Recently I received a good question via email. I like this one because it is very specific and has to do with the inner workings of coasters.
How often are coasters greased, and what are the benefits of doing so?- Rich from New York
Thanks for the unique question!
Every coaster (and also flat rides and water rides) is different, so their schedules for maintenance and greasing is different. Climate, speed, weight, cycling, etc. also affects this. A good rule of thumb is the larger a park or coaster is, the more often coasters there get greased. These parks not only have a larger maintenance budget to support this, but also cycle a lot more trains and need to upkeep.
There are also many forms of grease and many parts to be greased. Chains, wheels, rails, bearings, and calipers are all parts that may get treatment. Moving parts within the brake calipers get greased once in a while, not the brake pad itself to clarify. Chains and bearings usually get a much thicker black grease as they are moving parts. Rails and wheels are covered with a thin blue or transparent lubricant because they require less friction and a cleaner environment.
Two popular companies that manufacture lubricants for the industry are Track Lube Plus and Dow Corning. Dow Corning is usually used for chains and bearings, as their grease is much thicker and durable, but also messy. Track Lube Plus has become a standard for track and wheels, and can even be bought for guns and small projects.
Tracks can be greased weekly, monthly, or even just bi-yearly. Higher caliber coasters like the Superman hypers, Millennium Force, etc. receive lubrication in their easy to reach areas once every few weeks. This keeps friction and heat dispersion down, and protects the rails and wheels from wear.
Seeing that it is hard to reach 150+ foot drops, maintenance workers usually grease the lift and wheels, cycle it a few times, and the grease will spread throughout the layout.
Other coasters that are not as susceptible to as much wheel or rail wear, like wooden coasters, may only be greased in certain areas a couple of times a year. That is not a blanket statement, as some wooden coasters do get extra attention, it really just all depends on the park and the ride.
I would say for the vast majority of "average" coasters, they may get some form of greasing around 5 times a year, possibly more if the climate allows for it. A particularly rainy or hot season could call for more. Tracks are usually greased before the offseason comes as well to protect the rails from corrosion that water and other precipitation can create.
The benefit of greasing is quite simple. Less friction means less wear, and quicker rides. The less wear on a coaster means the less money that has to be used to replace it. If spending $50-$100 on a bucket of lubrication means saving thousands in parts down the line, it is a great trade off for parks. The less wheels that need replacing and the longer the steel track stays solid is something that all parks would love to hear. Believe it or not, even some water rides and flat rides receive lubrication to preserve their reliability as well.
A few weeks ago, I witnessed a Larson Loop at Darien Lake shut down for apprx. 10 minutes so they could grease the wheels and rails. Because it was such a hot day, the motor was beginning to overwork from the heat, and the grease would help the ride run smoother and not drag so much. After that, it ran a lot quicker and put less stress on the machine.
Track Lube Plus is the most popular lubricant in the industry. It has multiple uses, comes in liquid or paste form, and protects coasters from unnecessary wear.