UMI’s California minirail systems

Universal Mobility, Inc. (UMI), manufactured two minirail systems in California, in 1968 and 1971. These were the first and third systems UMI manufactured for Habegger in the United States. The latter of the two is Metro, which the history of the ride is tied in with Hersheypark’s Monorail. The earlier is UMI’s first system, which operates at the Cal Expo in Sacramento. These were the other two UNIMOBIL / Habegger Type II minirail systems produced, with Hersheypark’s being the third.

Metro

1971-06-13 The Los Angeles Times (pSMM 5)Metro opened in 1971. The ride was installed at a cost of $1.8 million ($10.6 million in 2016 US dollars). There were three stations at various points around the .75 mile (1.2 km) course – in the High Sierra Territory, Colossus County Fair, and Samurai Summit regions of the park. A picture of Metro under construction can be seen here.

This system had six 6-car trains, which meant the ride could transport 4,682 people per hour, according to UMI. This was nearly double what Hershey’s monorail could transport, and nearly double most other systems built after Metro.

The trains were initially painted solid colors, such as blue, green, and yellow. This pattern was identical to the look of Hershey’s trains. The trains were eventually repainted to look different at various times over the years Metro was in operation.

Metro was closed in 2001. The ride remained standing, but not operating, for a decade before the Metro trains (and some transfer track) were sold to Hersheypark. The trains have remained in storage at Hershey since arriving in late May 2011, while some parts of Metro remain standing in Magic Mountain.

2011-06-06 Metro Monorail Trains in Storage 002

Here are the metro trains, in storage at Hershey, in June 2011.

Cal Expo Monorail

The Monorail at Cal Expo was installed in 1968 by UMI when it was called Constam Corporation, UMI’s original name. This project came about in the wake of the popular Expo ’67, in Montreal, Quebec. Habegger Machinenfabrik constructed the Minirail systems for Expo ’67.

They were turning their attention to the American market, as monorails had become popular in the United States. Habegger licensed the rights to their monorail system to a company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Constam Corporation – later Universal Mobility, Incorporated.

In 1966, the California State Fair was being converted into a modern fair called the California Exposition. Work on the renovations began in August 1966. In December 1967, the Expo approved constructing a minirail system, similar to the one that was seen at Expo ’67. The Monorail built at a cost of $2.3 million ($15.8 million in 2016 US dollars). The system is 1.3 miles long and featured six 8-car trains. It could transport 4000 passengers per hour.

This system was built to provide scenic views of the California Exposition grounds. There is one Monorail station, located right at the main entrance. The ride was completed in 1968, but did not operate for the general public until 1969. This was because the ride went over parts of the grounds which were not completed for the 1968 season. A private investor helped bankroll the minirail system’s operating costs when the ride opened for the 1969 season.

While the Exposition has events which operate year round, there is a two week period in the summer which is the traditional California State Fair. In recent years, this has been the only time of year the Monorail has operated.

A video of the Monorail from 2011 is below a picture of the Monorail.

cal-expo-monorail-002

Here is a Cal Expo train. This photo is courtesy the Library of Congress, titled “Monorail at the 2012 California State Fair heldin in Sacramento, California.”


This was a look at the minirail systems UMI built in California. Next, we’ll look at the three Tourister systems that were operated at Carowinds, Kings Island, and Kings Dominion.

An Introduction to Monorail and Metro

In this series about various monorail systems, there are two monorails with a close relationship between the history of both parks.

When John O. Hershey was put in charge of cleaning up Hershey Park in 1969, he was very open minded to significant changes in the amusement park industry, and as such, he took to visiting parks all across America. This brought him in contact with the company which designed Disneyland with Walt Disney – R. Duell & Associates.

At the same time, R. Duell was involved with a project in Valencia, California – what would open in 1971 as Magic Mountain. It should be no surprise that the renovated Hersheypark (renamed from Hershey Park after the 1970 season) and the brand new Magic Mountain were something of a kindred family as there are some striking similarities to the look of both parks.

