|Dates of operation||July 17, 1955–Present|
|Track gauge||3 ft (914 mm)|
|Length||6,336 feet (1,931 m)|
The Disneyland Railroad (DLRR), originally the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad (SF & DLRR), is a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad at Disneyland, Anaheim, California, United States, that was inaugurated on the park's live television preview on July 17, 1955. This live steam railway was constructed for $240,000; the two original locomotives cost $40,000 each. Riders use it as transportation to other areas of the park or simply for the experience of the "Grand Circle Tour". The Main Street railroad station is situated at the entrance of Disneyland.
- 1 History
- 2 Layout
- 3 Stations, route and tour
- 4 Locomotives
- 5 Passenger service
- 6 Operation
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
- 10 External links
From concept to inauguration
Roger E. Broggie, master machinist at Disney Studios, was familiar with fabricating small camera parts with precision. Walt approached him to create a 1/8 scale live steam locomotive while training Walt as a machinist. The Disneyland Railroad was inspired by Walt Disney's love for trains, while tinkering in the barn of his live steam backyard Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Since the first spark of the idea of the park which would later evolve into Disneyland, each design concept held one thing in common…
- "…and it will be surrounded by a train." — Walt Disney
In 1953 the Walt Disney Company solicited major railroads for corporate sponsorship of the attraction. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway was the only company to respond. AT&SF sponsorship offset construction and fabrication costs and it opened and operated as the "Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad" until 1974. One consequence of the sponsorship is from 1955 to 1974 the Santa Fe Rail Pass was able to be used in lieu of a Disneyland "D" coupon to ride the train. Unlike most of Disneyland and its arrangement with its sponsors, the Disneyland Railroad, as well as the Mark Twain Riverboat (and later the Monorail) was entirely owned and operated by Walt himself as owner, president and sole proprietor of Retlaw (Walter, spelled backwards.) incorporated privately for the operation. He mortgaged his Palm Springs property Smoke Tree Ranch to finance the construction of the Mark Twain. Railroad, riverboat (and later the Monorail) crew worked directly for Walt, and he personally autographed their paychecks.
Retlaw originally custom-built all of its full-scale 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge equipment in house, through creative financing paying his other companies for the work. In addition to the unpowered rolling stock, WED Enterprises constructed the original two locomotives in the roundhouse at Disneyland (then located West of Hollidayland) under the supervision of Roger Broggie, the first Imagineer, on temporary reassignment from the duties of Machinist/Engineer at the Disney Studios Camera Shops. The locomotives are examples of "American"-style 4-4-0s. Using the 1/8 scale miniature CP #173 Lilly Belle live steam locomotive (pictured) which Walt commissioned Broggie to fabricate for his backyard Carolwood Pacific Railroad as a pattern, the #1 and #2 locomotives were scaled up from the practical 1/8th live steam model enlarged to full-scale 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Disneyland Railroad trackage, visually similar to the proportion of five-eighths Standard Gauge. The fire tube boilers are fired by spraying and igniting fuel oil (see below) onto a carbon based ceramic fire-brick plate burner. Locomotive No. 1 was given a big spark arresting diamond stack of wood-burning locomotives and a large, pointed pilot (cowcatcher) representing a workhorse used to construct a railroad while the flagship No. 2 was given a straight stack and smaller pilot common to East Coast coal-burning locomotives representing highball speed of express passenger service on smooth straight rails. From safety and signaling to conductors punching passenger tickets with a smile, all aspects of operations were "just like the big ones".
Two trains operated on opening day. Locomotive #2, serviced only Main Street station; it hauled a passenger train consisting of yellow coaches, #101 - the combine, partial baggage/express and coach seating, coaches #102-105, and the Grand Canyon observation coach #106 with larger arched windows, an observation platform and drumhead at the rear. Locomotive #1 serviced the Frontierland depot, hauling a freight train consisting of cattle cars, gondolas numbered 201–205 and a caboose #208. The two trains could each operate on the railroad simultaneously and independently in the same clockwise direction. Rail sidings at Main Street Station and Frontierland Depot allowed them to pass the one disembarking/embarking passengers.
July 17, 1955, beginning the historic ABC broadcast with Art Linkletter and Ronald Reagan on the platform as Walt throttled down #2 pulling Retlaw-1 into Main Street Station, Art introduced him along with California Governor Goodwin J. Knight and Fred G. Gurley (in his capacity as president of the Santa Fe) and their families riding in the open door of the combine #101 as they began to preside over the opening-day ceremonies.
