Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 2.jpg
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Magic Kingdom
Park section Frontierland
Coordinates 33°48′47″N 117°55′13″W / 33.8130°N 117.9204°W / 33.8130; -117.9204
Status Operating
Opening date

September 2, 1979 (original)

March 17, 2014 (reopening)
Replaced Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland
Magic Kingdom
Park section Frontierland
Coordinates 28°25′14″N 81°35′05″W / 28.4205°N 81.5848°W / 28.4205; -81.5848
Status Operating
Opening date November 15, 1980
Tokyo Disneyland
Park section Westernland
Coordinates 35°37′57″N 139°53′02″E / 35.6326°N 139.8839°E / 35.6326; 139.8839
Status Operating
Opening date July 4, 1987
Disneyland Paris
Park section Frontierland
Coordinates 48°52′15″N 2°46′32″E / 48.8707°N 2.7756°E / 48.8707; 2.7756
Status Operating
Opening date April 12, 1992
General statistics
Type Steel – Mine Train
Designer Walt Disney Imagineering
Model Mine Train
Track layout Custom
Lift/launch system Chain lift hill
Speed 36 mph (58 km/h)
Inversions 0
Duration varies (about 3 minutes)
Height restriction 40 in (102 cm)
Manufacturer Dynamic Structures (California)
Arrow Dynamics (Florida)
Vekoma (Tokyo, Paris)
Disney's Fastpass available at all parks.
Must transfer from wheelchair
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at RCDB
Pictures of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at RCDB

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is an indoor/outdoor mine train roller coaster located in Frontierland at several Disneyland-style Disney Parks worldwide. The ride exists at Disneyland Park (California) and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and at Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Park (Paris) as Big Thunder Mountain. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is also the name of the fictional rail line the roller coaster depicts.


Although the details of the backstory vary from park to park, all follow the same general story arcs. Some time in the late 1800s, gold was discovered on Big Thunder Mountain in the American Southwest. Overnight, a small mining town became a thriving mining town (the name of the town varies from ride to ride. In the California ride, the town is known as Rainbow Ridge. In the Florida version, the town is known as Tumbleweed, and in Paris, the town is known as Thunder Mesa.). Mining was prosperous, and an extensive line of mine trains was set up to transport the ore. Unknown to the settlers, the Mountain was a sacred spot to local Native Americans and was cursed.[1]

Before long, the settlers' desecration of the mountain caused a great tragedy, which, depending on the park, is usually depicted to be an earthquake (in the Paris and California versions of the ride), a tsunami (in the Tokyo version of the ride), a flash flood (in the Florida version of the ride), which befell the mines and town, and the town was abandoned. Some time later, the locomotives were found to be racing around the mountain on their own, without engineers or a crew. The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was founded in the old mining camp to allow tourists to take rides on the possessed trains.

Inspired by real-life Bryce Canyon, the Hoodoos of Big Thunder in Disneyland as seen from the Big Thunder Trail that passes behind the ride.

In keeping with the theme, the station buildings on all four versions of the ride are designed to look as though they are the abandoned offices of a mining company from the mid to late 19th century. The mountains themselves are themed to the red rock formations of the American Southwest. The rock work designs in the California version are based on the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. In the Florida, Tokyo and Paris versions of the ride, the rockwork designs are based on the rising buttes that are located in Utah and Arizona's Monument Valley. Special care was taken by the Imagineers to make it appear that the rocks were there originally, and the track was built around the rocks, unlike a number of earlier mine rides, which were built the other way around (by sculpting the rocks around the tracks).[2] The action of the ride takes place completely in the sagging, rotting tunnels of the mountain. In contrast to most steel roller coasters, where the thrills come from the perception of flying through open air, the thrills on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are meant to come from the perceived instability of the mine and its threats of collapse. Sound effects of a typical locomotive operation are piped into the surrounding scenery to add realism to guests viewing the ride from observation platforms, including the steam whistle sounding, even though there is no whistle displayed on the locomotives.


Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was designed by Imagineer Tony Baxter and ride design engineer Bill Watkins. The concept came from Baxter's work on fellow Imagineer Marc Davis's concept for the Western River Expedition, a western-themed pavilion at the Magic Kingdom, designed to look like an enormous plateau and contain many rides, including a runaway mine train roller coaster. However, because the pavilion as a whole, was deemed too expensive in light of the 1973 construction and opening of Pirates of the Caribbean, Baxter proposed severing the mine train and building it as a separate attraction.

