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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

TRON Lightcycle / Run

Project Status: Active
Location: Magic Kingdom Park, Walt Disney World, Bay Lake FL
Ride Format: Launch Coaster
Manufacturer: Vekoma Rides Manufacturing BV
Announced: July 15th, 2017
Projected Opening Date: 2022

Tron Coaster Poster
Tron Lightcycle / Run Promotional Poster. (Photo: ©Disney)

Overview


Tron Lightcycle Run (stylized as TRON Lightcycle / Run) is an upcoming launch coaster in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The coaster is being constructed on an expansion pad east of Tomorrowland, with the attraction’s entrance to be located right next to Space Mountain. The ride format will allow guests to be harnessed leaning forward on a bike where they are launched outside under an exterior canopy. After flying over guest pathways, they enter a dark show building stylized to the 2010 Disney film Tron: Legacy. The project is largely a clone of the Tron Lightcycle Power Run attraction in Shanghai Disney which opened in 2016, with some meaningful differences in building layout. The project’s original target completion date was on or before October 1st, 2021, the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Slow construction progress as well as construction halts and financial problems related to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic cast doubt on the ability for Disney to meet such a date. Tron Lightcycle Run is now expected to open later into the 50th anniversary which will run through 2022.

Pre-Announcement Rumors


Tron Exterior Shanghai Disney
Exterior of Tron Lightcycle Power Run in Shanghai Disney.

TRON Lightcycle Power Run / 创极速光轮 opened with Shanghai Disney on June 16th, 2016. The coaster, manufactured by Vekoma, quickly gained a cult following of people from around the world wanting to experience the attraction. POV videos[1] racked up millions of views and park visitors rated it at the top of the park’s attraction lineup, a very impressive feat amongst other groundbreaking attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure. The popularity of the attraction with locals and the expressed interest from fans around the world landed this attraction amongst those being considered by Disney as a park addition for the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World.

Prior to the iteration of the project we got, there were many rumors about the potential 50th Anniversary e-ticket attraction. The main two contenders discussed were a new Moana Fire Mountain Volcano Coaster in Adventureland or a clone of Shanghai’s Tron in Tomorrowland. Approaching the D23 Expo the consensus became Disney was opting for Tron given how efficient it would be to build with very little new design necessary. The one knock against the possibility of Tron coming to the Magic Kingdom is the lack of popularity of the movie franchise in the United States. That said, the property’s cult following plus the attraction’s incredible popularity even amongst those with no knowledge of the IP likely assuaged these concerns.

Tron Project Announcement


Tron Coaster Concept Art
Tron attraction concept art revealed for the Magic Kingdom at the 2017 D23 Expo. (Photo: ©Disney)

At the D23 Expo on July 15th, 2017, then Parks Chairman Bob Chapek announced plans to build a TRON themed attraction at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.[2] It was revealed this attraction would sit in an entirely new space right next to Space Mountain, as pictured in the concept art released during the Parks & Resorts Panel.

This announcement, while confirming rumors of a Tron attraction, rebuked the central detail of those rumors, specifically that the attraction would be housed where the Tomorrowland Speedway currently resides. Instead, the attraction is being constructed in an expansion pad east of the Magic Kingdom.

“Design once, build twice”
Bob Chapek announces Tron Lightcycle Run at the 2017 D23 Expo. (Photo: ©Disney)

Made clear in the 2017 D23 Expo announcement was that this attraction would effectively be a clone of the Tron Lightcycle Power Run in Shanghai. Chapek said the Magic Kingdom would be “soon home to Shanghai Disney’s highest rated attraction.”

Two years later, while answering questions from media at the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland[3], Bob Chapek elaborated on this philosophy he calls “design once, build twice.” The future Disney CEO explained how innovating and creating new technology for one attraction is made more valuable when it can be duplicated over multiple parks, using the example of Soarin’ Over California being duplicated for Epcot back in 2005. This philosophy is one of the driving forces behind the latest attraction additions at Walt Disney World including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (copied on two coasts), Ratatouille (originally from Disneyland Paris), and now Tron Lightcycle / Run (originally from Shanghai Disney).

Original Targeted Opening

Concluding the project announcement, Bob Chapek added “and we’re planning to open in time for the 50th.” This small aside confirmed that Tron was going to be the major e-ticket headliner attraction Disney was rumored to have been eyeing for the Magic Kingdom’s 50th Anniversary. When exactly “in time for the 50th” is was never made clear, but it’s highly speculated this target opening was on or before October 1st, 2021, the day the park turns 50 years old.

