Walt Disney’s Love for Railroads

“In one way or another, I have always loved trains” – Walt Disney.

Walt Disney wrote this in the October 1965 issue of Railroad Magazine. Walt’s love of trains has had a big influence in the Disney Parks, with all of them except Shanghai having a steam train to take guests around the park.

In fact, trains may have been the catalyst for Disney existing at all as Walt Disney came up with the idea of Mortimer Mouse, renamed Mickey by his wife Lillian, on a train journey from New York to Hollywood!

At Disney World, the Walt Disney World Railroad is an iconic symbol of Magic Kingdom and is one of the first sights to welcome guests as they arrive at the park.

The beautiful Main Street U.S.A train station sits right over the entrance of Magic Kingdom and if you are lucky you will see one of the majestic steam trains rolling in as you arrive!

The Walt Disney World Railroad takes you on a 1.5-mile loop around the entire park, known as the Grand Circle Tour, and has three stations: one on Main Street U.S.A, one in Frontierland and one in Fantasyland.

Hop aboard one of the four vintage narrow-gauge steam trains and take the full scenic twenty-minute journey around the park to take in all the sights or use the train as a convenient way to get around the park by hopping off at one of the stations.

On your locomotive trip you get to see backstage areas of Magic Kingdom and parts of the park you can only see from the train. There are also some hidden surprises in store!

The Walt Disney World Railroad is a great place for photo opportunities as you see rides and attractions from angles you cannot experience in any other way! See inside Splash Mountain, the backside of Big Thunder Mountain, pass by the Tomorrowland Speedway and keep an eye out to spot the specially created scenes showcasing first nations people and early settlers in the woodlands.

Take a journey on this classic mode of transport to listen to the chug of the train, hear the call of the whistle and see the steam billowing past as you pull into a station! For a lot of people the Walt Disney World Railroad is the only opportunity they have to ride on a steam train or even see one.

The History of the Walt Disney World Railroad

The Walt Disney World Railroad opened on 1st October 1971, the same day that Magic Kingdom had its grand opening! The railroad was actually the first Disney World attraction that was completed. Taking a trip on one of these steam trains is like taking a step back in time and getting to partake in one of Walt’s favorite past times.

These steam trains were all built between 1916 and 1928 and have been lovingly restored. Originally they were going to be made from scratch, just like the steam trains in Disneyland, but Roger E. Broggie, the WED Imagineer who oversaw the Disneyland and Disney World railroads, decided it would be better to purchase vintage trains to revive instead.

The trains were bought in a railroad boneyard in Mérida, Yucatán in Mexico in 1969. They were shipped by rail to Tampa Ship Repair and Dry Dock Company in Florida where they were repaired to be operational and renovated to be authentically fitting with the 1880’s aesthetic. The refurbishment took place from 1969 to 1971.

The names of the trains are Walter E. Disney, Lilly Belle (after Walt’s wife Lillian), Roger E. Broggie (after the Imagineer who oversaw the construction of the Disney World railroad) and Roy O. Disney. Walter E. Disney and Roy O. Disney are red in color and Lilly Belle and Roger E. Broggie are green.

The Walter E. Disney and Roger E. Broggie engines were built side by side in 1925 and worked together for 40 years in Mexico before coming to Disney World where they continue to work together to this day!

Walt’s Love Of Trains

Walt’s love of trains started as a young boy. His father was a railroad mechanic and his uncle was a steam locomotive engineer. Walt’s first ever job was selling newspapers and confectionaries on a train!

Walt Disney also had a fascination with miniatures which lead him to build from scratch his own miniature steam train and railroad in his backyard! The train was called Lilly Belle, after his wife Lillian, and the railroad was called the Carolwood Pacific, after his street address.

The seven-foot-long train could take 12 adult passengers on a railroad route around his family garden, which included bridges and a 70-foot tunnel underneath Lillian’s flower garden!

The design of the Carolwood Pacific miniature train was used when creating the Walt Disney World Railroad, where full-sized versions of Walt’s original build were made. And of course train 2 is also called Lilly Belle!

When Can I Ride The Walt Disney World Railroad?

The Disney World Railroad has been closed since December 3 2018 due to the construction of the new Tron ride in Tomorrowland. The trains run right through the construction area for this much anticipated attraction so because of this had to be closed.

Although you currently cannot ride the Disney World Railroad you can still see one up close! One of the steam trains is parked in Main Street U.S.A Station. This is not only a welcome sight when you enter the park but it is also a great way of still getting your photos of the train!

You can even go up to Main Street U.S.A station to marvel at the beautiful locomotive and take photos of the train up close. This is also a fantastic viewpoint to look down Main Street and Cinderella Castle!

The Disney World Railroad is expected to reopen in 2022. The railroad is unable to open until the construction of the new Tron ride is complete. Unfortunately, the reopening date has been pushed back as the construction of Tron is lasting longer than predicted, but hopefully 2022 will be the year!

The good news is the Disney World Railroad did start testing in December 2021. This is a great sign as it means progress is happening and we are getting closer and closer to its grand reopening!

Although you cannot currently take a journey on this steam train there are lots of attractions at Disney World that incorporate Walt Disney’s love of trains such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Expedition Everest and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to enjoy in the meantime!

If you would like to know more you can do a tour in Magic Kingdom all about the Disney steam trains! Disney’s The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour starts before the park opens and includes access to the railroad’s roundhouse, which is something guests never usually get to see! This three-hour tour is a must-visit for train enthusiasts! This tour is not currently operating but it is believed it will restart once the railroad is open once again.

Fun Facts About The Walt Disney World Railroad!

Each train will do the Grand Circle tour of Magic Kingdom up to 70 times a day!

It takes a full 45 minutes to fire up each locomotive. This is so that the water can increase to 425 degrees to create the steam that propels them.

The trains can travel up to 50 miles an hour but only reach the speed of 10 miles an hour in the park for safety reasons.

Each train will need to topped up with water every three or four circuits around Magic Kingdom. The water tower is located at Fantasyland station and this is where the trains will stop to refill.

Each train uses 25 US gallons (95l) of fuel and 200 gallons (760l) of water per hour!

During the night a crew will work to prepare the engines, repaint the trim, refuel the trains and polish the brass so they look beautiful and are ready to welcome guests the next day.

When you take a journey aboard the Walt Disney World Railroad keep an ear out for the different whistles you will hear. There are 16 variations that all have different meanings. Two short whistles are used to signal the train is moving forward, whereas one long whistle and one short whistle followed by a bell means you are coming into a station.

Each train has five passenger cars which hold 75 people per car and a total of 375 people per train.

Main Street Station is based on an ornate Victorian train station in Saratoga Springs, New York. Name ring a bell? One of the resorts you can stay in at Disney World is called Saratoga Springs!

If you look carefully you will be able to spot a window tribute to Walt Disney at Main Street Station that reads ‘Walt Disney World Railroad Office, Keeping Dreams on Track, Walter E. Disney, Chief Engineer’. This is the only window tribute that can be seen from outside the park!

On average the Disney World Railroad has 3.7 million passengers a year, making it one of the most popular steam-powered railroads in the world! In fact, this railway is the busiest in Florida with more people riding it than AMTRAK!

On a typical day two trains run at the same time. At busy times this can be increased to three.

The trains are operated by an engineer and a fireman in the engine cab and a conductor, who sits at the back of the train and oversees the passengers.

When Walt Disney first came up with the idea of creating a theme park he stated “I just want it to look like nothing else in the world…and it should be surrounded by a train” and that is exactly what Walt did.

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