The Scenic Railway at Luna Park
(Melbourne, Australia), the world's oldest continually operating
rollercoaster, built in 1912.
The roller coaster
is a popular amusement ride
developed for amusement parks
and modern theme parks
. LaMarcus Adna Thompson
first coasters on January 20, 1885. In essence a specialized
system, a roller coaster consists
of a track
that rises in designed
patterns, sometimes with one or more inversions
(such as vertical loops
) that turn the rider briefly
upside down. The track does not necessarily have to be a complete
circuit, as shuttle roller
exhibit. Most roller coasters have multiple cars in
which passengers sit and are restrained. Two or more cars hooked
together are called a train
Some roller coasters, notably Wild Mouse roller coasters
with single cars.
announced that it will build a system using similar principles to
help astronauts escape the Ares I launch pad
in an emergency.
roller coasters are believed to be descended from the so-called
"Russian Mountains," which were
specially constructed hills of ice, located especially around
Built in the 17th century, the slides were built to a height of
between 70 and , consisted of a 50 degree drop, and were reinforced
by wooden supports. "Russian mountains" remains the term for roller
coasters in many languages.
Some historians say the first real roller coaster was built under
the orders of Russia's Catherine the Great in the Gardens of
Oreinbaum in Saint Petersburg in the year 1784. Other historians
believe that the first roller coaster was built by the French. The
Les Montagnes Russes à Belleville
Mountains of Belleville
) constructed in Paris in 1812 and the
both featured wheeled cars securely
locked to the track, guide rails to keep them on course, and higher
Scenic gravity railroads
In 1827, a
mining company in Summit Hill, Pennsylvania constructed the Mauch Chunk gravity railroad,
an 8.7 mi (14 km) downhill track used to deliver coal to
Mauch Chunk (now known as Jim Thorpe), Pennsylvania.
By the 1850s, the "Gravity Road" (as it
became known) was providing rides to thrill-seekers for 50 cents a
ride. Railway companies used similar tracks to provide amusement on
days when ridership was low.
idea as a basis, LaMarcus Adna Thompson began work on a gravity
Switchback Railway that opened at
Island in Brooklyn, New York in 1884.
climbed to the top of a platform and rode a bench-like car down the
track up to the top of another tower where the vehicle was switched
to a return track and the passengers took the return trip. This
track design was soon replaced with an oval complete circuit. In
1885, Phillip Hinkle introduced the first full-circuit coaster with
a lift hill
, the Gravity Pleasure
, which was soon the most popular attraction at Coney
Island. Not to be outdone, in 1886 LaMarcus Adna Thompson patented
his design of roller coaster that included dark tunnels with
painted scenery. "Scenic Railways
" were to be
found in amusement parks across the county, with Frederick Ingersoll
company building many of them in the first two decades of the
Popularity, decline and revival
By 1912, the first underfriction
roller coaster had been developed by John Miller
. Soon, roller
coasters spread to amusement parks all around the world.
the best known historical roller coaster, The
Cyclone, was opened at Coney Island in
The Great Depression
end of the first golden age of roller coasters, and theme parks in
general went into decline. This lasted until 1972, when The
Racer was built at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio (near Cincinnati).
by John Allen, the instant success of The Racer
second golden age, which has continued to this day.
Steel roller coasters
the Disneyland theme park introduced a new design breakthrough
with the Matterhorn
This was the first roller coaster to
use a tubular steel track. Unlike conventional rails set on wooden
, tubular steel can be
bent in any direction, which allows designers to incorporate loops,
corkscrews, and many other maneuvers into their designs. Most
modern roller coasters are made of steel, although wooden coasters
are still being built.
New designs and technologies are pushing the limits of what can be
experienced on the newest coasters. Electromagnetically launched
are examples of such technologies.
There are several explanations of the name roller coaster
It is said to have originated from an early American design where
slides or ramps were fitted with rollers over which a sled would
coast. This design was abandoned in favor of fitting the wheels to
the sled or other vehicles, but the name endured.
Another explanation is that it originated from a ride located in a
roller skating rink
Massachusetts in 1887. A toboggan
was raised to the top of a track which consisted of hundreds of
rollers. This Roller Toboggan
then took off down gently
rolling hills to the floor. The inventors of this ride, Stephen E.
Jackman and Byron B. Floyd, claim that they were the first to use
the term "roller coaster."
jet coaster is used for roller coasters in Japan, where such
amusement park rides are very popular.
