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Ride Profile: Orient Express

By on 10/17/2011

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

OK, I know the Orient Express isn’t really a “ride”, but it’s amazing how many people think it is. It seems like every time I’m walking towards the lower station, I see and overhear a family looking at the park map trying to figure out what kind of ride it is.

The Orient Express is a people-mover, shuttling people from the bottom of the hill to the top. It was one of the very original attractions that opened with Magic Mountain in 1971. Technically, it’s called a funicular, which is a cable railway that connect two trams on a hillside at opposite ends of a cable. As one tram is at the bottom of the hill, the other is at the top. Since they are connected to the same cable, they each act as a counterbalance for the other. As one tram goes up the hill, the other comes down. In fact, when the park first opened, it was called the Magic Mountain Funicular Railway, or “Funicular” for short:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

Image © Robin Hall

In 1988, Six Flags Magic Mountain opened the Ninja roller coaster on the top of the hill, an area now known as Samurai Summit. Since the upper Funicular station is located right in front of the Ninja entrance, it was renamed to Orient Express to better fit in with the theme. The first photo above is a picture of the upper station. Take note that the upper station is labeled “the” Orient Express while the lower station below does not use the word “the” in the name at all. All of the park maps I’ve ever seen simply call it “Orient Express”. I’m not sure why the signs are different.

This next photo is the lower station, located between the Grand Carousel and Cyber Cafe, just past the Six Flags Plaza. It’s an attractive entrance and I can easily see why someone who has never been to the park before would confuse it for a thrill ride. This is one of the first things they see when they walk through the plaza and I think they’re just excited to hop on their first ride of the day. Despite some switchbacks for a queue line, I’ve never seen more than 10-20 people waiting to board:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

This is one of the two trams. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but there really is quite an incline here. If you look at the outline of the three doors on the side of the tram, they look like they’re skewed upward, however they are all perfectly level:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

Each tram is fully air conditioned, and it’s ice cold, making it a great place to take a break on a hot summer day. Each tram has three separate compartments and can hold quite a few people. I took this photo in the top compartment, looking down on the other two. Each compartment has one bench seat for roughly 5-6 people to sit and enough room for maybe 10-15 more people to stand:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

Each tram does have a control station for an operator, however they are no longer used. The trams are now controlled from operators located at both the upper and lower stations. There are pre-recorded park messages that play while the trams are in motion. The total travel time from one end to the other is approximately 2:00 minutes:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

This funicular was built in 1970 by the Korneuburg Shipbuilding Company in Korneuburg, Austria, just a few miles north of Vienna. I do not believe the company is still in business:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

This is a great shot of the track from the lower station looking towards the upper station. The trams share a common railway at both ends, however they each have their own track in the middle so they can pass each other. You can tell from the cable in the middle of the track that the tram I’m standing in will be pulled up the left-hand side while gravity drops the other tram down the right-hand side. The three flat-looking rails on the very outside of the track provide electricity to the trams for interior lights, air conditioning, and the PA system:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

Here is a shot of the trams passing each other on the hill. The cable attached to each tram is controlled by an electric pulley in the upper station. Since each tram counterbalances the other, there’s not a lot of heavy lifting required by the pulley, making it a very efficient system to move people up and down the hill. All of the orange structure you see in these pictures is the Tatsu roller coaster, which was built over Orient Express:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

This is a tram coming into the upper station. You can just make out the operator, at the top of the stairs on the right. Inside the upper station, behind the window, is a break room shared by the employees of the Orient Express, Ninja, Grand Carousel, and the Sky Tower. Passengers on the tram will exit on the left side of the tram and head up the stairs. Those doors will close and queued passengers will be allowed to enter from the right side, where the operator is located:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

Here is a shot of a tram sitting in the lower station. Passengers will enter from the left, where you see the operator standing, and they will exit on the right. The white support structure you see belongs to the Revolution roller coaster, which also goes overhead:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

