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Walt Disney World Monorail Crash. One person dead.

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  • 3 weeks later...



The fines facing Walt Disney World following an investigation into a fatal monorail crash at the resort last summer have been reduced by 20 percent, under a settlement Disney negotiated with federal-safety regulators. Disney will now pay $35,200, down from an initial recommendation of $44,000, for four safety violations discovered by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration during a six-month investigation into the July 5 monorail crash. The accident killed 21-year-old monorail driver Austin Wuennenberg of Kissimmee.


Disney and OSHA signed the settlement agreement Friday. It was released publicly Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Disney said the resort “worked directly with OSHA to address any concerns.” She declined to comment further. Under the agreement, Disney agreed to correct all four safety violations cited by OSHA, including one lapse that the agency said contributed to the monorail crash. The accident occurred as one of Disney’s trains was driving in reverse during a botched track switch and backed into another train driven by Wuennenberg. The agency cited Disney for broadly failing to recognize the potential hazards of driving the monorail trains in reverse. OSHA noted, for instance, that Disney did not follow safety recommendation from the trains’ manufacturer, Bombardier Inc., calling for the use of an observer positioned at the back end of a train whenever one is backing up.


Disney in December adopted a new policy requiring spotters whenever trains are reversing. OSHA also pointed out that Disney’s policies at the time of the crash did not require the employee whose job is to coordinate the movement of all trains on the system to remain at a console which would have shown that the appropriate track switch had not been activated. Disney now requires the monorail coordinator to remain stationed at that console. The resort says it has also made several other changes since the accident, including new communication protocols between workers whenever a train is transferring between tracks. OSHA’s fine for that violation, which it labeled “serious,” remains at $7,000 under the settlement terms. But the agency reduced fines for two other unrelated safety violations it found during the monorail probe. OSHA lowered one proposed fine, from $25,000 to $19,100, issued because workers in Disney’s monorail maintenance shop were working at heights of more than 8 feet without adequate fall protection. And it reduced a second penalty, from $10,000 to $7,100, issued because Disney did not train monorail workers in the use of portable fire extinguishers. OSHA said both were repeat violations for Disney. The fourth violation cited by OSHA was because Disney did not have a chuck guard installed on a drill press in the maintenance shop. The fine remained at $2,000 under the settlement agreement.

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The mother of the Walt Disney World monorail driver killed in a collision last summer has sued the resort, accusing Disney of reckless conduct that contributed to her son’s death.


In the wrongful death suit, lawyers for Christine Wuennenberg say Disney failed to follow its own monorail-safety procedures, leading directly to the July crash that killed 21-year-old Austin Wuennenberg. The complaint seizes in large part on Disney’s policy of having monorail drivers continue driving their trains from the front cabin even when they must move the trains in reverse through track switches — rather than having drive from twin controls in the rear cab where they would have a clear view of the track as they back up.


The July 5, 2009, crash happened at about 2 a.m. during a botched attempt to transfer a train between tracks near the end of a work day. One of Disney’s monorail trains was backing up over a track switch that was supposed to move the vehicle from the resort’s Epcot line to a short spur leading to a Magic Kingdom line and on to the system’s maintenance bay. The track switch was never realigned and the train wound up driving in reverse back down the Epcot line and into a second train piloted by Wuennenberg. The driver of the train that hit Wuennenberg’s vehicle remained in the front cab of his train during the track switch.


Wuennenberg’s lawyers say Disney’s policy of having drivers remain in the front cab during such track switches contradicted a training guide the resort created for monorail employees that called for drivers to switch cockpits. They contend that Disney did not want drivers to switch cabins because the process — which requires powering down the front cab, then powering up the rear cab — takes several minutes to complete, which can delay other trains waiting to unload passengers. “Monorail pilots were required by Walt Disney Inc. to ignore the Monorail Operations Drive Training Guide with respect to changing cockpit positions simply because of the extra time involved,” Wuennenberg’s lawyers wrote in the 12-page complaint. “This unnecessarily endangered the lives of both monorail pilots and, indeed, paying customers of Walt Disney Inc.”


Immediately after the accident, Disney began requiring monorail drivers to switch cockpits before transferring off the Epcot loop, one of several changes the resort has made since the crash.


The suit also criticizes Disney for not requiring the coordinator who oversees the entire monorail system by radio to remain at a console that would have shown the track had not been realigned. And it accuses the resort of forcing monorail drivers to work long hours without “adequate break time and rest.” Wuennenberg’s attorneys could not be immediately reached Monday morning. The lawsuit was filed last week in Orange County circuit court.