The cars on a typical roller coaster are not self-powered. Instead,
a standard full circuit coaster is pulled up with a chain or cable
along the lift hill to the first peak of the coaster track. The
accumulated by the
rise in height is transferred to kinetic
as the cars race down the first downward slope. Kinetic
energy is then converted back into potential energy as the train
moves up again to the second peak. This hill is necessarily lower,
as some mechanical energy is lost to friction
Not all rides feature a lift hill, however. The train may be set
into motion by a launch
such as a flywheel launch, linear induction motors,
linear synchronous motors, hydraulic launch, compressed air launch
or drive tire. Such launched
are capable of reaching higher speeds in a shorter
length of track than those featuring a conventional lift hill. Some
roller coasters move back and forth along the same section of
track; these are known as shuttles and usually run the circuit once
with riders moving forwards and then backwards through the same
A properly designed ride under good conditions will have enough
kinetic, or moving, energy to complete the entire course, at the
end of which brakes bring the train to a complete stop and it is
pushed into the station. A brake run
the end of the circuit is the most common method of bringing the
roller coaster ride to a stop. One notable exception is a powered roller coaster
. These rides, instead
of being powered by gravity, use one or more motors in the cars to
propel the trains along the course.
If a continuous-circuit coaster does not have enough kinetic energy
to completely travel the course after descending from its highest
point (as can happen with high winds or increased friction), the
train can valley: that is, roll backwards and forwards along the
track, until all kinetic energy has been released. The train will
then come to a complete stop in the middle of the track. This,
however, works somewhat differently on a launched coaster. When a
train launcher does not have enough potential energy to launch the
train to the top of an incline, the train is said to "roll back.
" On some modern
coasters, such as Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar
Point in Sandusky,
Ohio, Kingda Ka in Jackson, New Jersey and Stealth at Thorpe
Park in Surrey, UK this is an occurrence highly sought
after by many coaster enthusiasts.
Many safety systems are implemented in roller coasters. One of
these is the block
system. Most large roller coasters have
the ability to run two or more trains
at once, and the block system
prevents these trains from colliding. In this system, the track is
divided into several sections, or blocks. Only one train at a time
is permitted in each block. At the end of each block, there is a
section of track where a train can be stopped if necessary (either
by preventing dispatch from the station, closing brakes, or
stopping a lift). Sensors at the end of each block detect when a
train passes so that the computer running the ride is aware of
which blocks are occupied. When the computer detects a train about
to travel into an already occupied block, it uses whatever method
is available to keep it from entering. The trains are fully
The above can cause a cascade effect when multiple trains become
stopped at the end of each block. In order to prevent this problem,
ride operators follow set procedures regarding when to release a
newly loaded train from the station. One common pattern, used on
rides with two trains, is to do the following: hold train #1 (which
has just finished the ride) right outside the station, release
train #2 (which has loaded while #1 was running), and then allow #1
into the station to unload safely.
Another key to safety is the control of the roller coaster's
operating computers: programmable logic controllers
(often called PLCs). A PLC detects faults associated with the
mechanism and makes decisions to operate roller coaster elements
(e.g. lift, track-switches and brakes) based on configured state
and operator actions. Periodic maintenance and inspection are
required to verify structures and materials are within expected
wear tolerances and are in sound working order. Sound operating
procedures are also a key to safety.
Roller coaster design requires a working knowledge of basic physics
to avoid uncomfortable, even
potentially fatal, strain to the rider. Ride designers must
carefully ensure the accelerations experienced throughout the ride
do not subject the human body to more than it can handle. The human
body needs time to detect changes in force in order to control
muscle tension. Failure to take this into account can result in
severe injuries such as whiplash
. The accelerations accepted in
rollercoaster design are generally in the 40-60 (4-6Gs
) range for positive vertical (pushing you into
your seat), and 15-20 (1.5-2Gs) for the negative vertical (flying
out of your seat as you crest a hill). This range safely ensures
the majority of the population experiences no harmful side effects.
Lateral accelerations are generally kept to a minimum by banking
curves. The neck's inability to deal with high forces leads to
lateral accelerations generally limited to under 1.8Gs. Sudden
accelerations in the lateral plane result in a rough ride.
Despite safety measures, accidents
do occur. Regulations
concerning accident reporting vary from one authority to another.
Thus in the USA, California requires amusement parks to report any
ride-related accident that requires an emergency room visit, while
Florida exempts parks whose parent companies employ more than 1000
people from having to report any accidents at all. Rep. Ed Markey
of Massachusetts has introduced legislation that would give
oversight of rides to the Consumer Product Safety Commission
Ride accidents can be caused by riders or ride operators not
following safety directions properly, and in extremely rare cases
riders can be injured by mechanical failures. In recent years,
controversy has arisen about the safety of increasingly extreme
rides. There have been suggestions that these may be subjecting
passengers to translational and rotational accelerations that may
be capable of causing brain injuries. In 2003 the Brain Injury
Association of America concluded in a report that "There is
evidence that roller coaster rides pose a health risk to some
people some of the time. Equally evident is that the overwhelming
majority of riders will suffer no ill effects."
A similar report in 2005 linked roller coasters and other thrill
rides with potentially triggering abnormal heart conditions that
could lead to death. Autopsies have shown that recent deaths at
various Disney parks
Six Flags parks
due to previously undetected heart ailments.
