Big Thunder Mountain Railroad bursts back into action as Disneyland officially unveils new effects with upgraded ride experience

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Visitors to Disneyland can ride the rails again on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

The attraction has been testing this week with cast member and annual passholder previews as it steams toward its announced opening of Monday, March 17th. The opening comes after a 14-month refurbishment, nearly three months longer than originally planned, during which roughly two-thirds of its track – approximately a half-mile – was replaced.

Big Thunder Mountain beckons after a long refurbishment at Disneyland.

Disney officials said the rehab was in the planning stages for nearly six years. Officials would not give out an exact cost estimate, but according to Anaheim’s Planning Department it cost at least $4 million.

Besides replacing much of the track, Disneyland also replaced the ride’s control systems and upgraded the audio and lighting too.
“The goal was to make the ride the way it was,” said David Smith of Disneyland’s maintenance department. “But with a few new surprises.”

Those surprises are mainly seen in some new special effects installed by Disney Imagineers in the 34-year-old attraction. The layout of the track remains the same, but riders will notice the surprising changes as they ride up the third lift. That section used to be the scene of a mock cave-in, but now has a sequence of dynamite being set off causing a series of explosions as the train escapes to the outside.

Imagineers also made some changes in the first tunnel, after the train departs the station. The old flying rubber bats are gone – replaced by projections of more realistic flying bats.

During the testing phases, not all of the new effects were always up and running. (They were testing, after all.) The video we released yesterday showed most, but lacked a view of the new grand finale. Fortunately today’s preview proved to be more fruitful, producing an entirely new POV video of the whole ride, including that explosive new ending, seen below.

Video: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with all new special effects for 2014

The changes to the the sound systems are particularly noticeable along the Big Thunder trail – you can clearly hear wild animal and birds chirping along the trail, along with the sounds of mining coming from one of the “mine” entrances near Big Thunder Ranch. The travelling sound of the train passing by in many areas is also a lot clearer throughout, both from the view of guests watching the ride, and while riding too.

The audio and more have also been improved in the town of Rainbow Ridge. The town was mostly made up from the original buildings that used to dot the hillside behind the station for the old Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland.

The newly recontructed but still looks old town of Rainbow Ridge still sits on the hillside adjacent to the queue line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This building is the El Dorado Hotel and adjacent Barbershop.
The Golden Nugget Dance Hall is still open for business in the town of Rainbow Ridge near the queue line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The “town” was completely rebuilt to look as good as old during the Disneyland attraction’s 14-month rehab.
The Barber Shop in the fictional town of Rainbow Ridge is where miners and cowboys would get their hair cut, and their teeth pulled. Both actions can be heard on the new and improved audio system installed during Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s rehab.

When Big Thunder was originally built, those buildings were preserved and moved to the new location alongside the railroad’s tracks. However, time and weather took their toll and most of the buildings were torn down and replaced.

Finally, the goat-chewing dynamite is still in his rightful place atop the second lift.

Disneyland Resort cast members ride Big Thunder during a preview of the newly revamped classic Disneyland attraction.

The following represents opinions from an aging Imagineer (this writer):

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride is much smoother now than it was a couple years ago, there were parts that were getting quite bumpy that were not always so, that is a big plus that makes it a much more enjoyable ride.

The bats look much better and, unlike the rubber ones on strings, set the scene for the first lift quite nicely. There are some nice touches throughout the ride that make it even better, immersing you even more into the 19th century mining area it represents.

The final lift is a big change. It used to be a “cave-in” with rock walls moving back and forth, and rocks supposedly falling from above like they were blocking the train’s path. But in my opinion, that never really worked, as you could not see there was a door that was supposed to suddenly open. That door had been shut off for some time.

The explosion effects are really good and make for a terrific change to the final lift.

A Big Thunder Mountain Railroad train speeds around the turn on its way back to the station.

Now with all that said, I wish Disney could have spent a little money on giving the ride portion a better and longer finale after the final lift, perhaps one that would have sent it out by the Rivers of America and back through a long tunnel and back, tracing the path of the still visible tracks from the old aforementioned Mine Train – sort of like the Big Thunder in Paris goes under the river for a fast finish and return to the station.

Yes, there are those that will tell me that the lift isn’t tall enough to give the train the potential energy to make it that distance. I say to that, make the lift longer and taller. Anyway, that’s my opinion. But still, a really terrific job Disney.

The U.B. Daring engine leads the train back into the station at Disneyland.

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