As the park had grown, and ridership increased, more trains were needed. When more trains were eventually added the operation was changed: the trains no longer passed each other, and a Fantasyland station was built at Storybook Land. When the tracks were realigned to accommodate "it's a small world" the Fantasyland station was closed and the Tomorrowland station was built. The passing track at Main Street Station has been disconnected and now is only used to display a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge Kalamazoo handcar. The tracks at Frontierland Depot were moved several times and the passing track was removed completely; the original station was moved across the tracks and the New Orleans Square/Frontierland station replaced it. Walt Disney dictated that two trains were to operate at all times, and it is not uncommon for three or four trains to run simultaneously on busy days. Walt's railroading hobby qualified him with extensive experience operating steam locomotives and guests frequently saw him making rounds of the park acting as engineer in a locomotive cab.
The Grand Canyon/Primeval World diorama
The 1958 addition of the Grand Canyon diorama painted by artist Delmer J. Yoakum necessitated a change in the rolling stock as well; instead of facing forward, the new flatcars' benches now faced right so that the passengers could better enjoy the scenes. The diorama, which includes taxidermic animals (the only ones in the park) in lifelike poses, is the longest in the world. Painted on a single piece of seamless canvas and representing the view from the canyon's south rim, the rear of the diorama measures 306 feet (93 m) long, 34 feet (10 m) high and is covered with 300 gallons (1,100 L) of paint in 14 colors. Animals that are included in the diorama include mule deer, mountain lion, desert bighorn sheep, golden eagle, wild turkeys, striped skunk and porcupine. A 96-year-old Hopi chief, Chief Nevangnewa, blessed the trains on the diorama's opening day. The cost was US$367,000, and it took 80,000 labor hours to construct. The main theme of Ferde Grofé's "On The Trail," the third movement from his Grand Canyon Suite, is piped in through the train's sound system as it enters the diorama.
In 1966, the diorama was expanded with a prehistoric theme to become the "Grand Canyon/Primeval World" diorama, with Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs from Walt Disney's 1964 New York World's Fair attraction Ford Magic Skyway, where the diorama was viewed from a Ford Mustang convertible. The attraction was transferred to Disneyland in 1965. The dinosaurs include a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Triceratops and a Stegosaurus, despite the fact that these animals lived millions of years apart. It appears to have been based around the Rite of Spring segment of Fantasia. 
At the same time as the track expansion on the east side of the park, the track on the western side of the park was extended to make room for the New Orleans Square expansion, including buildings for the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. The northern alignment of the track was moved farther north from just behind Casey Jr. Circus Train to allow for an expansion of the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland. That area is now home to Big Thunder Ranch, the unused Festival Arena, and the Fantasyland Theater.
Since its opening July 17, 1955 until 1974 Santa Fe sponsored the SF&DLRR attraction. Due to the Amtrak nationalization of passenger train business in 1971, Santa Fe no longer operated passenger service and could not justify the expense of DLRR sponsorship. This, along with Santa Fe's desire to upgrade the park's diminutive steam locomotives with representative powerful modern diesel electric engines, led to failure of negotiations to extend the sponsorship contract, and the Santa Fe name was removed, though the engines' names remained. Santa Fe expected their marque to remain until casually replaced, but all references were replaced with the new Disneyland Railroad emblem by park opening the very next day, including the riveted panel from the Monorail, which was salvaged from the trash, and is on display at Walt's Barn.
The 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track (North America's most common narrow gauge) is laid in a continuous circuit around the park. (The park's publicly accessible areas were extended beyond the track's perimeter with the construction of Critter Country and Mickey's Toontown.) The line features several bridges, grade crossings, including one for parade floats east of "It's a Small World" which doubles as access to the service track, yard and roundhouse for locomotive and train storage and maintenance, located backstage beneath the monorail roundhouse. The line previously featured automatic block signals, but they are no longer in use. The service road is protected by two miniature wigwag crossing signals. The Santa Fe Railway offered the use of full-scale crossing signals, but Disney declined as they would be out of scale with the trains. These scaled-down replicas were designed and built by the Santa Fe Railway San Bernardino shops as a gift to Disneyland. They operate with automotive windshield wiper motors.