Construction


Permits Filed

Tron Building Permit
MK-2 Tron Building highlighted in permit filed with SFWMD. (Photo: ©Disney)

On November 20th, 2017, permits were filed with the South Florida Water Management District for the modification of water bodies on the east side of the Magic Kingdom.[4] On the permit maps, two projects were labeled. “MK1” was the code for the later cancelled Main Street Theater, while the area labeled “MK2” detailed the project footprint for the Tron Coaster. The exact location of the Tron Coaster is in an expansion pad north of Space Mountain. This parcel was previously trees and waterways, bordered by World Drive. The project first had to start by relocating bodies of water including a waterway that crossected where the ride building was to be located.

Construction Begins

Tron Coaster Construction Foundation
Foundations for the ride building at Tron Lightcycle Run in the Magic Kingdom. (Photo ©Disney)

From February through May of 2019, extensive work was conducted laying the foundations for the Tron Lightcycle Run ride building. Track column footers are embedded into the ground via rebar connecting to the rest foundation’s rebar structure. Then, concrete is poured locking everything in place, completing the foundation. Also during this time, space for plumbing and electrical infrastructure is established. Various conduit for the building is visible in Disney’s footage of the completed foundations when track installation was beginning to commence.

Track & Ride Enclosure Installation

In May 2019, track piece installation began with giant support columns erected inside the footprint of the future ride building.

In June 2019, the ride building enclosure began construction, encasing the partially completed indoor track.

Tron Coaster track and ride building
The completed roller coaster track loop entering the unfinished Tron Lightcycle Run ride building. (Photo ©Disney)

In October 2019, exterior track installation began, later to be covered with a giant LED canopy similar to the one in Shanghai.

On November 4th, 2019, the final piece of track was installed for the now-coined Tron Lightcycle / Run. Disney celebrated the milestone in a video.[5]

In January 2020, wall panels were installed, covering the ride enclosure. The wall panels feature different shades of gray, an odd departure from the “go away green” and sky blue panels used for a nearly-identical structure in EPCOT for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.

Exterior Canopy Installation

Throughout the later part of 2020 the focus has been on constructing the tubular steel skeleton of the attraction’s outdoor LED canopy. Temporary columns hold up the partially-completed structure, while additional pre-assembled pieces are lifted into place via crane and secured to the rest of the structure.

Walt Disney World Railroad Impact


Walt Disney World Railroad Construction
Removed track along the Walt Disney World Railroad line near Tomorrowland.

Due to the work required bridging the Tron ride building to the attraction entrance marquee next to the Tomorrowland Arcade, on December 3rd, 2018, the Walt Disney World Railroad ceased operation. At the time, it was expected the downtime would last a year or two. In reality, the railroad would be down for at least three years. The fault of this is largely credited to the train track upgrades currently underway on the east side of the Magic Kingdom, as well as the slow speed of construction on the Tron attraction even prior to the delays caused by COVID-19.

Starting in December of 2018, the Lilly Belle train was permanently stationed at the Main Street Station for photo opportunities. On January 27th, 2020, the Lilly Belle was moved overnight to Storybook Circus Station. This was done as the extensive track upgrades underway will extend all the way to the Main Street Station, so it needed to be cleared in order to do that work. Once the parks closed due to COVID-19, the Lilly Belle was moved to the roundhouse backstage, where it has sat ever since. Currently the Walt Disney World Railroad is projected to resume operation sometime in 2021, although the construction moratorium caused by COVID-19 may push that reopening back even further, especially given its low priority status in a time of minimizing capital expenditure as much as possible.

Tomorrowland Speedway Impact


Tomorrowland Speedway Track Reshaping
Before and after of the Tomorrowland Speedway track reshaping. (Satellite Photos: Google)

The amount of space necessary to house the entrance for the Tron Lightcycle Run attraction, floating guest pathways, and a giant canopy above for the exterior track to run under called for a shortening of the track at the Tomorrowland Speedway. On January 2nd, 2019, the Tomorrowland Speedway closed for refurbishment in order to undergo this dramatic refurbishment. The Tomorrowland Speedway track was similarly shortened during the construction of New Fantasyland back in 2011. This time, instead of the north end turn of the track being shortened to accommodate Dumbo, the east end loop was shortened to accommodate the Tron Lightcycle Run entrance. The attraction reopened from its refurbishment on May 18th, 2019 with some additional aesthetic improvements at the entrance and the first turn along the future Tron entrance pathway. Satellite imagery captured by Google in October 2019 gives us a before-and-after of the east track loop shortening.

