy removal of a section for repair or to allow very tall vehicles, like cranes, to enter areas within the route perimeter? During the early construction of Disney's California Adventure, I saw sections of beamway missing while the large cranes and earth movers were brought in and out of the construction area.

Beamway and supports
Figure 2. The Monorail beamway and support structure

Beamway joint
Figure 3. A beamway joint

Along one side of the beam is a set of metal strips. You can see an example of this in figure 4. If you guessed, by the "High Voltage" warnings, that the quiet and smooth ride is due to electrically powered motors, you're right! These metal strips or "electrical contacts" carry 600 volts of electricity. That's a LOT of electricity! And, a single power supply sits outside of the park and supplies the electricity to the entire beamway.

Doc Krock's Park Pursuits:
There is a section of track that the Monorail must pass over in neutral (coasting without power) because of the way power is supplied to the track inside and outside of the park. 

Next time you're on the Monorail, keep a lookout for the red and green paddles on the beamway indicating the start (red) and end (green) of the neutral zone!

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Beamway electrical connections
Figure 4. Beamway electrical connections

On your next visit to the park, stand underneath the beamway and look up as the Monorail glides. You'll see the undercarriage of the Monorail. If you look at Figure 5, you see a series of small "guide" tires that ride along the side of the rail. These tires provide the horizontal support for the Monorail, but what you don't see are the other important tires that run on top of the beam.

Monorail undercarriage
Figure 5. The undercarriage of the Monorail

Figures 6a and 6b show diagrams of how the wheels sit along the beam. There are two types of wheels that run on top of the beam: "load" and "drive". While the load wheels support most of the weight of the Monorail cars and provide some braking capabilities, the slightly larger drive wheels provide all the locomotive power as well as the high-speed braking. The four drive wheels get their power from four large 100-horsepower electric motors under the Monorail, alongside the track. This gives the Monorail a lower center of gravity and better stability.

a)Side view of wheels b)Angle view of wheels

Figure 6. Diagrams of one set of wheels as they sit on the beamway. a) Side view showing the three types of wheels. b) Angular view showing the eight guide wheels, one load wheel, and one drive wheel.

So, how many wheels are there? Figure 7 shows the six wheel sets that are in each Monorail. There are 54 wheels per Monorail in all. The two wheel sets at each end are under the pilot's cab and the "tail cone" (the back of the Monorail), while the other four sets sit between the passenger cabins, behind the gray stretchy material.

All of the Monorail wheels
Figure 7. Diagram of all six wheel sets in a Monorail on the beamway

Monorail Performance

How fast do you think the Disneyland Monorail can go? The latest Monorail models can travel up to 70 miles per hour (mph)! However, because this is Disneyland, and because there really isn't enough room to go that fast, the Monorail is limited to 35 mph. There are four speed settings the pilot can select in the cabin, ranging from about 5 mph for level P1, to 35 mph for level P4. Disneyland recently installed a Collision Avoidance System (CAS) that warns the pilot if another Monorail gets too close.

The monorail pilots used to be responsible for staying under the speed limit, but not anymore! Disneyland recently installed a speed enforcement system. Now, an alarm sounds if the pilot goes over a speed limit by 1.5 mph. At 3 mph over a speed limit, the system begins to slow the Monorail to an appropriate speed.

That's about it for the Monorail, a fairly simple design that has proven to be a popular and fairly rugged transportation system for the park. Next time you're in the park and see the Monorail pass overhead, think about all the neat secrets you learned here. Then, be sure to catch a ride in the pilot's cab by asking one of the Monorail Cast Members - it's a special treat.


Don't forget to send email to Ask Doc Krock! at DocKrock@scientist.com!

Until next time...
Keep your eyes and minds on the magic!

 
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