Alterations and modernization
The construction of New Orleans Square in the mid-'60s required the tracks to be expanded outwards in the southwest quarter of the park. The open-air stretches of track on both sides of Frontierland Station became enclosed by a tunnel over Pirates of the Caribbean to the east and a tunnel through the berm behind the Haunted Mansion facade. Additionally, the trains originally ran behind Casey Jr. Circus Train, but the track was rerouted in order to make more space inside the park. The DLRR was in near-continuous operation since the park's 1955 opening day until December 2004 when the system was shut down for reballasting, regauging and new block signals as part of Disneyland's fiftieth anniversary celebration. The attraction reopened on March 17, 2005. While often claimed to be the longest closure of the railroad in Park history, the line was actually down for over a year during the construction of Splash Mountain in the late 1980s.
Now, with four station stops, the train takes twenty minutes to circle the park.
Disney Imagineering once considered replacing most of Adventureland with an Indiana Jones-themed section, leaving only Jungle Cruise from the original section. One website describes how plans would have seen "the Disneyland Railroad that circumscribed the park would have chugged across a groaning wooden bridge through the complex on its round-trip circuit around the park."
Stations, route and tour
The 1.5-mile (2.4 km) loop originally only stopped at Main Street or Frontierland. The Frontierland Station was renovated when that section of the park became New Orleans Square in 1966. It was renamed to be the New Orleans Square station at a later date. The loop was expanded to stop at Fantasyland (which became Mickey's Toontown station) and Tomorrowland.
Main Street Station is designed to coordinate architecturally with the rest of Main Street, and is the first Disneyland structure visitors see upon entering the park. A sign on the roof shows an elevation of 138 feet (42 m) above sea level (though this figure is only approximate) and a population number that roughly corresponds with the number of visitors to the park over the past nearly six decades. As of March 2013 the number stood at 650 million. An ornately decorated Kalamazoo handcar is on permanent display in front of the station on the former passing turnout once utilized by Retlaw 2, the Frontierland freight train, when each train stopped for passengers only at its own station. It is rumored that the handcar was donated to Walt Disney himself around 1955 by railroad historian and Disney friend Jerry Best. However, there is no evidence of this even in the Disney Archives. On display inside the station are various photos and print articles pertaining to DLRR history, vintage penny scale and Orchestron player and a replica of Walt's 1/8 scale live-steam garden railroad locomotive Lilly Belle; the original engine, tender and the caboose with detailed interior hand-crafted entirely by Walt was in the display case for many years on loan from the Disney family, which are now featured at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
The journey from Main Street station travels northwest along Disneyland's border, just outside the park's main berm from the Jungle Cruise. Guests get a glimpse of an antelope on the berm and for many years a cougar yowled at the trains before the train passes through Pirates of the Caribbean themed as Mardi Gras Carnival staging area.
New Orleans Square Station platform shelter is stylistically similar to Main Street Station. The Depot building on the west side of the tracks (inspired by the Grizzly Flats Railroad Depot) originally served as the station platform; in 1962 it was removed from service and moved across the realigned tracks, in preparation for the New Orleans Square expansion, which now serves primarily as an ornamental detail and break room for train crews. The Land Line Telegraphy extension of Morse code sound effect heard emanating from the depot Telegraph Office, historically used by telegraphers on operating railroads, repeats endlessly the first two lines of Walt Disney's 1955 opening day speech "To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future."
The journey from New Orleans Square, the train passes into a tunnel through the berm between the Haunted Mansion's facade and show building. Shortly thereafter passengers catch a glimpse of Splash Mountain's "Zip-a-Dee Lady" riverboat finale scene before crossing over Critter Country Lane on a trestle. The track then follows the outer edge of the Rivers of America, where guests glimpse minor wildlife scenes, a friendly Indian chief on a horse, and a view of a settler's log cabin across the river on Tom Sawyer's Island. Originally, the Burning Settler's Cabin was shown being under attack by Indians, with roof, door and windows ablaze, accompanied by Indian war chants, war-whoops and hollers coming from the distance with an arrow in the back of the settler fallen in front of his cabin; these elements were modified in the 1970s to represent a victim of evil river pirates complete with unconvincing fire of blown cellophane and silk ala Pirates of the Caribbean (attraction), the exploded alcohol still of an inebriated moonshiner (now with real fire again) in the 1980s, an eagle's nest threatened by the careless settler's blaze in the early 1990s, all of which proved politically incorrect and was eventually extinguished at the end of 1999. During the Pirate's Lair on Tom Sawyer Island makeover, asbestos was removed and the cabin refurbished to represent a sustainable homestead. The train then passes behind Festival of Fools picnic grounds, through a tunnel in the berm (actually the heavy equipment bridge to the interior,) and into Toontown Depot.