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad project was put on hold again in 1974 as resources and personnel were being diverted to work on constructing Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, but this delay may have ultimately produced a smoother ride as the use of computers in attraction design was just beginning when the project was resumed. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was one of the first Disney rides to utilize computer-aided design.[2] The attraction first opened at Disneyland in 1979, with the Magic Kingdom's larger version in Florida opening in 1980. Tokyo Disneyland's version opened in 1987 and in 1992, Disneyland Paris opened with its version. Paris's version was significantly different, with a layout mostly based on mirror image of Disneyland's ride but with several significant changes to both the layout and accompanying structure.

The revised European ride takes the form of a large island in the center of the Rivers of the Far West, accessed from its riverside station by tunnels underneath the water. The attraction in Disneyland Paris is the only Big Thunder Mountain to have been an opening day attraction at the park. Hong Kong Disneyland does not have a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad attraction (or a western-themed Frontierland, for that matter). However, Grizzly Gulch has a theme similar to Frontierland. The main attraction, Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars, carries a similar theme to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Tributes to predecessor[edit]

Several tributes to the Mine Train Through Natures Wonderland are present in the Disneyland version. A scaled-down western town sits adjacent to the queuing lines and tracks returning to station. A Western saloon, hotel, assayer's office and mercantile appear among the buildings. This is the village of Rainbow Ridge, which used to overlook the loading platform of the sedate Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland. At Disneyland, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was built on the land the Mine Train used to occupy. Many of the animal animatronics throughout the attraction are animatronic animals from the previous attraction. Other allusions to the Mine Train through Nature's Wonderland include:

  • the Rainbow Caverns (glowing pools of water by the first lift hill)
  • precariously balanced rocks in the third lift hill tunnel
  • The name of the ride itself, "Big Thunder", was originally the name of an enormous waterfall the train passed on the tour. "Little Thunder" was located nearby.


At the Magic Kingdom and at Disneyland, the ride is known by its full name of "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad". The Tokyo and Paris versions would drop the word "Railroad" in favor of the name "Big Thunder Mountain". Tokyo Disneyland's Big Thunder, which is almost identical to the Magic Kingdom's, opened in 1987, five years after the park opened. At Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, the name of the ride is sometimes shortened to "Big Thunder Mountain", "Thunder Mountain Railroad", or even just "Thunder Mountain".

Ride experience[edit]

Disneyland version[edit]

While the design of the Walt Disney World version of this roller coaster was done first, Disneyland's version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the first one built.[3] The track layout was mirrored, placing the attraction to the right of Rivers of America, if viewed from the central hub. (In Walt Disney World, the attraction is located to the left of Rivers of America.) To better fit with the adjacent Fantasyland areas of the theme park, the original Walt Disney World design had to be replaced with something more appropriate for Disneyland. The original design featured sharp-edged mountains and vibrant colors of Monument Valley, Arizona. Instead, Disneyland's version was developed with more rounded features and muted colors resembling the Bryce Canyon hoodoos in Utah.[4]

Upon entering the attraction, the queue winds through a narrow rock wall and passing by the tracks. The surrounding walls were originally created from 100 tons of gold ore from Rosamond.[5]

On January 7, 2013, the ride was closed for an extensive refurbishment that included a new track, trains, scenery, and new effects on the third lift hill. The attraction reopened on March 17, 2014.[6] The new track was fabricated by Dynamic Structures, the company that had previously rehauled the coaster track in Space Mountain.[7]

Magic Kingdom version[edit]


Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at the Magic Kingdom is an almost mirror image of the Disneyland version. The only differences are an enclosed loading station on a hillside, the replacement of Rainbow Ridge with Tumbleweed, and an alternative section featuring a 270 degree spiral and combination double drip/trick track element before the second lift hill. However, the Walt Disney World version was allocated more space in the park, and so the Monument Valley-inspired ride structure assumes 2.5 acres, 25 percent larger than the Disneyland version.[8]

Tokyo Disneyland version[edit]

Big Thunder Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland is similar to the Florida ride, but there are some differences in the ride layout. After going under the second lift drop, the Florida version does a 270 degree clockwise drop, then passes through the town of Tumbleweed, a short mine, and makes a left turn onto the second lift hill. On the Tokyo version, the track goes around a turn to the left and dives into an underground cave, mirroring the California version of the ride. More significantly, the final segment of the ride is different. Instead of crossing back over the drop from the third lift hill, the track makes a 180 degree turn to the right before dropping out of a tunnel, through the Boneyard/geyser scene, into a short tunnel. The track then makes a right hand turn into the final brakes. The trains pass in front of the station building, and then turn back into the loading area.

