We live in an age when amusement parks are constantly striving to have the biggest, fastest, and steepest roller coaster or other thrill ride in the country and/or world. As I watch year after year each new addition is taller, steeper and faster than the ones before it. I keep wondering when we will exceed the limit and some horrible disaster will occur. Maybe I’ve gotten too old, maybe I’m a skeptic. I used to be a lover of thrill rides, including the roller coaster, but now I look at many of the new rides and say “no way.”
What I find amazing is that what used to be a thrill ride, the carousel, is now a meek and mild ride. In the early 1900’s carousels turned at a very fast rate of speed. There are still a few of those antique carousels that travel at original speeds, or even at lowered speeds that are still very fast. I rode one at the Herschell Carousel Factory Museumin North Tonawanda, New York. The ride had been slowed down, but because it was designed as a thrill ride it was still very fast. The fastest carousel in Michigan is located at Crossroads Village and Huckelberry Railroad. This antique carousel goes so fast it is hard to capture in a picture at full speed, but photos shows how fast it is moving. Carousels in modern times go up and down at a much slower pace, but other amusement park rides are constantly being built to move at extreme speeds, with the main focus on roller coasters.
My greatest fear is that a mechanical failure on one of these mega coasters is going to cause an horrific accident. Anything mechanical experiences breakdowns, and roller coasters are no exception. Anyone who frequents amusement parks knows that roller coasters get stuck, need repairs and have breakdowns. While modern tracking systems are far safer than the old original tracking system, I still fear we are pushing the edge and disaster will eventually strike.
What inspired me to write this post was a video I watched of Gravity Max, the “Vekoma Tilt Coaster” located at Discovery World in Lihpao Land in Taiwan. On this ride the roller coaster climbs up a hill, then is locked into a section of track that is at the top, after which the entire track and train tilt 90 degrees forward and down where the track then locks into the next piece of track before being released. As I was watching the video, which gives you a rider’s perspective, my first thought was “what if the brakes fail on that flat piece of track?”. The coaster and track is tilting down with nothing to hold the coaster in place, other than the brakes, until it joins the next piece of track and is securely locked into place. If the brakes fail during the tilting down process the coaster would slide right off the track and free fall. Maybe I’ve gotten chicken over time, but to me the chance of failure and injury is greater than the thrill of the ride.
I was raised in a time when the Gemini and the Corkscrew coasters at Cedar Point were considered big and scary. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed a few developed since then, but in the past ten-fifteen years, they have extended beyond my desire. Magnum XL-200 was one of the first that I decided was too high for me to find fun. This was the first roller coaster to top 200 feet in height and travels at a speed of 72 mph. Then Top Thrill Dragster came out and I couldn’t believe the steepness of the drop. When you go from zero to 120 mph in less than 4 seconds and are traveling 420 feet straight up and then straight back down within 17 seconds, my mind can not find the fun and excitement in that kind of terror. Now coasters have gone beyond that.
Unfortunately my fears somewhat became a reality in July 2013 when Rosy Esparza told park employees at Six Flags in Arlington Texas that she did not feel secure in her seat on the Texas Giant. Rosy was assured by a ride operator that as long as the restraint clicked she was fine. The horror of this story is that Rosy was riding with her two children, who witnessed their mother fall to her death when her restraint came undone and she flew out of the ride. The Texas Giant is, or at least was at the time, the world’s tallest steel-wood hybrid roller coaster, traveling at a speed of 65 mph and has a 153-foot high lift and a bank of 95 degrees, one of the world’s steepest drops for a wooden roller coaster.
While we don’t hear of accidents on a regular basis, it is important to realize that amusement parks regulate themselves and when the accident occurred the investigation was conducted internally. There is no “big brother” watching to make sure that the rides you get on are properly maintained. Without federal regulations each state sets its own standards, so in many ways the level of rider safety is subject to the integrity of the amusement park. Following the accident in Texas Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey stated “A baby stroller is subject to tougher federal regulation than a roller coaster carrying a child in excess of 100 miles per hour.” Six Flags over Texas was in compliance with the states requirements at the time of the accident. When planning your thrill seeking trips keep in mind that the amusement park industry is self-regulated and if a park or ride does not appear to be well-maintained than you may want to use discretion on whether or not to ride.
Not to dampen the fun and excitement of thrill seekers, of which I have one in my family, I am sure many readers out there think I am nuts for being cautious or fearful of the the advanced height and speed that rides now have. I have a son that has always loved the bigger, higher, and faster roller coasters and other thrill rides and I am sure that if he visits an amusement park in the future he will be seated on some of those same rides which absolutely terrify me. I bid all of you thrill seekers a safe and fun ride. As for me, I think I’ll go check out the 1920’s carousel.