For the first 17 years of its operation, the Walt Disney World Railroad only had two stations, Main Street and Frontierland. This made for a short ride between Main Street and Frontierland, and then a long ride back to Main Street. In 1988, Mickey's Birthdayland was added to the Magic Kingdom to celebrate Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday. One feature of this new land was a new railroad station, so that guests who had visited the park before could easily get to the new area; perhaps it also helped increase guest traffic on the railroad. Guests on the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom were told about a surprise party for Mickey, and the quickest way to get there was to take the train to Birthdayland. This was also the first time the Walt Disney World Railroad had recorded narration.
Then in the early 1990s, the original Frontierland station was torn down as part of the Splash Mountain construction. A new Frontierland station was built during this time, and the railroad tracks were routed through the new mountain. During this construction period, the railroad still operated, but under a modified format. Guests could ride only between Main Street and Mickey's Starland, as that area was called after Mickey's birthday celebration ended. The train would travel forward from Mickey's Starland to Main Street, and then would travel in reverse back to Mickey's Starland. This operation caused a decrease in capacity, because only one train could be on the track at a time, but it did allow the attraction to remain in operation instead of being closed completely. Posters were even made advertising that guests could "Ride the Rails in Reverse!" Because of the limited capacity, everyone had to disembark at each station, unlike normal operation where you can stay on as long as you wish, unless they are taking a train out of service.
The original water tower for the railroad was located at the Frontierland station. When that station was removed, a new water tower was built at Mickey's Starland, which now is Mickey's Toontown Fair. I have heard rumors about making the Toontown Fair station an enclosed building instead of an open-air structure, but it doesn't appear that will happen any time soon.
Walt Disney's wife, Lillian, was always supportive of Walt's train hobby. Some people have indicated in the past that she wasn't very supportive of his railroad at their house. Maybe she didn't like the idea when it was first presented to her, but she had only nice things to say about it in the preface to the book Walt Disney's Railroad Story. Walt had a legal agreement drawn up for Lillian to sign over the right of way for the railroad to him. He named his small scale engine Lilly Belle after his wife, and it is fitting that the No. 2 engine at the Walt Disney World Railroad is also named Lilly Belle.
Here you can see the Lilly Belle waiting at the Toontown Fair station, which is the open air structure on the left. The new water tower is painted to match the overall theme of Mickey's Toontown Fair.
The Lilly Belle is a 2-6-0 engine under the Whyte Classification System, which I explained in the last article on the Walter E. Disney, although I failed to include the name of the system. Here you can see the two front wheels and the six large drive wheels.
Each locomotive has its own color scheme. The Lilly Belle's scheme is a green boiler and cab, and red wheels. The lantern on each locomotive has highly detailed paintings on each side, as did the locomotives that once crossed the country on which these were based.
Here the Lilly Belle makes its way toward Tomorrowland. Just a little further down the track, the train will pass by Space Mountain. The main building for Space Mountain actually lies across the tracks from the rest of Tomorrowland. Guests cross under the tracks in a tunnel while they are in the long corridor between the Space Mountain entrance and the main waiting area. Also, some of the show buildings for Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain are outside of the railroad track loop.
This picture was taken from what used to be a great place to take railroad pictures - the walkway leading to the Magic Kingdom Monorail station. However, now you don't get quite the same view since they installed their security fence around the park a couple of years back. I can understand their reasons for the fence, but it does get in the way of a few good views of the railroad, as well as views from the trains.
One last shot of the Lilly Belle back at the Toontown Fair Station. And just in case you are curious, the locomotive weighs 61,000 pounds and is just over 37 feet long. More great information such as this can be found in the previously mentioned Walt Disney's Railroad Story by Michael Broggie.
- Story and Photos by Steve Burns
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