Disneyland Paris version[edit]

Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris sits on an island in the middle of the Rivers of the Far West, where Tom Sawyer's Island would normally sit. This version of the ride has an elaborate backstory concerning the town of Thunder Mesa, founded by Henry Ravenswood to support the mining in the mountain. This backstory is tied into both Big Thunder Mountain and Frontierland's other major attraction, Phantom Manor, Disneyland Paris's equivalent of the Haunted Mansion.

Disneyland Paris's version of the ride features a washed out trestle right before the second lift hill.

Although the ride itself is located on an island, guests board the trains at a depot on the mainland. The layout of the track on the island is primarily based off the Disneyland version of the ride, but significantly altered with a lengthy extension, with twin underwater tunnels to allow trains to travel between the mountain and the station on the mainland.

Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland Paris is more heavily themed than the other versions of the ride. Among some of the noticeable differences are the trains, which are painted to appear rusty and old rather than in mint condition like the American versions.

Leaving the station on the mainland, the trains immediately dive into the outbound underwater tunnel crossing over to the island, before making a right hand turn, and make a quick steep rise before starting up the first lift hill. As trains climb out of the darkness of the underwater tunnel, stalactites and stalagmites can be seen growing next to the track. The sounds of bats swooping up above can also be heard. At the top, a waterfall parting around the tracks suggests that the tunnel is flooding. Trains pop out of the tunnel, leave the lift hill, and drop around a left hand turn, pass through a small cave, then make a swooping right turn. If the trains are being dispatched timely, when the train goes through this curve, it will appear to make a near miss with a train in the 540 degree helix.

After this turn, the trains pass under the second lift hill and its drop, making a slight hop, before making a left hand turn onto a trestle. A vista of the main ride and Phantom Manor can be seen as the trains travel along the river, make a slight right hand turn, and suddenly fall through a washed out section of trestle. The trestle drop also contains the on-ride camera. After splashing down into the water, the trains go around a left turn on an unstable portion of trestle, enter one of the Big Thunder Mining Company's camps, and start their climb up the second lift hill.

As trains start up the lift hill, two tied down donkeys can be seen to the right side of the track, braying at passing guests, with an empty watering pail in front of them. A goat can be seen pulling on a piece of clothing hanging on a clothesline to the riders' left, as the trains pass a parked steamroller and mine elevator, and travel under a water tower. Guests are also treated to views of Frontierland and Phantom Manor as the trains climb the lift hill.

At the top of the lift, it is possible to make out The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney Studios Paris on the horizon before the trains drop around a left turn and cross back under the lift hill. The prerecorded sound of screeching wheel flanges can be heard as trains go around the curve. As the train comes out of the drop and goes over another rise, it passes a sign warning of a broken trestle that is mounted to the water tower post (this warning sign can also be seen by sitting in the very last row of the train and looking backwards while going up the lift hill). Cresting the hill, trains cross over the broken trestle and spiral down through a 540-degree counter-clockwise helix.

Exiting the helix, the trains pass through a short cave and go over a quick airtime hill as they shoot down a canyon. As the trains drop through the tunnel and pass over a trim brake, a loud gust of wind is heard. Trains then make a right hand turn on another trestle that seems to creak under the weight of the train as they enter a tunnel with a sign reading "DANGER! T.N.T." over the portal, and climb the third lift hill.

As the train starts up the hill, an unseen miner's voice can be heard yelling "Fire in the hole!" After that, it becomes evident that the miners are dynamiting the cave, and the lights of blasting can be seen on both sides of the train. Midway up the lift hill, an earthquake hits. The train is seemingly rocked back and forth by a shockwave (in actuality the track is banked slightly). A vein of gold can be seen rushing out of the ceiling as the train crests the lift hill, and pop out of the tunnel. A view is attained of Thunder Mesa, as well as Space Mountain in Discoveryland off in the far distance as the train crests a small hill, then drops to the left onto a straightaway on the side of the water, speeding up as they head towards a tunnel portal. Trains pass into the tunnel and enter the return tunnel. The train encounters a swarm of bats in the tunnel as it makes another sharp counter-clockwise turnaround and goes down a steep drop to cross under the water. The trains continue to accelerate through the dark until suddenly making a rise and popping out of the exit portal on the mainland. Because of braking, the last few cars do not fully make it over the climb, so it is necessary to have a chain that pull the train out of the tunnel. The trains coast past the station, through the loading dock, and then turn around to reenter either station track.