In 1956, a year after Disneyland's opening, Fantasyland Depot was constructed where the photo kiosk is today. Nearly ten years later in 1965 the canvas tent station was closed, dismantled and the track realigned northward from directly behind Casey Jr. Circus Train to its present location to accommodate construction of "it's a small world", incorporating the railroad line into its facade. In 1985 Videopolis Station was built, then rethemed to a cartoonish design to correspond with the new Mickey's Toontown opened in January 1993. Toontown Depot seems to be the most crowded station on the railroad. Upon leaving the depot, the trains pass through the facade of "it's a small world" and roll past backstage areas, such as parts of the parade route and mechanical stations.
The trains then pass Autopia before entering Tomorrowland Station, a Googie-styled depot built in 1958, themed with a Victorian era bronze color scheme of steampunk anachronistic technology aesthetic envisioned by the 1998 New Tomorrowland project, and painted over with whites, silvers, and blues. A trivision billboard outside the station promotes the Railroad as a time travel device, with stops in 1900 (Main Street, U.S.A.), 1860 (Frontierland), and c.200,000,000 B.C. (Primeval World).
Leaving the Tomorrowland station, viewers get a quick glimpse of the Innoventions building and enter the Grand Canyon diorama building via faux tunnel, followed by the Primeval World diorama featuring dinosaurs created for Ford's Magic Skyway pavilion of the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. After a brief stretch along the berm, the train re-enters the Main Street station.
The Disneyland Railroad currently has five 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge steam locomotives (the original four are named after former Santa Fe CEOs):
- 1: C.K. Holliday, a 4-4-0 built in the Walt Disney Studio in 1954; went into service at Disneyland on Opening Day, 1955. It was named for Cyrus Kurtz Holliday, founder of the Santa Fe Railroad in 1859. Currently under extensive overhaul till early 2015.
- 2: E.P. Ripley, a 4-4-0 built in the Walt Disney Studio in 1954; went into service at Disneyland on Opening Day, 1955. It was named for Edward Payson Ripley, an early president of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) after its 1895 reorganization.
- 3: Fred Gurley, a 2-4-4 built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1894, went into service at Disneyland March 28, 1958. The locomotive, named for the then-current chairman of the ATSF, Fred G. Gurley, is the oldest single piece of railroad equipment in use at any Disney theme park. The 2-4-4T tank locomotive, used in Louisiana to transport sugar cane, was purchased in working condition for US$1300; nevertheless, more than $35,000 was spent on its restoration. A commemorative plastic plaque celebrating the Gurley's centennial was mounted under the engines running board in 1994. In 2008, the Fred Gurley returned from an extensive overhaul and was featured as a static display at the Fullerton Railroad Days.
- 4: Ernest S. Marsh, a 2-4-0 originally built by Baldwin Locomotive Works as a 0-4-0 saddle-tank in 1925; went into service at Disneyland July 25, 1959. It was named for the Santa Fe's then-current president, the Marsh originally served the Raritan River Sand Company in New Jersey before it was purchased and used by the Pine Creek Railroad, a tourist railroad in central New Jersey. During shipment from New Jersey to California, the locomotive was misrouted and ended up in a rail yard outside Pittsburgh. Disney placed a call to personal friend Marsh who personally oversaw the rerouting and rapid shipment of the locomotive to its final destination. The Ernest S. Marsh recently underwent an extensive overhaul and returned to service in 2012.
- 5: Ward Kimball, a 2-4-4, serial number 20925, built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1902 for the Laurel Valley Plantation of Louisiana and later received in trade from Cedar Point Amusement Park as the inoperative Maud L in 1999. Cedar Point added a lead truck during its service there, making it a 2-4-4T. Restoration was begun by Boschan Boiler and Restorations of Carson in 2004 and went into permanent service on June 25, 2005, as part of the park's fiftieth anniversary celebration. The new locomotive's headlight features a gold leaf silhouette of Jiminy Cricket, based on a drawing of the character Kimball made shortly before his death. Thus, the locomotive marks a break in Disneyland Railroad's tradition of naming engines after Santa Fe officials, and instead being named in honor of a Disney railroading and animation legend.