But since this is about the two park’s monorail systems, I digress. The monorail built for Hershey and the one built for Magic Mountain were both Universal Mobility, Inc.’s UNIMOBIL Type II minirail system. While Hershey’s Monorail opened in 1969, Magic Mountain’s Metro opened with the park in 1971.

30 years later, Magic Mountain closed Metro, and the ride remained “standing but not operating” because the ride was too expensive to deconstruct.

In 2011, Magic Mountain began taking the trains out of their storage area to be shipped somewhere.  It turned out that Magic Mountain sold the trains and some small pieces of track to Hersheypark. The delivery arrived at the end of May that year. Since that time, nothing has come of the trains being sold to Hersheypark.

I will be writing more about Hersheypark’s Monorail and Magic Mountain’s Metro in the next few days.

Universal Mobility, Incorporated

In 1960, a man by the name of Hendrik “Hank” Pater founded a new corporation in his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah: Advanced Welding Engineers (AWE). Pater is company president and general manager. In about 1963, AWE merged with another Salt Lake City firm, Steel Contractors, Inc. (SCI), of which Pater was president.

The business these two companies in varied within steel manufacturing, but it would turn to building tramways for ski resorts. One project SCI was part of was a tramway at Treasure Mountains! Park City, the longest gondola high ride in the country at the time. SCI fabricated towers and crossbars for the gondola lift.

In 1965, SCI was involved with another tramway project in New Mexico. Pater served as the principle consulter for SCI.  Sometime between then and 1967, Pater left Steel Contractors to form a new company, Constam Corporation. This company was founded to enter the monorail systems market, since monorail systems were growing in popularity.

Constam was awarded the opportunity to build a monorail system that was a mini-monorail system, known as a minirail. This system was designed by Habegger Engineering Works of Thun, Switzerland. Habegger previously installed three minirail systems, two in Europe, and one in Canada for Expo 67.

1964-06-04 The [Franklin] News-Herald (p7)

The Habegger minirail system called Telecanape, at the Swiss National Exposition, in 1964.

The opportunity Constam gained was an agreement with Habegger to build a minirail system at the California Exposition in Sacramento, California. The project was announced in December 1967, with the ride scheduled to open in 1968. With no major issues, the minirail system at the Cal Expo opened in 1968 for the California State Fair.

With this first success in 1968, Constam had the chance to move forward with a second minirail system. This project would be on the other side of the country in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Announced in December 1968, the ride that would be called Monorail was scheduled to open in June 1969.

Underneath Monorail

This picture is from underneath the Monorail at Hersheypark, from 2016.

Around the time of the opening of Monorail at Hersheypark, Constam reorganized into Universal Mobility. The company was branded as Unimobil / Habegger and the systems installed at the Cal Expo and Hershey were called Unimobil Type II.

Miami Downtown People-Mover Environmental Impact Statement (p2-56)

Unimobil/Habegger Type II – as shown in an environmental impact statement for a possible downtown Miami people-mover system.

The first monorail UMI would sell after Hershey was a minirail system to Magic Mountain, in Valencia, California. The ride was named Metro and had several stations in the park. Metro opened in 1971.

Metro remained in operation for the next 30 years, closing in 2001. It wasn’t until 2011 that some of Metro was dismantled. The trains for Metro were sold to Hersheypark, along with a small amount of track. Parts of Metro still stand in Six Flags Magic Mountain today, including one of the old stations.

The remainder of the monorails UMI constructed at theme parks were a new system called UM Tourister Type II. Three were constructed: Carowinds (1973), Kings Island (1974), and Kings Dominion (1975). The Carowinds Monorail would be closed in 1994, while the Kings Dominion system would be closed in 1993. The Kings Island system was also closed in 1993. In 1999, Jungle Jim’s International Market purchased the minirail system and it continues to operate to this day.

1983 Metropolitan Transportation Planning (p411)

A UNIMOBIL / Habegger monorail system shown in a 1983 Metropolitan Transportation Planning document, page 411.

In the mid-70s, UMI began subcontracting the manufacture of fiberglass components of the trains to a company called Intermountain Design Inc. (IDI), of Salt Lake City. This relationship would continue for as long as UMI would exist.

