Novelty Monorails - Expo '67
by David B. Simons Jr.
When we think about monorail systems at the several World's Fairs that have occurred in the century about to end, we are usually reminded of the two most famous ones: the ALWEG monorail at the Seattle World's Fair of 1962 and the AMF monorail at the 1964 New York World's Fair. For extra points, we could name fairs with no longer functioning monorails like Expo 86 in Vancouver, the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, the 1876 United States International Exhibition in Philadelphia, and the little known HemisFair in San Antonio, Texas.
Many who have visited it do not know that they have seen a permanent World's Fair of sorts, but Walt Disney World's Epcot is certainly an ever-changing vision of what our future, and indeed, our present should be like. ('Minus the long lines, I hope!) It is no coincidence, that the normally "for-transportation-only" monorail to Epcot enters the park first instead of dropping off arriving guests unceremoniously at the entrance. As such, it is PART of that rosy future that Walt, before his death in 1966, wanted to show visitors to Disney World. But did you know, that our northern neighbors (to use a cliché phrase) held an exposition of their own, carried guests around it with a monorail system, and still operate part of that system today?
The Montreal International and Universal Exposition, or Expo 67 for short, was held on two islands built in the St. Lawrence River for the fair. Massive feats of engineering were pulled off to double the size of one of the islands and to create from scratch the second, build a new bridge to them, and to construct an entirely new subway--the Montreal Metro--to help move all of the visitors to the fair. Huge pavilions were constructed by the the myriad countries of the world, by geographic regions of the United States and Canada, and by corporations intent on advertising their products and advancements. (And you thought Epcot was the first big sell-out with AT&T, MetLife, and United Technologies "presenting" the exhibits!) To move guests around between the two islands and among the exhibit buildings a monorail system was built which utilized some interesting design elements.
First, the Minirail, as it was called, operated two different kinds of trains on three different loop systems. One set of trains was constructed in Switzerland in 1964. The other set of trains was constructed in Montreal especially for the expo. Secondly, the system ran over water, through the giant "skybreak geodesic dome" of the United States Pavilion (What is it with the "big ball" at these things? Look at the Perisphere at the '39 World's Fair, the Unisphere at the '64 World's Fair--or is that thing even still there after the movie Men in Black?--[editor note: the 1964 Unisphere still stands!], and the theme pavilion at Expo 86, not to mention Spaceship Earth at Epcot.), and beneath water falls while giving its passengers an all-inclusive view of the fairgrounds while whisking them on their way to their next destination.
The fare structure for the system called for forty cents per passenger on the two small loops and the more extensive "blue" line--so named because of the color of the trains--charged fifty cents to "ride where you wish". The trains became so crowded with people that new passengers often could not board. After revising the fee to fifty cents for a half circuit and giving the boot to "looky-loo's" and "seat squatters", the trains became a little less popular and the serious passengers, those in need of transport and not just a place to sit with an ever changing view, were able to get to their destinations with a more reasonable wait time for spaces on board. Intended originally to be operated by a concessionaire, the fair corporation decided to maintain ownership and operations and justified this decision by drawing seven million passengers on the system in just the first three months of the operation. (Think of how quickly it must have paid for itself!)
The Blue Line consisted
of six passenger stops near major pavilions. Besides passing over
and under its own tracks, passing beneath the scenic water falls
near the pavilions of Quebec and Ontario, and rolling through
the U.S. pavilion, it also ducked under the standard gauge elevated
rapid transit Expo Express. The stations were named for the nearest
"major pavilion or well known landmark for which a bi-lingual
designation" could be employed: Metro, Agriculture, Theme,
and Canada. Interestingly, two of the lines' stations were "double
stops", that is, Agriculture and Theme stations were stops
for trains going either direction as the track eventually came
back through on the other side of the platform. This line was
4.2 miles long with thirty two trains, each made up of nine cars.
One hundred and two passengers could fit in the 125 foot long
train. Designed by the Swiss firm of Maschinenfabrik Habegger,
their running gear and automatic control systems were completed
by carbodies and superstructures built by Hawker Siddely in Montreal.
Trackage was built by Dominion Bridge Company to Habegger specs
and consisted of double "I" beams supported on "A"
frames up to forty feet high. Incredibly, the trains climbed ten
percent grades and regularly turned radii of fifty feet! Try that
with light rail! Rubber tires were driven by 7-1/2 horsepower
D.C. motors capable of moving the trains at a blistering 7-1/2
miles per hour.
The Yellow Minirail trains ran on two loops of 1.1 and 1.3 miles long. Twelve trains on each line with a consist of sixteen cars each could carry sixty passengers per vehicle. These smaller trains were only one hundred and five feet long and ran on a slightly different track structure making the two types of trains non-interchangeable. Again, rubber tires were employed powered by 2 horsepower D.C. motors.
Amazingly, these trains were taken out of storage for Expo 67. They had been utilized at the Swiss International Exhibition in Lauzanne in 1964 where they were manually controlled before being "recycled" with automatic controls for the Montreal fair. Similarly, the 1984 World's Fair (New Orleans, LA) UMI monorails are being re-used at Miami's Metrozoo in Florida and the Expo 86 Von Roll trains are currently in use at Alton Towers in Great Britain. The two yellow loops were operated around Ile Ste. Helene and La Ronde, the amusement park section of the expo. After the official end of Expo 67 many exhibits and their sponsors changed, for instance the U.S. pavilion became a giant aviary and semi-exotic zoo. The new exhibition was called "Man and His World". By the way, an international bureau regulates the length of time that an Exposition or World's Fair may run to limit the amount of time that a city may monopolize the world's attention at the expense of other cities with aspirations towards hosting a fair.
To this day, the La Ronde amusement park exists and STILL has its yellow line minirail, the last remnant of a major exhibition that is usually not the first to come to mind when thinking of World's Fairs and their monorails.
The following references were used for this article:
"The Minirail at Expo 67 and Man and his World" by Anthony Clegg
"Expo 67, Official Guide" published by Maclean-Hunter
/ back to the Novelty Monorails index