The suit comes a month after the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration concluded a six-month investigation into the crash. The agency cited Disney for one “serious” safety violation that contributed to the accident, in part because Disney did not follow a separate manual written by monorail manufacturer Bombardier Inc. that urged the use of spotters to watch the back end of any train that is reversing. Disney began requiring the use of spotters in December whenever trains are backing up.


A separate investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still continuing. That probe is expected to wrap up in about five months.

A spokesman for Disney said the resort did not want to comment on the suit while the NTSB’s investigation is ongoing. But spokesman Bryan Malenius added, “The fact of a lawsuit does not diminish our sympathy for Austin’s family.”

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And to think during training I was able to drive my train in reverse during switching procedures from the Epcot beam on Express...That was probably one of the most exciting parts of the job when going 40 mph from Base to Magic Kingdom in reverse during closing. It's too bad none of that is allowed anymore, but I guess its better now and much more safer.

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  • 5 weeks later...



At about 2 a.m. July 5, as the last of Walt Disney World’s theme parks was closing after one of the busiest days of the year, there was still much to do inside the resort’s monorail-maintenance shop. An electrician there was juggling multiple tasks as he operated the track switches linking the monorail system’s Magic Kingdom and Epcot loops. Three of Disney’s 12 trains were waiting to transfer between tracks, and a fourth was approaching the bay where it was to be parked for the night. So when the electrician received the radio call instructing him to activate the switch that would allow one of the trains to transfer off the Epcot loop, he logged in to do so. But then, apparently distracted by a call about a door alert from the train approaching the maintenance bay, he did not activate the Epcot switch. The electrician radioed that he had, though. As a result, the waiting train, driving in reverse to traverse the switch, wound up returning down the Epcot line and crashing into another train, killing that train’s pilot, 21-year-old Austin Wuennenberg of Kissimmee.


Investigators with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined, according to an internal memo summarizing the accident, that the unidentified electrician was “over tasked” that night, though it is unclear whether the agency thought Disney had assigned him too many responsibilities or whether the electrician himself tried to do too much at once. The internal report is among hundreds of pages of documents compiled by OSHA during a six-month investigation into the accident and reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel after a Freedom of Information Act request. The records provide new details and deeper context to the formal citation OSHA issued in December, when it charged the resort with four workplace-safety violations and proposed a fine totaling $44,000.


An OSHA spokesman characterized the memo as “a draft version” of the final citation. He would not elaborate on the comments within it. “The citations are what OSHA decided to actually cite the company with. … Anything before that is preliminary,” spokesman Mike Wald said.

Among other details from the OSHA’s documents:


– Disney did not provide the electrician with written procedures for operating the computers that controlled the track switches. The electrician was given only oral instructions on the switching procedures sometime in September or October 2008. Disney has since provided written training materials to employees.

– The electrician operating the track switches that night was not the regular person in the job. He was substituting for another employee who has handled switching operations for 21 years — but who was on vacation.

– OSHA investigators considered the guest-service manager who was coordinating the monorail system via radio from an off-property restaurant “negligent” because he was not at a control console where he could have seen that the maintenance worker had not realigned the track. The manager, who was on a dinner break, had allowed the primary coordinator to go home sick and was temporarily handling coordination duties until a replacement worker could reach the central console. The ill employee clocked out at 1:47 a.m. — about 13 minutes before the collision — and his replacement was en route to the central tower at the time of the crash.

– The driver of the train that backed into Wuennenberg’s train had “limited visibility” at the time of the crash. The driver told investigators he could not see with his side-view mirrors because humidity and fog on the windshield “made it nearly impossible to see clearly.” Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that, at the time of the accident, the temperature was about 76 degrees, with 90 percent humidity.

– Disney’s own investigation of the accident appears to have placed the blame primarily on the electrician in the maintenance shop. Though OSHA did not provide Disney’s internal report as part of its documents, citing a federal public-records exemption governing trade secrets, a letter to OSHA from one of Disney’s lawyers said the company’s internal probe “demonstrates that the accident was caused when the maintenance panel operator improperly gave the command that the switch had been completed by him when, in fact, it had not been completed.”


A spokeswoman for Disney would not comment on issues raised in OSHA’s documents, saying the resort has agreed not to discuss the accident until the National Transportation Safety Board completes its own investigation. A representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents the electrician, also would not comment.


A representative for the Transportation Communications International Union, which represents monorail drivers, said the investigation demonstrated that neither Wuennenberg nor the other monorail driver was to blame for the accident. “It was proven by multiple agencies that none of the Service Trades Council employees were found to be at fault, including either monorail pilot,” said Randall Sluder, a field representative for the union.