Remember how skewed the doors looked in that earlier photo? You can easily tell from this photo of the lower station that they are indeed level. The hill is just that bloody steep. I don’t mind the exercise walking up the hill, but it’s hard when it’s over 100 degrees outside. This is a great short cut that not many people know about:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

This was taken from the Sky Tower, as the trams were in motion. The people in the picture are standing on the exit ramp from Tatsu:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

At 40 years old, this attraction is starting to show its age. The iron fencing is completely rotted out at the bottom in several places and there are a couple of spots where the tram floors are starting to come up as well:

Six Flags Magic Mountain Orient Express

I have to admit that for how old it is, this funicular is in remarkably good shape. The only complaint I have is the lack of maintenance given to it. The inside of the trams are covered in dust and spiderwebs, and I have never once seen clean windows on either tram. The station walkways appear to be hosed down every morning, but the spiderwebs covering the rails and rafters overhead are never knocked down. Lastly, the railway in each station and along the route is completely covered in trash, like chip bags, napkins and drink cups. As soon as the tram pulls away from the station, anyone waiting has to look at a pile of garbage. It seems like such a simple task, especially when just about every park employee walks around with garbage tongs, yet it never seems to be cleaned up. It’s really quite a shame that nobody seems to care.

20 Comments

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  3. Justin

    10/18/2011 at 10:59 am

    I always use the Orient Express from Samurai Summit after riding Superman/Ninja. It is a killer hill to ascend/descend so it’s been a nice they keep this operational. I agree the condition is showing age and it is under-kept by the staff, but glad it’s there.

    I’m bummed I never got to see the monorail operational. I think it would have been great keeping it operational since the park is rather large to cover all the ride areas and families will definitely have tired children. However, SFMM is a thrill park so building a new coaster will bring more people than keeping an old monorail operational.

    • Robert

      01/10/2018 at 9:01 pm

      A bunch of parks took out their transport rides. But California’s Great America still has their sky ride which has two stations, but they removed their steam train which had two stations in 1999. They built other things over parts of the row. Like GoldStriker, and in the back water park entrance. The Six Flags version of Great America in Illinois still has their train. But, they removed their sky ride in 1984. Kings Dominion in Virginia took out everything, steam train after 1995 (just one station), sky ride, monorail (one station). Carowinds took out their transport steam train at the end of the 70’s but still has a shorter train ride in the kiddie area. Cedar Point still has a two station steam train and a sky ride, and Kings Island still has a steam train with two stations, second station serves the waterpark. Both Disney MK parks still have steam train transport rides and sky rides.

  4. Eric

    11/19/2011 at 2:00 am

    A little fact: the Orient Express cars were painted red up until the ride was renamed “Orient Express” from simply “Funicular.” Somehow, I think the red color would have been more thematically correct than the weird green color.

    • Kurt

      11/19/2011 at 7:41 am

      I don’t even consider that green a color. It’s not very pleasing at all. They should have been repainted in 2006 when it was down for maintenance.

  5. Pingback: Photo Gallery: Orient Express |

  6. caleb

    01/05/2012 at 5:00 pm

    I think I remember it derailing a couple of years ago when I was on it :O

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  10. Chase

    04/09/2012 at 5:24 pm

    I always use this to get to work. One correction I would like to make is that there are only two operators, not three. The room at the top isn’t a control or panel room, its a break room. It is shared between Sky Tower, Grand Carousel, Orient Express, and Ninja. Inside there is a water cooler, lockers, a table, some benches, a coat rack, and a supply cupboard. the best part is it has air conditioning. 🙂

    • Kurt

      04/09/2012 at 8:06 pm

      Thank you for the clarification, Chase. I have made the appropriate corrections to the profile.

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  16. Sam Skarin

    05/05/2014 at 8:21 pm

    They shouldn’t close this people over! It helps a lot!

  17. Darryl Dietz

    03/06/2017 at 7:05 am

    Anyone know the track length? The city of Los Angeles claims to have the world’s shortest funicular (Angels Flight) at 300 Ft, although it is currently not operating. Due to its cameo in the Oscar award winning movie LA La Land there is interest in bringing it back on track! railroad humor 😉

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