Statistically, roller coasters are very safe compared to other
activities. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety
estimates that 134 park guests required
hospitalization in 2001 and that fatalities related to amusement
rides average two per year. According to a study commissioned by
Six Flags, 319 million people visited parks in 2001. The study
concluded that a visitor has a one in one-and-a-half billion chance
of being fatally injured, and that the injury rates for children's
wagons, golf, and folding lawn chairs are higher than for amusement
Types of roller coasters
Today, there are two main types of roller coaster:
Steel coasters are known for their smooth ride and often convoluted
shapes that frequently turn riders upside-down via inversions.
Wooden coasters are typically renowned by enthusiasts for their
rougher ride and "air time" produced by negative G-forces when the
train reaches the top of hills along the ride. There are also
hybrid roller coasters
combine a steel structure with wood tracks, or a wood structure
with steel tracks.
Modern roller coasters take on many different forms. Some designs
take their cue from how the rider is positioned to experience the
ride. Traditionally, riders sit facing forward in the coaster car,
while newer coaster designs have ignored this tradition in the
quest for building more exciting, unique ride experiences.
Variations such as the stand-up
and the flying
position the rider in different ways to provide
different experiences. Stand-up coasters involve cars that have the
riders in a standing position (though still heavily strapped in).
Flying coasters have the riders hanging below the track face-down
with their chests and feet strapped in. Vekoma
" coasters have
the riders starting out sitting above the track, then they fully
recline so that the riders are looking at the sky. Eventually, they
twist into the "flying" position. B&M
flying coasters have the
riders hanging below the track like in an inverted (hanging)
coaster. To go into the flight position, the section of the car
where the riders' feet are is raised to the track. That way, they
start in the flight position. In addition to changing rider
viewpoint, some roller coaster designs also focus on track styles
to make the ride fresh and different from other coasters.
See Roller coaster elements
for the various parts of a roller coaster and the types of thrill
elements that go into making each roller coaster unique.
By train type
By track layout
A Junior roller coaster
is a roller coaster
specifically designed for families and children not able to ride
the larger rides.
Several height-related names have been used by parks and
manufacturers for marketing their roller coasters. While often used
among coaster fans, their definitions are not always agreed upon,
nor are the terms necessarily accepted industry wide.
A Strata coaster
is a complete-circuit roller
coaster with a height between and . The term was adopted and
attributed by Intamin. Only two Strata coasters have been built
worldwide, both using Intamin's hydraulically launched Accelerator Coaster
design. The first
was Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, which opened in 2003 and
stands at a height of . The second was Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure, which opened in 2005 with a record-breaking height
Tower of Terror at Dreamworld Australia, and Superman: The Escape at Six Flags
Magic Mountain, respectively, were the first roller coasters to
break the barrier, but are not considered Strata coasters, since
they are shuttle roller coasters and their cars go only
Image:Kingda Ka.jpg|Kingda Ka, the world's tallest roller coaster, located at
Great Adventure in New
(see List of roller coaster
)Image:Rollercoaster expedition geforce
holiday park germany.jpg|Riding Expedition GeForce at Holiday Park, Germany.Image:linnanrollerc.JPG|This all-wooden
roller coaster, built in 1951, dominates the Linnanmäki amusement park in Helsinki, Finland.Image:Roller Coaster-Movie World
Australia.jpg|The Road Runner roller
coaster at Warner Bros. Movie World, Australia.Image:BGT Montu
coasterfanatics.jpg|"Montu", a popular inverted roller coaster at Busch
Image:grizzly(turnaround).jpg| A classic
wooden roller coaster
America. This is a mirrored copy of the Grizzly, first located at
Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia.Image:Lethal Weapon Ride
Track.JPG|"Lethal Weapon - The
Ride" at Warner Bros. Movie World is the first steel inverted roller coaster in an
Australian Theme Park.Image:Black mamba first drop.jpg|Black
Mamba at Phantasialand, Germany
, the world's first production
Thrust Air 2000
defunct)Image:Sixflagsmx.jpg|Roller Coasters in
Mexico theme park
Major roller coaster manufacturers
- Robert Coker (2002). Roller Coasters: A Thrill Seeker's
Guide to the Ultimate Scream Machines. New York: Metrobooks.
14. ISBN 1586631721.
- Steven J. Urbanowicz (2002). The Roller Coaster Lover's
Companion. Kensington, New York: Citadel Press. 4. ISBN
- "Roller Coaster History: Early Years In
America". Retrieved on July 26, 2007.
- Scott Rutherford (2000). The American Roller Coaster.
Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Company). ISBN 0760306893.
- Scott Rutherford (2000). The American Roller Coaster.
Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Company). ISBN 0760306893.
- Robb and Elissa Alvey. "Theme Park Review: Japan 2004",
themeparkreview.com. Retrieved on March 18, 2008.