IDI did have other jobs. This included – a full  decade later – designing the lavatory for Air Force One during the George H.W. Bush presidency. IDI would manufacture the fiberglass components of at least the monorail systems built after 1975.

Three other Tourister monorails were built, one at Minnesota Zoological Garden in Apple Valley, Minnesota, which opened in 1979. An agreement was made between UMI and the zoo in August 1977. Only part of the ride officially opened in 1979, with the remainder of the route opening in 1980. It was also subject of a US Department of Transportation winterization test to understand how well certain monorail systems could operate in winter conditions.

1982-01 Downtown people mover (DPM) winterization test demonstration: UMI

This is the front cover of the DPM Winterization Test Demonstration in which UMI participated. The final report was issued in January 1982.

 

The monorail at the Minnesota Zoo was closed in 2013. Officials from the zoo commented that to renovate and update the ride would cost around 40 million dollars, which simply wasn’t feasible.

In 1981, UMI was contracted to build a monorail for the soon opening ZooMetro in Miami, Florida. UMI then contracted Budd Company, of Detroit, Michigan, to assist in the construction of the system.This Tourister system opened in December 1982.

This would lead to UMI’s final monorail – which was built at the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition. UMI decided to create a subsidiary company that was a joint venture between Budd Co. and UMI. This company was named Unimobile 84, Inc. after the minirail system.

While the monorail at the expo was the most popular ride at the event, the exposition itself was not generating the kind of revenues they were expecting. Unimobile 84 pushed to get revenue, and a deal was struck between the company and the fair. However, it was apparent the fair was unable to meet the terms of the agreement. Unimobile 84 eventually sued the fair organizers themselves to get payment; this did not fare well in the courts (pun not intended). Unimobile 84 took the case to Federal Appeals Court, in which they lost.

It was apparent that this venture hurt Universal Mobility, Inc., as they would not sell another monorail after this point. The Transportation Group, Inc. (TGI), a branch of Bombardier Inc., purchased UMI in 1989. The most valuable asset was a new design UMI had been working on, which was the UMI Type III monorail. TGI would go on to use some of the Type III designs in other projects.

UMI did offer a few other systems, though none of these ever seemed to be sold. One system was a UNIMOBIL Transporter System. Another was a tram service called Unimobil Unitram. The tram was available for sale in at least 1985-1986.

1986-Spring A Shuttle Bus for the University of Central Florida

A picture of a Unimobil Unitram, sold by UMI, in at least 1985-1986. This image was in a Master’s thesis for the University of Central Florida discussing the need for a shuttle bus service.


This is the complete history of Universal Mobility, Incorporated, from the 1960s to the end of the 1980s. Out of their nine minirail systems, four still operate today, including their oldest two. For a company that has been defunct for nearly 30 years, with a system long since outdated, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section. To see references for this article, click here. Thanks for reading!

Habegger Maschinenfabrik AG

Habegger Maschinenfabrik AG is a company in Thun, Switzerland. It was founded by Willy Habegger in 1943. They began manufacturing a type of monorail they were calling a “minirail” sometime in the early 1960s. At the time, the company was called Maschinenfabrik Habegger.

The first monorail Habegger designed was for Expo64 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Habegger worked in conjunction with Von Roll Corporation. The ride featured a turntable transfer system named Telecanape. It was one of the more popular attractions at the Swiss expo. When the expo concluded, the ride was removed from the site. Part of the system used there was then bought and moved to Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the United Kingdom for the 1966 season. The system remained in operation through 2012, when it was closed.

1964-06-04 The [Franklin] News-Herald (p7).jpg

A picture of the Telecanape monorail system at Expo64, printed in The News-Herald of Franklin, PA, June 4, 1964, page 7.

The following year, Habegger changed its name to Habegger Engineering Company. They coordinated with Von Roll to build a second minirail system. This time, however, Von Roll used their own monorail trains, the first in Von Roll’s Mk II series of monorail trains. This was seen at the Zurich Transportation Expo. From this point for about the next two decades, Habegger and Von Roll would not work together on monorail projects.

