The Dallas Zoo will completely overhaul the popular Monorail Safari, updating electrical and mechanical systems and adding air-conditioning, with a goal of reopening the people-mover this summer.
After an extensive, months-long evaluation, electrical and structural specialists and engineers concluded that the monorail is in good condition, with only “minor issues.” Like a 25-year-old car, however, it needs more attention than a newer model.
“Our monorail has performed incredibly well for 25 years, serving nearly 4 million guests,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo president and CEO. “It’s a safe experience, with not a single injury in that time. But we want to provide only the best experience for our guests, and this renovation is necessary to do that.”
The $3 million project, scheduled to be finished by early summer, includes:
- Upgraded electrical and mechanical components.
- Air-conditioning for passenger cars.
- Addition of a diesel-powered “tug” to bring trains back to the station in the event of a power failure, eliminating the need for passenger disembarkation along the route.
- Renovation of the boarding station and ramps.
- New paint and graphics.
The Monorail Safari includes three low-speed electric trains, each with 13 cars. The trains ease along at 3 mph on a one-mile loop around the back side of our 106-acre zoo, allowing visitors to see six habitats not accessible by foot: mountain, woodlands, river, arid, semi-arid and bush. Going through the waterfall on a hot day is a favorite experience. It also circles above the Chimpanzee Forest, Nile crocodile pond and Penguin Cove.
It’s extremely popular with our visitors, with more than 250,000 riders each year. Free monorail rides are included with certain levels of membership.
“Believe me, since August we’ve heard from thousands of our guests, and they want it back,” Hudson said. “And so do we. But like every other decision, we had to make it in a fiscally responsible way.”
The monorail, one of only a few in the nation, is rare because it runs uphill and downhill. The inclines are necessary because the Dallas Zoo sits on a hilly, heartland prairie forest.
Zoo officials closed the monorail in August after an Oncor power surge outside of the zoo burned out an electrical part aboard the Elephant train, stranding 48 passengers. While the train was just 12 feet off the ground, we exercised extra caution and asked Dallas Fire crews to assist. It was the third time in three years that fire crews had responded after stoppages.
The trains are designed with multiple “fail-safes,” which keep them from moving in the event of an electrical issue, such as a power surge or breaker burnout. All three stoppages were the result of these features. However, stoppages are unacceptable to us, and after the August incident, the decision was made by zoo officials to shut down the system for the evaluation.
The monorail has remained closed for the winter season, as we worked to put together financing for the overhaul. Replacing the monorail completely would be very costly. In 1990, it cost $20 million to build, and that number would be significantly higher today.