Update: October 3, 2009
Yesterday, I rode the TTA. I was surprised to hear a new audio track had replaced the old narrative. A cast member told me this change took place on Thursday, October 2nd – the day I was riding.
Gone are the old jokes about keeping your forward facing tentacles inside your vehicle. And Mr. Tom Morrow is no longer paged or asked to give his party on Saturn a ring. The narrative is now in a young man’s voice and he points out the various sights along the way. For example, as you pass the Carousel of Progress, a brief description of this attraction is presented. This is in keeping with the original PeopleMover at Disneyland. On that now defunct ride, the many sights of Tomorrowland were pointed out as you passed by.
I have mixed emotions about the new recording. While it’s sad when something we like is discontinued, updates are necessary to keep things fresh. I was told the Imagineers will monitor guest reaction to gauge how this change is received.
As you may know, Space Mountain is currently closed for an extensive refurbishment and is scheduled to reopen in November of this year. Since the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA) travels through Space Mountain, it was necessary to close this attraction as well. But the mountain’s refurbishment has reached a point that the TTA could reopen and did so today (September 12th). I decided to take this opportunity to give you a little history of this sedate, yet very popular ride. But like so many other Magic Kingdom attractions, we must step back in time and across the continent to Disneyland in order to get a better understanding of the TTA, or WEDway PeopleMover as it was originally named.
When Walt was building Disneyland, money was extremely tight. Tomorrowland was practically an afterthought and during the early years, lacked greatly in attractions and ambiance. In 1959, Tomorrowland saw its first real improvement with the addition of the Submarine Voyage and the Disney/Alwig Monorail. But the biggest change came to this area in July 1967, when Tomorrowland was reborn (at a staggering cost of $23-million). Adventures Thru Inner Space, an all new CircleVision movie presented in an enlarged theater, elevated Rocket Jets, an improved Flight to the Moon, and the Carousel of Progress were all added to the land of the future. And tying them and the existing Tomorrowland attractions together was the PeopleMover sponsored by Goodyear. This elevated highway gave guests an overhead preview of all the wonderful new adventures that were just waiting to be experienced.
In its day, the PeopleMover was innovative and Walt thought of it as more than just a ride. He felt that the PeopleMover, along with the monorail, could help cities solve problems of congestion and overcrowding. In fact, he was so taken with both of these modes of transportation that they were incorporated into the plans for the city of the future he intended to build in Florida – a city to be called EPCOT. In this 1967 concept drawing of EPCOT, you can see both the PeopleMover (left) and the monorail (right).
The queuing process for Disneyland’s PeopleMover was unique. First, guests boarded a speed-ramp (an inclined conveyor belt) for transport to a second level boarding area. At the end of the ramp they were deposited onto a stationary platform, surrounded by a large rotating turntable. Since the inside of a disk moves slower than the outside, it allowed guests an easy transition from the stationary platform to the moving turntable. As they walked to the outer edges of the turntable, their speed gradually increased. This arrangement allowed for better guest safety and improved ride capacity since the cars didn’t need to slow down as much in order to be boarded.
The PeopleMover was powered by small rubber tires (made by Goodyear) embedded along the track. Spaced about every nine feet, hundreds electric motors powered these tiny tires as they pressed against fiberglass epoxy plates positioned on the bottom of the cars. Top speed: six miles per hour. Each train consisted of four cars, holding four passengers each. They were equipped with power doors and an automated roof that tilted out of the way for easier loading and unloading (see above picture). The PeopleMover had an astonishing capacity of 4,600 guests an hour.
Along the nearly one mile route, a cheery narrative was piped into each car, describing the sights along the way while occasionally praising Goodyear. Unlike its future Florida cousin, Disneyland’s PeopleMover changed elevation as it circled Tomorrowland. It traveled over the Autopia, through shops, and above the submarine lagoon. It even paralleled the monorail for a short distance.
When the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World was in the planning stages, the PeopleMover (to be known as the WEDway PeopleMover) was an obvious choice to be included in the new park. However, it was not an opening day attraction. You see, just like at Disneyland sixteen years earlier, Tomorrowland would have to wait until after the park opened before it took on its full potential. The WEDway PeopleMover did not open until July 1, 1975, six months after Space Mountain. Here are two pictures taken in January 1972. As you can see, the WEDway PeopleMover is far from operational status.
There were several changes made to the Florida version of this ride from its California counterpart. First, it would not be powered by moving wheels embedded in the track, but rather by linear induction motors. This made for a much smoother ride than at Disneyland. Second, due to Florida’s weather, it was decided that individual roofs over each car would not be sufficient protection from the elements, so the entire track was covered. Another change would be the addition of a fifth car to each train. And as I mentioned earlier, the Magic Kingdom version traveled at the same elevation throughout its entire journey. This concept drawing provides a good overview of the attraction.
Back at Disneyland, the Carousel of Progress was being dismantled so it could be shipped to Florida. On the second floor of the COP building was a large model of Progress City – the prototype for the city of EPCOT. The Imagineers didn’t want to destroy this beautiful work of art, yet they had no place to store or display it at Disneyland. It was eventually decided to make it one of the sights seen while riding the new WEDway PeopleMover in Florida; however, it was much too large in its current state and would need to be cut down dramatically in order to fit into the space available. Believe me, anyone who saw the original model at Disneyland, knows that this resized version pales by comparison.
The WEDway PeopleMover has changed little over the years. However, some of the sights along the way have evolved. For example, in the beginning, guests looked into the “If You Had Wings” attraction, then came “Dreamflight,” and finally “Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.”
As part of the Tomorrowland makeover, the attraction closed for five months in 1994. During this time it received cosmetic changes, giving the front section of the attraction a retro-futuristic look, leaving the back half virtually unchanged. The ride was also given a new name, the “Tomorrowland Transit Authority” or TTA. The backstory being that this is a future mode of transportation in the metropolis of Tomorrowland and the “Blue Line” services this area.
I have ridden the TTA more than any other attraction at Disney World. Why? First, it rarely has a line, and if it does, it’s never more than a five minute wait. Next, the TTA offers a ten minute relaxing ride – allowing me to sit down in relative comfort. This is the perfect way to unwind for a few moments after being on my feet for hours. And finally, I like this attraction. It’s enjoyable to people-watch from high above the crowd. In addition, I get to take in some great Disney architecture and detailing along the way. Also, if the ride doesn’t have a line, you can ask the cast member if you can stay on for a second go-round.
Is this ride as thrilling or as engaging as other attractions at Disney World? Nope. Far from it. But it is a favorite of many people. I mourn the passing of the PeopleMover at Disneyland especially since the Rocket Rods attraction failed to run satisfactorily. I only hope that Disney does something with this eyesore of empty track sometime soon. I also hope that the Magic Kingdom version keeps running for many years to come.
To my knowledge, only one change of any note has been made to the TTA. A new LED lighting system has been installed and the track route changes colors every several seconds during the evening. Sorry, I do not have any pictures of this.
Here is a video I created of the TTA to help you relive the simple pleasures this ride has to offer. Note, it was a rainy day so occasionally you’ll see a drop of water on my lens. Sorry.