To complement the two original engines the park added two more engines and consists, totaling four engines and trains, and more recently, a fifth engine was acquired. Since many 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge lines were closing down and selling their equipment these locomotives were acquired from outside sources, which was both less costly and less labor-intensive than fabricating new ones from scratch. All three were given extensive renovations before entering service, including new boilers. Number 3 and the "new" Number 5 are "Forney" tank locomotives which were often used on suburban or branch line trains, as they could make their return journeys "in reverse" with the tender fuel tank facing forward, without the need for a turntable or "wye" track configuration. However, the engines are operated more conventionally at the park. Number 3 is the oldest locomotive in service at any Disney property, built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1894.
The engines, with the exception of the park's most recent fifth engine, were each named after Santa Fe railroad officials. Disney had traded the yellow Retlaw-1 train for a locomotive, which after restoration proved unsuitable for the DLRR or Magic Kingdom. In 1999, Disney traded it to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio for the inoperable 1902 Baldwin locomotive Maud L originally named for Maud Lepine, daughter of one of the original owners and a name kept throughout the locomotive's service life. They sent it to a Southern California shop in 2004 to restore it and transform it into Disneyland Railroad locomotive number 5, the first added since 1959. It is now named after Ward Kimball, one of Disney's Nine Old Men and an avid railroad preservationist.
As of 2007, each Disneyland Railroad locomotive has been converted to burn B98 biodiesel which burns cleaner than traditional coal, wood, or heavy "Bunker C" oil normally used on oil burning steam locomotives. Disneyland then began recycling its own cooking oil into biodiesel, further reducing fuel costs. The locomotives are fueled by biodiesel blended primarily from used cooking oils drained from Disneyland kitchen fryers then filtered and blended with enough soy based fuel to supply operation, giving credence to guests being able to smell french fries in the tunnels.
In 2006 the #2 E.P. Ripley was displayed at the former annual Fullerton Railroad Days in Fullerton, California. It was the first time a DLRR locomotive was displayed at an off-site public event. The next year, the #1 C.K. Holliday was displayed at the Fullerton Railroad Days. The #3 Fred Gurley was displayed there in 2008, the year after the Holliday.
Before 2012, the whistles of the locomotives were slightly similar to one another. The E.P. Ripley and Fred Gurley had multi-tone whistles, while the C.K. Holliday and Ward Kimball had single-tone whistles. There are a few differences between the whistles, though:
- The Ernest S. Marsh's whistle was lower-toned than the C.K. Holliday, while the Ward Kimball's was a little higher-pitched. After the 2012 restoration, though, the Marsh had an identical whistle to the Holliday.
- The Fred Gurley's whistle, at first listen, is identical to that of the E.P. Ripley, but upon closer listening, its whistle has a tendency to shriek.
- In 2013, the Marsh had work done on its whistle to restore its original 3-chime Powell sound; later, during the 2014 closure of the railroad, extreme wear was found on the 1-chime Lunk given to the Kimball in 2005; the locomotive's original whistle, which it had worn at Cedar Point as the Maud L, was reinstalled, partially restoring the locomotive to its old identity. during the 2013 refurb seating for 2 was added to the tender of the locomotive like on Engines 1 & 2
Other Disney railroads
Similar to Disneyland, a train encircles the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. There are also Disneyland Railroads at Tokyo Disneyland (named "Western River Railroad" with 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge track), Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
The Disneyland Railroad at the Paris park has four trains: the W.F. Cody, the C.K. Holliday (not to be confused with the one in Disneyland), the G. Washington and the Eureka, each measuring 73 meters (240 feet) long and weighing 75 metric tons (83 short tons). They take twenty minutes to tour Disneyland Park, and are stored backstage in a roundhouse behind the Indiana Jones attraction.
The Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad has three trains: the Walter E. Disney (not to be confused with the one in Magic Kingdom), the Roy O. Disney (also not to be confused with the Magic Kingdom one) and the Frank G. Wells. They are Severn Lamb Jupiter models and run on 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track like their sister trains at the Disneyland-type parks in California, Florida, and France. Hong Kong's, however, are steam outline locomotives.