In other media[edit]

In film[edit]

Television series[edit]

In January 2013, ABC ordered a pilot based on the ride titled Big Thunder Mountain, but the idea was scrapped sometime after. [10][11][12][13][14][15]

Print media[edit]

In October 2014, Marvel Comics announced a five-issue series based on the attraction that will debut in early 2015.[16] Part of Marvel's "Disney Kingdoms" line, the series will elaborate on the story behind the attraction and will feature input from Walt Disney Imagineering, including nods to elements of the ride.[16]


  • On March 10, 1998, a 5-year-old boy was seriously injured when his foot became wedged between the passenger car's running board and the edge of the exterior platform after the train temporarily paused before pulling into the unloading area. All of the toes on his left foot required amputation. This lead to Disneyland making improvements to the ride, although the family maintains the park would not acknowledge this injury as the reason.[17]
  • On September 5, 2003, a 22-year-old man died after suffering severe blunt trauma and extensive internal bleeding in a derailment of the Disneyland Resort Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster that also injured 10 other riders.[18] The cause of the accident was determined to be improper maintenance.[19] Investigation reports and discovery by the victim's attorney confirmed the fatal injuries occurred when the first passenger car collided with the underside of the locomotive. The derailment was the result of a mechanical failure which occurred due to omissions during a maintenance procedure. Fasteners on the left side upstop/guide wheel on the floating axle of the locomotive were not tightened and safetied in accordance with specifications. As the train entered a tunnel the axle came loose and jammed against a brake section, causing the locomotive to become airborne and hit the ceiling of the tunnel. The locomotive then fell on top of the first passenger car, crushing the victim.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Birnbaum's Disneyland Resort Official Guide 2003, pg. 65, (c) 2003 Disney Editions
  2. ^ a b Interview with Imagineer Tony Baxter from 1995
  3. ^ Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains Imagineering at Its Peak, Disney Editions, New York, 2007. pp. 60-75.
  4. ^ Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains Imagineering at Its Peak, Disney Editions, New York, 2007. pp. 67-69.
  5. ^ Jim Fanning (2009). Disneyland Challenge. Disney Editions. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4231-0675-3. 
  6. ^ Glover, Erin (March 7, 2014). "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to Reopen March 17 at Disneyland Park". DisneyParks Blog. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Products". Dynamic Attractions. Retrieved October 28, 2013. 
  8. ^ Surrell, Jason. The Disney Mountains Imagineering at Its Peak, Disney Editions, New York, 2007. p. 72.
  9. ^ Slater, Tyler. "Five Things You Might Have Missed Aboard Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland Park". Disney Parks Blog. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Retrieved 8 December 2014. 
  10. ^ UPDATE: Big Thunder Mountain Drama, Projects From Mark Gordon, Ryan Reynolds & Martin Campbell Get ABC Pilot Orders
  11. ^ Melissa Rosenberg To Run ABC’s ‘Big Thunder’ Drama Pilot
  12. ^ Jay Hernandez Joins Fox’s ‘Gang Related’, Ana De La Reguera In ABC’s ‘Big Thunder’
  13. ^ ABC Pilot Castings: Andrea Savage Boards John Leguizamo Comedy, Matt Oberg Joins ‘Pulling’, Zahn McClarnon In ‘Big Thunder’
  14. ^ Scott Bakula Joins TNT’s Bounty Hunter Pilot, ABC’s ‘Big Thunder’ Casts A Lead
  15. ^ ABC Pilot ‘Big Thunder’ Finds Lead, CW’s ‘Oxygen’ & ABC’s ‘Influence’ Add To Casts
  16. ^ a b Russ Burlingame (18 October 2014). "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Comic Coming From Marvel's Disney Kingdoms Line". Retrieved 11 December 2014. 
  17. ^ Saffian, Sarah (May 2000). "The Hidden Danger of Amusement Parks". Redbook. 
  18. ^ "Theme Park Accident, 11 Injured" (date=2003-09-07). KABC-TV. Archived from the original on September 6, 2003. 
  19. ^ "Big Thunder Railroad Death Brings Big Admission From Disney". December 5, 2004. Retrieved November 4, 2006. 
  20. ^ Verdict settlement for BTMRR

External links[edit]

Official links[edit]

Additional links[edit]