OSHA’s investigation ultimately led to a formal citation, issued Dec. 23, charging Disney with one “serious” workplace-safety violation that contributed to the collision.


In that citation, OSHA broadly criticized Disney for failing to provide a safe workplace, noting several policy lapses. Among them: failing to follow a recommendation from monorail-manufacturer Bombardier that a spotter be used to watch the back end of any train driving in reverse, and failing to require the monorail’s central coordinator to be stationed at the main console whenever a track switch was occurring. OSHA also cited Disney for three other, unrelated safety violations that it discovered during the monorail probe.


Disney has made a series of policy changes in the accident’s aftermath. The day after the crash, for instance, the resort began requiring that coordinators remain at the central console during track switches and that monorail drivers switch ends and drive from twin controls in the rear cabin of their trains when reversing direction through the Epcot switch. In September, Disney said it had provided monorail-maintenance-shop workers with written instructions for the panel that controls the track switches. And in December, three days before OSHA publicly issued its citation, Disney began requiring spotters to watch the rear end of any train backing up.


Shortly after the accident, Disney placed the three employees directly involved with the sequence of events leading up to the accident — the electrician in the maintenance shop, the manager who had been filling in as central coordinator, and the driver of the second train in the collision — on administrative leave. The electrician and the manager recently returned to work in different roles with the company, according to a person familiar with their employment status; the driver has been offered a new job within Disney but has so far opted not to return. Disney spokeswoman Zoraya Suarez would say only that two of the employees are back at work, while the other is “not yet” back.


OSHA ultimately fined Disney $35,200, a 20 percent reduction from the $44,000 in penalties it initially proposed. Disney paid with a check dated Jan. 22.

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  • 4 weeks later...



Walt Disney World is admitting no fault in the death of a monorail driver during a collision at the theme park last summer, according to documents filed in Orange County court. Lawyers for Christine Wuennenberg have accused Disney of reckless conduct leading to the July 5 crash that killed her son, 21-year-old Austin Wuennenberg, a Disney monorail pilot. The suit was filed in January.


Disney did acknowledge some details raised in the suit, such as: Before the collision, the monorail shop panel operator incorrectly reported that a track switch had been realigned properly. It also admitted that monorail pilot was told to go in reverse. The track switched was never realigned, causing a train to go back down the Epcot line and into the monorail driven by Wuennenberg. The accident occurred around 2 a.m. as the first monorail tried to transfer from the resort’s Epcot line to a short spur that leads to a Magic Kingdom line and onto the system’s maintenance bay.


Disney also reported the monorail coordinator requested to leave work because of an illness. The manager, who was at a restaurant with other Disney workers, granted the request and assumed the coordinator’s duties via radio. One issue raised in the suit deals with Disney’s policy of having monorail pilots drive from the front cabin even when moving the trains through track switches.


According to a seven-page response, Disney requests a trial by jury.

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I love lawyers.


"No Fault" =


Disney did acknowledge some details raised in the suit, such as: Before the collision, the monorail shop panel operator incorrectly reported that a track switch had been realigned properly. It also admitted that monorail pilot was told to go in reverse. The track switched was never realigned, causing a train to go back down the Epcot line and into the monorail driven by Wuennenberg.




Disney also reported the monorail coordinator requested to leave work because of an illness. The manager, who was at a restaurant with other Disney workers, granted the request and assumed the coordinator’s duties via radio.
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  • 4 weeks later...

With these details coming out its hard for me to not react with disgust towards the general lack of responsibility towards upholding safe operating procedures by Disney. Standard operating procedures exist and are implemented for a reason. I understand its easy to take it for granted that things will be done right and safely because that's how its been night after night, month after month, year after year and its easy to allow yourself to let some rules or procedures slide sometimes. Something as simple as not taking the time to do the cross signal to the operator, for example. But in this kind of of work - dealing with massive machines traveling with great speed and force - all it takes is a millisecond, one small mistake or miscalculation for things to go terribly wrong.


The mother certainly should be in for a good payday based on what has come out so far, it seems.

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It is definitely a sad event. Unfortunately, it seems to be the ThemePark cycle. The manufacturer has an SOP delivered with the ride and everyone becomes an expert on it. However, people move around and little things change. One small change is instituted by one person, and then they leave. The new person that comes in may assume that everything is running according to the SOP and doesn't even realize a change has taken place. Then that person changes one thing, and they leave. This goes on and on for years and the result is what we have here. There seems to be many variations from the original SOP over the years, and when you look at it as a whole, some of the changes were pretty drastic. Of course this is true for most accidents in any industry. Too bad.

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