With theme park safety in general becoming more & more prevalent in the the minds of everyday park goers, it’s high time there was some simple answers to some of the most commonly queried concerns folks might have about modern thrill rides.
5. What if my harness fails?
Like almost every piece of equipment on thrill rides these days, ride restraints are built with multiple redundancies in place. In every seat there’s at least two hydraulic fluid chambers that keep the harness down, both of which could hold a rider’s weight on its own. Adding to this, ride computers will electronically check the pressure of the chambers to ensure that there’s enough pressure to keep you restrained before despatching. Speaking of those hydraulic chambers, they’re designed to be “normally closed”, meaning that without an electronic signal from the ride’s systems, the harnesses will stay closed indefinitely.
Plus if you’ve ever worried about leaving the ride’s station before being properly seated with the harness in place you can rest easy, because for a train just to leave the station there’s at least three major things that need to happen. Firstly, all the harnesses need to be down with their respective seat belts clipped in just for the ride system to okay operators to let the train despatch. Secondly, theme parks almost always require ride attendants to check every restraint (sometimes twice with some rides) to make sure the harness is firmly down and in place. And thirdly, in the case of rides with multiple ride attendants, multiple despatch buttons need to be pressed simultaneously from different points in the station for the ride’s computers to allow the train to move forward.
4. What if the power goes out?
Let’s take what happened with DC Rivals HyperCoaster recently at Movie World as a real world scenario. The whole suburb surrounding the park lost power, and as a result, one of the ride’s trains came to rest on the lift hill. Every day the park’s teams train and prepare for situations like this and within ten minutes the power was back and the ride was reset and on its way. In the event that the power stayed off and they have to evacuate people onto the catwalk (stairs), that process is so safe parks like Movie World & Universal sell behind the scenes packages where guests can regularly walk up the catwalks of roller-coasters. So while the large amount of power needed to power the chain on the lift hill may have been cut, most modern ride systems have more then ample back-up power supplies that keep the ride’s critical safety components running so that the ride’s team (and even some cases the ride manufacturer on the other side of the world) have uninterrupted information at hand to deal with any situation.
3. But what if the power goes out and the ride’s already running or even up-side down?
Gravity. Simply put, big modern roller-coasters in particular have and always will use gravity to continue their journey right up to the final brake run. There’s no little motors on the train, nor is there anything that would impede or slow your journey if the power was cut, meaning on a roller-coaster there’s little to no chance you’ll ever be stuck upside down. And like the aforementioned ride restraints, things like braking systems are designed to be “normally closed”, that is to say that they need power to stay open and allow a train through. So no power means ride brakes automatically default to a closed state and thus, the train will safely come to a full stop when it reaches the next brake section.
2. Can two trains bump into each other?
Simply put, in 2017, it’s almost impossible for two trains to collide, let alone at high speed. In the case of an an incident with the Smiler roller-coaster at Alton Towers from a few years back, ride engineers had to circumnavigate layers of computer controls and operator procedures to allow something like that to happen, and like aircraft safety, most of the industry has since made provisions to make sure that never happens again.
Roller-coasters are a lot like real world trains in that they have block sections that only let one train enter at a time. For example, if one train is still in the station loading passengers, because each block section is generally separated by brakes, the ride computer will simply stop the second train in the previous section until the station is cleared. Speaking sensors, like everything else in ride design, everything, even the ride computers themselves are redundant. That means there’s two of everything, including the ride computer systems (commonly known as PLCs) so if at any point no two independent pieces of information add up, the ride will automatically e-stop (emergency stop) until an operator has checked what the fault is. More commonly than not, something as simple as a bird sitting on a sensor or a change in weather will trigger an automatic stop, so it’s important to always remember that if a ride has stopped, it doesn’t immediately mean anyone’s in danger, it could just be the computer systems doing their job to keep riders safe.
1. But what about that incident that happened on something something ride at something something park?
I’m not denying that mistakes have happened. Like anything mechanically sophisticated, there’s things that we just don’t know that we don’t know that can wrong until they unfortunately do. With this in mind, the theme park industry as a whole adopts similar practices and to those in the aviation industry. The reality for both industries is that from a business, moral & integral perspective, a single incident can wipe out tens of millions of dollars of revenue for future growth, damage a brand’s reputation and even cause grief & trauma to employees. With that in mind, parks now more then ever have an obligation & incentive to go above and beyond in terms of safety so that the hard lessons learnt from the past aren’t repeated. So next time you’re at a park, rest easy, because at the end of the day you’re more likely to get hurt by a vending machine, a folding deck chair or even your toaster than on a ride at a theme park.