Over the past few weeks, as seasonal parks begin to thaw out from winter and re-open for the season, we’ve seen a significant uptick in news coverage of what we in the amusement park industry know as “evacs” – taking people off a ride either via the lift or block brake.
But what I’ve noticed lately is the media making a far bigger deal out of these events than necessary. It really came to my attention when one of my co-workers in the newsroom (who knows I’m a big park and ride fan) asked me, “What’s up with all these ride breakdowns lately?”
FULL DISCLAIMER: I am a credentialed member of the media. I broadcast the news on a daily basis. My job is to inform and educate the public via the airwaves. In a strange way, I could be seen as part of the problem based solely on my position.
On the other hand, I can be a harbinger for truth and education.
Let’s take that previous example of a coaster stalled on the lift. Why then does a person who’s car has broken down on the side of the interstate not make news? (Outside a traffic report). Think about it – here’s a ride vehicle, who has stopped suddenly – and is now on a median designed specifically for breakdowns.
How is that different from a coaster that stops on the lift or brake run – where there is a platform (or two) that allows guests to safely disembark?
I am missing something?
So today, I am challenging my fellow media personnel to better educate themselves so as NOT to sensationalize the unsensational. Because a coaster that has a simple malfunction shouldn’t be click bait – when we have so many other stories worthy of telling, instead.
Colossus – the wooden racing coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain that has been closed for several weeks to undergo a massive renovation, caught fire today in an area where workers were removing track pieces. A portion of the lift has completely collapsed, but the rest of the circuit appears to be in good condition, based off of video taken from the scene. The park was closed at the time – no injuries have been reported.
First reports of the fire came in around 2:30pm and immediately photos began to “light up” social media. The park and ride became a trending topic almost immediately:
The official statement from the park confirms that:
“(The fire) happened while work was being done to disassemble the ride. The park was closed and there were no injuries. Colossus has been closed since August 17 for renovation. Plans for the spring debut of Twisted Colossus are still on track.”
The Coaster Guy reported just a few days ago that he saw what appeared to be burn marks where track had been removed on the lift. The ride is being renovated by Rocky Mountain Construction, who have done several other ride modifications, but never on this large a scale.
So how will they accomplish such a quick turnaround? The answer is simple – they’ve got everything they need already on site to repair and replace: Because the re-design of the ride does not incorporate all of the original layout, there will be literally thousands of board feet of lumber on the site that can easily be recycled into repairing any damaged sections of the ride.
TO RECAP – an apparent construction accident caused Colossus’ lift to catch fire today – while it was under renovation and NOT open ot the public. Thanks to the efforts of both the park and Los Angeles County Fire Department, the blaze and subsequent damage to the structure was quickly contained -no one was injured.
A major incident tonight on a Six Flags Magic Mountain roller coaster has capped an already tragic day in the amusement industry.
First, a young, British teenager was killed after being allegedly ejected from an Intamin ZacSpin, called “Inferno” at Terra Mitica park in Europe.
Then, just moments ago – reports came in that Ninja, Six Flags Magic Mountain’s suspended coaster – had a major derailment, with at least one car wheel assembly completely separated from the track. At least four people have minor injuries, according to local media. Crews from the local fire department, as well as Magic Mountian maintenance staff are on scene, assisting riders as I type.
UPDATE: A statement from Park Public Relations Manager, Sue Carpenter: “The issue was caused by a tree branch fell on the track of the roller coaster obstructing the train.
In situations like this – and I cannot stress this enough – we need to let the investigations run their course. There will be much said over the next few weeks about maintenance, ride safety and parks in general that will be absolute junk and rubbish. “Coaster experts” will pop up all over the media, spouting off things that they have no qualifications to say, with their only qualifications being that they’ve ridden many rides.
You will not find any of that type of speculative reporting here.
Let’s allow the facts to come out – as speculation will only lead to rampant misreporting and really ends up being a complete disservice to everyone involved.
The thoughts and prayers of the entire Great American Thrills staff is with the friends and family directly affected by this difficult day.
This past month has not been a good one if you’re a wooden roller coaster residing at a Six Flags park. The chain announced the closure of not one, but two additional woodies: the Riverside Cyclone at Six Flags New England and the legendary Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
The Colossus rumor is the worst kept secret in the industry – but the Cyclone announcement was out of left field. In the past 5 years, five different wooden coasters will be either modified or removed from Six Flags parks. So why do I claim this as the “death” of the wooden coaster era there? You have to look at the pattern of other parks in the chain to understand it:
1.) Park builds wooden coaster.
2.) Due to unknown reasons (some insiders claim it’s to save money) maintenance is deferred, making the ride rougher.
3.) As a result, the coaster must be modified from original form to save on wear and tear, either via brakes or “topper track.”
4a.) The coaster is EITHER removed altogether due to lack of ridership, complaints or sheer amount of work needed to repair and restore it…
4b.) The coaster is modified to a steel track, provided by Rocky Mountain Construction, making it a steel coaster with wooden structure. (a la the “New Texas Giant,” “Iron Rattler”)
Now, to be fair – each of these rides (sans Medusa) were well beyond their prime. Of the five wooden coasters that have been converted to steel or are slated to close, three were heavily modified from their original form, making them shells of their former selves. (In the case of the Cyclone, the ride itself was just poor, rough and terribly paced to begin with.)
Hell, Colossus and it’s dual track hasn’t really raced for the past 20 years. Why? Usually only one track was open – you guessed it – to save on maintenance and wear. Anyone who’s ridden it this year will attest, the right side track hasn’t been used in months – and it shows.