There were only two train sets on opening day—the yellow passenger coaches of the Retlaw 1 train, which only stopped at Main Street Station, and the red cattle cars, gondolas and caboose of the Retlaw 2 train, which only stopped at the Frontierland Depot. The trains were entirely fabricated new alongside of the superstructure of the Mark Twain Riverboat by studio carpenters inside Burbank, California soundstages of Disney Studios, and were then trucked to Disneyland. Even the wheels and trucks were cast new with raised "Disneyland 1955" lettering. In 1954 Crown, makers of school buses, fabricated the diminutive forward facing seats and window hardware installed on the passenger train. Windows could be lifted and positioned at 4 intermediate stops between fully open and closed. There were six yellow passenger coaches with green letter boards, red wheels and clerestory (#101 - #106).
Combination coach No. 101, affectionately known as "the Combine" is a combination baggage/express and coach seating which was patterned after the Oahu Railway Combine, No. 36 (pictured) on display near the studio at Travel Town Museum — the railway post office/Wells Fargo Express/Baggage compartment held trunks of wood and leather, mail sacks, a strong box and a few kegs of blasting powder (merely props). The rest of the train consist were officially named, each coach bearing painted green titles on their sides reflecting the Santa Fe sponsor: 102 Navajo Chief, 103 Rocky Mountains, 104 Land of Pueblos, 105 Painted Desert and the last car No. #106 Grand Canyon observation coach which featured larger twin windows and a grand observation platform with a candy-stripped canopy skirt over the illuminated "Santa Fe & Disneyland Limited" drumhead sign on the end. Disembark/embark via narrow doors at the open vestibule platforms at each car's end was prone to delay.
There are eight railcars of the Frontierland freight train, Retlaw-2 #201–#207 cattle cars and gondolas in a mixed consist with caboose #208 always trailing behind. Initially there was no seating in the cattle cars or open gondolas; most of the passengers were to remain standing the entire trip. Only the caboose had seats; four of the seats were up in the cupola. At least the cattle cars provided shade. These cars eventually had "Holiday" style benches installed facing the right side of the train, inwards toward the park.
A third set of cars, train number 300 (known as Retlaw-3, or the Excursion Train), debuted in 1958 with the addition of the Grand Canyon diorama. They had forward-facing "Excursion" style walkover bench seating similar to the Main Street Railroad horse-drawn trolley.
In 1965 and 1966, new cars were added with train sets #400 (Retlaw-4, with a green-striped awning) and #500 (Retlaw-5, with a blue-striped awning), featuring "Holiday" seating which faced toward the right side of the train.
Nowadays the seating consists primarily of open-air "Holiday" styled coaches covered with brightly striped canvas. Two rows of center loading bench-seating facing inward to the park for quick disembark/embark at the depots and for easier viewing of the Grand Canyon/Primeval World diorama—except the 1958 Excursion cars, which continue to seat face forward.
Shortly after the diorama's opening in 1958, the Retlaw-1 #100 train set of clerestory-roofed yellow passenger coaches with forward-facing seats, made famous on the park's opening day broadcast, were gradually retired from service because other trains would stack up behind it due to loading delays of disembarking/embarking guests via the narrow end vestibules and isles, as well as dissatisfaction of guests seated on the left attempting to view the Grand Canyon (and in 1965, the Primeval World) dioramas thru the trainset's small windows, until they were completed retired in 1974 and stacked behind the Roundhouse. Coaches #101–105 were traded to Bill Norred in the 1990s for a locomotive that was refurbished and named the Ward Kimbal. The first Ward Kimball was found too heavy for bridges on the Disneyland line and was sent to Walt Disney World, where it was unable to pull the heavier trains, then traded to Cedar Fair for a more suitable locomotive, the Maud L which was refurbished as the second Ward Kimball (see Locomotives above.)