Prior to and even after the announcement of Tron, there have been rumors of electric vehicles coming to the Tomorrowland Speedway. The only credible evidence towards this is a since-deleted 2017 Instagram post from a former Walt Disney Imagineer. Rumors of Disney working with Tesla Motors have been discredited.

2019 Exterior Design Changes


2019 Tron Lightcycle Run Concept Art
Tron Lightcycle Run exterior rendering depicted at the 2019 D23 Expo. (Photo: ©Disney)

At the 2019 D23 Expo, a new piece of concept art revealed dramatic changes to the exterior of Tron Lightcycle Run coming to the Magic Kingdom.

Entrance Pathway Changes

The 2017 concept art depicted a guest entrance staircase, while the 2019 art shows ramps going up and curving around to the queue, presumably done for ADA accessibility reasons. Another pathway splitting off pictured to the left appears to remain at ground level.

Railway Tunnel Addition

Thematic issues arise with a turn-of-the-century steam engine thundering underneath guests as they pass over on a futuristic floating pathway to the Tron attraction. In this updated art, the railroad track is pictured encased in a tunnel enclosure whilst passing under the attraction. Several questions have been raised as to how this will be achieved.

Downsized TRON Signage

Oddly, the large “TRON” signage visible on the attraction in Shanghai Disney and the 2017 art for the attraction in Walt Disney World is removed in the 2019 update to the exterior art. In its place, a much smaller piece of illuminated signage features the “TRON Lightcycle / Run” in a planter at the attraction entrance pathway.

Lightcycles on Display in Tomorrowland


Tron vehicle display
Guests trying out Tron Lightcycle vehicle in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

On December 16th, 2019, Tron Lightcycle Run ride vehicles were put on display just feet away from the ride’s future entrance, right outside of the Tomorrowland Arcade (the exit for Space Mountain). The purpose of these vehicles is to promote the attraction, answer guest questions about the ride, as well as give guests the opportunity to practice mounting the bikes for a photo op. It has also been speculated these vehicles were rolled out more so as a test to see how intuitive these bikes would be for American guests, seeing what needs to be emphasized or taught in the lead up to guests boarding the actual ride to optimize loading. These vehicles were removed during the closure of Walt Disney World.

Major Delays Due to COVID-19


Aerial view of Tron Coaster site
Aerial view of the Tron Coaster site on June 12th, 2020. (Photo: @bioreconstruct on Twitter)

As a result of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Disney was forced to close all of their parks and resorts around the world. Shortly following the closure of Walt Disney World, work was halted on Tron Lightcycle Run and all Disney-funded construction projects. The lack of revenues coming in plus the money Disney was hemorrhaging from operation costs likely catalysed this decision. The halt in construction spanning from late March through late June has extended the project timeline at least an additional 3 months from Disney’s previous internal projections. Disney could increase personnel in order to expedite the completion time, but Disney’s focus on minimizing capital expenditures has instead meant the opposite, with the project continuing work at the same pace as previous. It is rumored the project will temporarily cease work in a further attempt to save on labor costs.

Given the timeframe has been pushed, the attraction opening in time for the 50th anniversary on October 1st, 2021 may no longer be a concern. If the goal has shifted to opening the attraction during the 50th rather than Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s previously stated “in time for the 50th,” now all Disney has to do is ensure the attraction opens sometime from Late 2021 to Fall 2022 in order for it to have opened during the 50th anniversary.

Other Projects


References


    1. TRON roller coaster announcement for Walt Disney World – D23 Expo 2017“. YouTube via Inside the Magic.
    2. Bob Chapek Discusses Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, IP, and More“. YouTube via laughingplace.
    3. [HD] Amazing TRON Coaster Ride-through – Shanghai Disneyland“. YouTube via SoCal Attractions 360.
    4. Bilbao, Richard. “Disney files permits on Magic Kingdom Tron ride, Star Wars land“. Orlando Business Journal.
    5. Progress on the TRON Attraction Coming to Magic Kingdom Park“. YouTube via Disney Parks.

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