Not many guests know, but most of the rides and attractions at Six Flags aren’t American built – they’re almost exclusively from Europe. The traditional wooden coaster is really America’s sole contribution to the amusement community worldwide (not forgetting the Log Flume).
So then, are we witnessing a generational shift in technology, much as our Great Grandparents saw the shift from side-friction coasters to safer (and more extreme) wooden upstop rides? Or are we witnessing a stopgap cost cutting measure? Tell me what you think in the comments section, below.
Personally, I’m torn – everyone loves the latest and greatest – but you have to remember and preserve the past, too. Wooden coasters are expensive to maintain, no doubt – but NOT maintaining them through their life ends up being more expensive in the long run.
My final thought – the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz is 90 years old and yet it’s smoother than any wooden coaster at any Six Flags park. And yet, all of those woodies are at least 50 years YOUNGER.
Yes, amusement park safety technology was pretty much non-existent back in the last 19th century, but you have to admit that this free-fall ride concept was far beyond the acceptable level of crazy for it’s day.
According to io9.com, this is from, “An 1891 issue of Scientific American. (It) showcased this invention by a one Monsieur Carron of Grenoble, France. In short, Carron had invented an amusement ride that involved 15 patrons falling almost 1,000 feet inside a 30-foot-long bullet, which then would land inside a champagne-flute-shaped, 180-foot-deep well.”
Eat your hearts out, free fall fans. This thing is crazier than the looping waterslide at Action Park in New Jersey. (The only difference – that was ACTUALLY built!)
The article also goes into very specific details on how the “ride” would work:
“Mr. Charles Carron, an engineer at Grenoble, has analytically studied the conditions in which the punctuation of the water by such a shell would be effected, and the reactions that the passengers would have to support. The conclusions of this study show that there is nothing, either theoretically or practically, opposed to its construction and to its operation in falls reaching three hundred meters. The accompanying figures give the general aspect of such a shell capable of accommodating fifteen passengers falling from a height of 300 meters […] The passengers would be securely seated in arm chairs that exactly followed the contours of their body.”
Nevermind the fact that there’s no lap bars to hold you in, or that the wind conditions at 1000 feet are far different than those on the ground. (Trust me, I used to work with an airship company – they’re WILDLY different!) True, in principle it makes sense – but we all know from the Mythbusters that real-world results can always vary!
Here’s my question – who’s ready to queue up for a modern take on this?!?
It’s only natural to want to try and speculate on what exactly happened last Friday night at Six Flags Over Texas. I’ve even caught myself doing it on occasion to friends or co-workers, who have asked me about the unfolding situation.
But that doesn’t mean it’s right.
With inaccurate eyewitness reports, the urge to find out as much information as possible before anyone else has it – we as humans tend to want to fill in the facts when there’s an unknown. The speculation had already begun today, as well as recommendations for change, despite not even knowing what exactly occurred.
People were already getting in front of the media, illustrating, “…where she fell out,” and were even calling for “Over the Shoulder Restraints” or OTSR on more rides, as if they would have clearly prevented this accident from occurring. All of this was being done without any formal information on what exactly happened.
Speculation can only lead us as a society to a skewed, unwarranted perception of the event. Currently, that misconception is: “…because someone died on a roller coaster – ALL OF THEM must be dangerous!”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth is this, folks: You’re more likely to be hurt riding an ESCALATOR at the mall than you are on a looping roller coaster. Parks don’t want accidents – they want you to feel safe. It’s very much a “self-policing” industry. Gone are the days of the Roaring 20’s, where rides that killed became MORE popular.
While we live in an age of instant communication, instant answers – this is one event that we must wait for. Only time will tell what happens next in this investigation – but can’t we all just give this investigation just that, a little TIME?
An unprecedented two major news-making events took place at two separate amusement parks in the U.S. within minutes of each other on Friday, bringing up the inevitable media hype over ride safety.
At Six Flags Over Texas and Cedar Point, two major incidents occurred that have splashed across the media.
In the wake of yesterday’s tragic event and subsequent investigation at Six Flags Over Texas, Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta Texas has been closed as a precautionary measure, according to a park representative. The ride features the same style of “Iron Horse” track as the Texas Giant and same train manufacturer, Gerstlauer of Germany.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved in today’s tragic events.
When reporting news, there’s always the possibility of reporting inaccurate information. When the story is breaking, that risk is even bigger. These stories are no different.
One of the more glaring items that stands out to me is from the The Dallas Morning News. They reported that eyewitness, Carmen Brown, who was in the loading station of the Texas Giant, “…said the woman had expressed concern to a park employee that she was not secured correctly in her seat.”
“He (the ride attendant) was basically nonchalant,” Brown said. “He was, like, ‘As long as you heard it click, you’re fine.’ Hers was the only one that went down once, and she didn’t feel safe. But they let her still get on the ride.”
Here’s the problem – the Texas Giant doesn’t use “clicking” restraints. In fact, according to Gerstlauer, the manufacturer of the trains for the Texas Giant, “The cars feature four self-restraining seats with T-shaped lapbars.” It continues, “The use of redundant hydraulic cylinders ensures that each lap bar can be infinitely adjusted and offers maximum security.” in other words, these restraints come down in silence.
As I was just out at Six Flags Over Texas about five weeks ago, I can attest to this fact. The Texas Giant also features an electronic indicator light on each train, (one for each restraint) which alerts operators if a restraint is too high for safety. The light turns from red to green.
It should not be lost on anyone, but you should know – your odds are far greater of being injured DRIVING to your local amusement park then they are INSIDE your local amusement park. In addition, if you do not feel confident in a ride – you always, ALWAYS have the choice of simply asking to be let out.