Railroads and Disney: The Reason You See Trains at Disney Destinations

Railroads, Steam Trains and Disney

All Aboard the Disney Railroads

The real reason that you see classic railroads at Disney destinations

Have you ever wondered why railroads are featured so prominently at Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World?

The history of the Disney railroads can be traced right back to Walt Disney himself and his long love affair with trains.

Disneylandia – The Precursor to Disneyland

Even before the concept of Disneyland entered Walt’s mind, his initial idea was to have box cars set up on a travelling railway show that would tour the country. The show was to feature the earliest versions of Walt’s miniature animatronics (Walt Disney was a pioneer in the animatronics field). Walt wanted to go to major cities and allow guests to come inside to see the attractions before taking his show on the rails to the next major city. He called this concept “Disneylandia,” and this was the precursor to what would ultimately become Disneyland Park.

Disneyland Railroad Sign

Disneyland Railroad Sign.

While the realities and logistics of train travel on a large scale back then ultimately led to the demise of the Disneylandia concept, Walt’s passion for everything to do with trains never died. During the time that things at the animation studio were not going so well, Walt turned more and more to his passion for scale model trains and he even had one manufactured right on his studio’s soundstage. Later, when he was looking for a new home, one of his primary requirements for the property was that it needed to have enough room for him to build a working railroad that could carry guests around his yard.

His dream came true with the construction of a track and the creation of the locomotive known as Lilly Belle, named after his wife. This home on Carolwood Drive in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles (Westwood) featured the Carolwood Pacific Railroad as its top attraction and Walt had special tickets printed that he gave to guests who visited the Disney home as he provided train rides around the property.

The Walt Disney World Railroad

The Walt Disney World Railroad at Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park.

Given all of this as a backdrop, it should be no surprise that once the idea of the theme park began to take shape, the idea of including a working locomotive quickly became a feature attraction as something that would encircle the park. And so the Disneyland Railroad and the Walt Disney World Railroad were born.

Later, the Wildlife Express Train was added in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. The Wildlife Express was modeled after engines on the Indian Peninsula Railroad. This five-car train seats 250 passengers on contoured benches facing sideways to offer amazing behind-the-scenes glimpses at some of the park’s animal care facilities.

Wildlife Express Disney's Animal Kingdom

The Wildlife Express at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park (Photo: Disney).

And let’s not forget the attraction trains of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, equally inspired by their locomotive counterparts and Walt’s affection for train travel.

In addition, longtime travelers to Walt Disney World in Florida will also remember the locomotive railroad that made its way through Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground in the early years. We loved riding that train as kids in the 1970s. Ultimately that railroad was retired (we would jump on and off of the moving train and as times changed, safety concerns become more of an issue).

Still, the Disney railroads are true Classic Disney experiences in every respect. They go right back to the heart and passion of Walt Disney, the man who started it all.

If you have never taken a ride on a Disney Parks railway, do yourself a favor and hop on board during your next visit to a Disneyland Park or Disney’s Magic Kingdom Park. There are a few surprises along the way at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World and you will be experiencing something that is truly Classic Disney.

And it you really want to learn more about the locomotives and their history at Walt Disney World, treat yourself to the VIP Tour called All Aboard! Disney’s “The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains.”

All Aboard! Disney Steam Trains Tour

All Aboard! Disney’s “The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains” VIP Tour at Walt Disney World. (Photo: Disney)

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As a Luxury Travel Blogger and author of The Very Best of Walt Disney World Resort, I blog regularly about Disney vacations of all shapes and sizes.

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Mike Belobradic: The Finer Side of Disney Travel
Luxury Travel Blogger – Deluxe Disney Travel Specialist