A very special aspect unique to the Disneyland Railroad is the "tender ride". The tender ride is an enjoyable opportunity available to guests who inquire and are willing to wait. Walt insisted guests be able to experience and appreciate fully the sights, sounds, smells and aura involving the operation of a genuine steam locomotive. So a narrow seat was designed for guests to sit upon the tenders just behind the locomotive cabs within intimate shouting distance of the engineers operating engines #1 and #2, the two engines that were patterned from Walt's CP #173 Lilly Belle miniature live-steam operating locomotive model which were scaled up to full-scale 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge and fabricated for the park at the Disneyland Roundhouse shop. Guests may request a round trip tender ride from a Main Street stationmaster to experience a tender ride. Certain safety conditions may delay guests from embarking on tender rides: hot weather over 90 °F (32 °C) which can make the journey uncomfortable, engine refueling at Tomorrowland Station, crew change, taking on water, or a boiler blowdown at New Orleans/Frontierland Station. Only when all safety requirements are satisfied and once the proper locomotive pulls into the station, the conductor escorts one or two guests beyond a platform gate and up into the tender seat to be secured by seatbelts. Main Street Station is the only platform long enough to reach the locomotive, so guests must complete the grand circle tour and disembark at Main Street Station. The engineers are very accommodating to any questions guests may have and are very knowledgeable regarding the operation, history and significance of the locomotives they operate. Since 2013 Engine #4 also received seating on the tender as well
Combine, Walt's favorite "world's newest old train car", was the combination of passenger coach with baggage compartment in front, No. #101. Bill Norred's family who traded a locomotive for the #101-105 coaches then sold all but one to the Pacific Coast Railroad (tourist) which found the combine unsuitable for revenue service. After Bill passed, his family knew it was an historically significant car and was concerned about its long term survival and arranged to transfer ownership. The combine now belongs to the Carolwood Foundation, has been lovingly restored both operationally and cosmetically and is displayed next to Walt's Barn at public viewings hosted by the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, who has built an enclosure to display the combine with her well preserved original seats, decor and all of her original props. Although labeled with "Wells Fargo Express" and "U.S. Mail", it never was used as a railway post office, but it was equipped with a strong box. The car was Walt's favorite because it brought back pleasant memories of his youth on the Missouri Pacific as a candy, tobacco and news butch, where he would spend time reading H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, Audubon's Birds of America or Wild Life of America, and would occasionally climb over the tender to bring the fireman and engineer apples from his family orchard to be rewarded with lessons about steam locomotives.
The Grand Canyon Observation Coach #106 remained at the Disneyland roundhouse, where the crew lovingly refitted her as a private parlor car in bright red shiny lacquer livery, gold leaf letter-boards and delicate pinstripe pillar decoration, with a lavish interior (pictured) of rich Tibetan Mahogany paneling, red plush velvet chairs and love seats, fancy carpet, an ornate beveled glass mirror, gold fringed red velvet drapes, a coat rack with Walt's smoking jacket and antique marble tables supporting three of Walt's favorite books and an intimate portrait of Walt with the car's namesake, his wife Lillian - then rechristened the Lilly Belle.
No. #106 Lilly Belle is not a presidential coach; but its first official passenger was Japanese Emperor Hirohito. It is usually added at the end of a holiday train. On rainy days the car is uncoupled to remain in the carbarn to avoid guests spoiling the carpet with their wet shoes, as well as to avoid spoiling the paintwork. Members of Club 33 are permitted to ride unescorted aboard the Lilly Belle with their guests at any time, other guests must be escorted by a Disneyland cast member. During the Year of a Million Dreams promotion, random guests were chosen to experience a Grand Circle journey from Main Street aboard the Lilly Belle. Patient guests could inquire with the Main Street stationmaster about experiencing a journey aboard the Lilly Belle, there were up to 4 Lilly Belle excursions each operating day. In March 2014, the coach was restricted to Club 33 members, VIP tours, and celebrities. No reason was given.
The railroad operates daily, taking its first passengers at the park's opening, year-round. A round trip on the DLRR is usually 20 minutes.
Each train is manned by four Disney "cast members": two conductors, an engineer, and a fireman. The engineer is charged with operation of the locomotive and the fireman is responsible for maintaining the fire as well as water level in the boiler.
The conductors are responsible for the operation and safety of each station and the trains. Duties as station attendants involve passenger counts, answering questions and assisting passengers. While on the train the conductor runs the spiel box and makes safety announcements (narration is left up to a recorded voice). Trains cannot move without approval from the conductor. The conductors work in rotation.
Early in the morning the first crew arrives at the enginehouse to get the first train ready to depart. The maintenance crew will mark on the board which trains are to be used and the order in which they are to be removed from the roundhouse.
The first crew will prep and take out the first train listed. Safety and readiness checks are performed by the conductor as the enginemen prepare the locomotive for a day of operation. The conductor, who is in charge of the train and its motion, inspects the track and arrangement of the switches in the yard outside of the roundhouse to ensure safe passage out of the roundhouse to the park.
Once the boiler has reached working pressure and the engineers are ready to go, they will signal using the forward motion whistle (two short whistles). After a reply from the conductor's buzzer (two short buzzes) recognizing the whistle signal, the train will proceed into the park.