In 1967, Habegger hired the Canadian division of the British firm Hawker Siddeley to manufacture several trains for the monorail system to be operated at Montreal’s Expo ’67. This system was called Minirail, and part of the system operates in La Ronde amusement park. Habegger contributed their own monorail trains from the 1964 Swiss event.

The significance of Habegger’s design of a minirail was the concept of the rail the train ran on. The other significant part of the design was the autopilot system that was on board Habegger minirail systems. The autopilot system was designed by Habegger and manufactured by a German electronics company, Honegger Elektronik AG of Zurich.

With the popularity of Expo ’67, and the interest in monorail systems growing in the United States, Habegger partnered with Salt Lake City, Utah, firm Constam Corporation to sell and manufacture monorails in the United States. Habegger licensed their autopilot system to Constam, while Constam was responsible for fabricating the steel and trains for the system.

Under this agreement, Constam would construct two monorails, one in Sacramento, California, in 1968, the other in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 1969. Later in 1969, Constam was reorganized into Universal Mobility, Inc. (UMI). UMI and Habegger’s ties grew closer as they branded their monorail system as Unimobil / Habegger. Under the new arrangement, they sold their first monorail to Magic Mountain in 1970. This was the last old monorail system they sold, which they named UNIMOBIL Type II.

Miami Downtown People-Mover Environmental Impact Statement (p2-56)

Unimobil/Habegger Type II – as shown in an environmental impact statement for a possible downtown Miami people-mover system.

At the same time, Habegger built two minirail systems at Fuji-Q Highlands in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, which opened in 1970. These two systems were the last Habegger systems built outside of the United States.

They developed a second-generation monorail system called the UNIMOBIL Tourister Type II, which was sold to five properties between 1973 and 1984. Universal Mobility ended up going out of business, with their assets being sold off in 1989.

In 1980, Willy Habegger lost control of his company when it entered a liquidity crisis. Berner Kantonalbank took control and sold the company to Von Roll in 1982. (Von Roll possibly sold a segment of the Habegger branch to Waagner-Biro in 1984.) Von Roll folded Habegger into their monorail division, with that division being called Von Roll Habegger.

1986 Von Roll Habegger brochure (p1)

The cover of a Von Roll Habegger Monorail brochure, circa 1986.

In 1993, Von Roll Habegger was sold to Westinghouse AEG, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This would mark the beginning of a period of company reorganizations for the monorail division. Westinghouse AEG itself was a subsidiary of AEG Schienenfahrzeuge GmbH of Germany. AEG Schienenfahrzeuge was a subsidiary of Daimler-Benz, the well-known German automobile manufacturer.

In 1995, Daimler-Benz proposed merging of their rail transportation division with the rail transportation division of another company, ABB of Zurich, Switzerland.  ABB and Daimler-Benz reached an agreement in which both companies would own 50 percent of the company. The new company was founded on January 1, 1996, operating under the brand name Adtranz. Formally, Adtranz was called ABB Daimler-Benz Transportation. In 1999, Daimler (then called DaimlerChrysler, after acquiring Chrysler Corporation in 1998) bought out ABB’s share of the company; the formal name was changed to DaimlerChrysler Rail Systems. The company kept the Adtranz brand name.

Beginning in August 2000, Bombardier, Inc., a conglomerate and manufacturer of mass transit equipment, airplanes, etc., announced it was going to purchase Adtranz. After a regulatory review process with the European Union, Bombardier purchased Adtranz for $725 million. A representative for DaimlerChrysler said at the time that the company was focusing on their automotive divisions.

The former Von Roll Habegger monorail division continues lives on in Bombardier today, part of the Bombardier Transportation division of the company.

Willy Habegger was able to purchase part of his company back, establishing the modern Habegger Maschinenfabrik AG. Habegger purchased the lifting technologies division, and the company continues to focus on that to this day. He passed away on April 16, 2002, having retired from the business in 1993.


Thank you for reading. The next article will be about Universal Mobility, Incorporated, which will be available later this week.