In the morning, the roundhouse operating engineers will test the safety systems on the train. The main tests include intentionally popping the safety valves. The safety valves are set to release excess steam to avoid going above the boiler's maximum working pressure. After the first train is on the line, the second is not far behind. As this is going on, other conductors arrive at the stations in the park and prepare for the trains' arrival.
When the park opens, the first train departs from Main Street Station. The second will be just behind. Typically, three trains are used daily, with a fourth sometimes coming out on busy days later in the morning.
Each lap around Disneyland should be completed in approximately 20 minutes. This timing is established and maintained by the first train. The second and third trains keep up with the first train as much as possible. The goal is to have the first train at Main Street Station on the hour and at :20 and :40 past. If a trains falls behind, it needs to catch up (or drop behind a lap) to get the first train to the top of the hour. This is necessary to meet the park's scheduled closing procedures.
The DLRR railroad featured trackside block signals along the line which resemble a typical traffic signal with two lights, red above green, which indicated to the engineers and conductor position of the trains on the system by proximity of the train ahead. Since 2004 in-cab signaling, colored lights in the cab near the engineer, inform the crew of the status of the track ahead. On the main line there are ten blocks. Four are the stations, including some length of track before the station. The other blocks are spread between stations.
The lights typically change in this order in both directions: Green <--> Yellow/Green <--> Red <--> Yellow/Red
In a three-train operation the conductors will not allow the train to proceed on a yellow/green signal. This keeps the trains spaced for more consistent service in the stations and prevents the train from having to stop in between stations. In a four-train operation conductors can move trains on the yellow/green signal. This is because there will almost always be a train in the second block ahead.
The Disneyland trackside signals, no longer the primary block indication, operate unlike most other railroads. On most railroads the signals change red as soon as the block is occupied, so once the locomotive trips the signal, the rest of the train will see that they are entering a red block. At Disneyland, this is instead represented by a flashing green, indicating zero approach to the crew while not upsetting the guests with an apparent safety violation.
Observant guests at New Orleans Station can know when the train is about to approach even before the announcement or bell by keeping an eye on the vintage semaphore as it starts to change from green/up to red/down.
Communication has always been the primary purpose of signaling whistles and horns. While the train is operated as a team, the conductor is ultimately responsible for its safety, and so is in command with the final say regarding train operation. On the DLRR, engineers use the whistle to communicate intent. The conductors indicate the same patterns by pressing a button wired to a bell in the locomotive cab. At stations the conductor signals it is safe for the train to proceed by calling aloud "All aboard!", although in later years, the conductor would stand on the rear of the observation car and tell the guests that the train is ready for departure. Engineers will acknowledge by signaling with two short whistles. The conductor then alights his running board and keys confirmation with two short button presses. The common whistles on the DLRR are:
- One Short – Attention
- Two Short – Forward movement
- Three Short – Reverse movement
- One Long, One Short – Approaching station
- One Long, Two Short – Crew spotted along track (also used as a general greeting)
- Two Long, One Short, One Long – Public crossing ahead (with bell)
- Two Long, One Short – Meeting point (Junction)
- One Long – Stop immediately or emergency stop
- Four Long – Train in distress
The train bell is rung upon the train's arrival towards a station as well as on the approach to a crossing. As with the whistle, the bell being rung is an official and mandatory signaling sequence. This system is also used at the Walt Disney World Railroad. Strangely, the bell is not rung when departing a station, which is required by Federal Railroad Administration regulations. In addition to federal regulation, another form of greeting is signaled by exchange of whistles when the Mark Twain Riverboat is sighted from along the banks of the Rivers of America - "Shave and a haircut" by the first, and "two bits" by reply, and occasionally responded in kind by the second and "two bits" reply.
At park closing, the conductors announce the departure of the last train, also known as the "Sweeper Train". All guests can ride until the train arrives back at Main Street station. Once back at Main Street the conductors walk the length of the train to ensure that there are no passengers remaining and any items left behind are unloaded to the station attendants and brought to lost and found. The procedure is the same for all trains.
After the train is cleared for departure, the conductor will signal the engineers with the forward movement signal. Then the train departs for the switch past It's a small world. Once a train passes the switch it stops. One of the conductors will jump off the train and throw the switch to allow the train to back to the roundhouse.
At this point the engineer relies on the conductor to guide the train to back towards the Roundhouse. This continues until the train is backed completely into the roundhouse. Another conductor will throw the switch back to allow another train to leave if one or more remain; otherwise the switch is left where it is.
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