All rides and attractions have height requirements, as well as a set of rider admission policies. These safety standards ensure that the rider conforms to the restraint device safely, and is developed enough to experience various forces exerted on them. But who makes up this number, and what factors come into play when determining that restriction?
1. ASTM Standards
First and foremost, the committee that oversees all ride manufacturers, parks, inspectors, and operators is the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM). As they do with EVERY industry, their Volume 15.07 covers Amusement Devices and other recreational attractions. They are the ones who make "the rules" for everyone involved to follow.
From the moment that a ride concept is designed, to its fabrication, to construction, and finally operation/maintenance, ASTM has set standards to govern these bodies. One of their articles covers forces and acceleration exerted on riders. With the use of acceleration and G-Force graphs, they show the maximum boundaries and limits that can be subjected to a rider. There's a reason why many rides have similar height requirements (36", 42", 48", 52", 54"). ASTM suggests that a rider be a specific height as an average indicator for age and development. The higher a force range is on a rider, the taller they should be (which of course height isn't always a good metric for age, but it provides an average).
2. Ride Manufacturers and Restraints
When designing ride vehicles and restraint devices, a ride manufacturer needs to design a device that will be able fit the largest audience as possible, but also do so safely. I will use Intamin as an example. We all know and have heard about how unforgiving their T-bar restraint can be for larger riders. Intamin has tried many sizes and shapes of those restraints over the years to be able to safely hold more riders of larger proportions. But the larger a restraint becomes, the more you have to sacrifice riders of a lower height requirement who cannot fit.
Therefore, there is a balance in trying to achieve the greatest amount of potential riders as possible. Force-wise, ASTM standards may give a lower number, say 48", but a ride manufacturer can easily bump that number up, if their restraint device requires riders of a taller stature or with longer legs or torsos.
3. Park, State, Insurance Reasons
This one is more of a grey area, but parks themselves, state regulations, and (indirectly) raised insurance fees can all factor into the final decision for a height requirement. Similar ride models or trains may even have different height requirements from park-to-park in many cases.
Insurance companies charge fees to insure rides based off of risk, intensity, restraint type, etc. This is a very similar system to how pricing on car insurance, home insurance, and life insurance work. A ride that has a very high intensity or thrill factor will have a larger cost to insure than the teacups. If a park boosts the height requirement above the ASTM or manufacturer minimum, they could help alleviate insurance costs due to more mature riders taking part (lower risk). Another scenario is a ride with a dual-redundant locking mechanism being supplemented with a seatbelt, to add more factors of safety.
Millennium Force at Cedar Point is over 300 feet tall, built by Intamin. Although it is 100 feet shorter in height, and has the exact same train design as Millennium Force, Ride of Steel at Darien Lake has a 54" requirement, vs MF's 48". Insurance costs and the park's personal opinion on the issue played a role into this ride's increased requirement, despite being a smaller ride.
What qualifications do you need to become a roller coaster engineer?
You probably won’t find the specific title “Roller Coaster Engineer”.
Manufacturing firms assemble teams of engineers of different disciplines to help design certain components of a roller coaster. For instance, controls and hardware is often outsourced to a third party company.
The types of engineers that work on roller coasters are civil/structural, mechanical, and electrical (most commonly). So an engineering company will hire a team of a wide range to help focus on certain aspects.
Rocky Mountain Construction for instance, has a lead structural engineer, and a team of mechanical engineers to help design their structures and trains.
It’s a very competitive and specialized business. At the very least, a company will be looking for a bachelor’s degree in engineering, and most likely industry experience.
How are the rides in theme parks tested before opening for the public when factors like neck spasm, palpitation or giddiness are different for different people?
Generally theme parks downright prohibit riders with medical issues from riding attractions, as even something as gentle as a carousel or train ride could lead to an incident. I have witnessed many guests claim discrimination against disabled people, but it is simply the theme parks trying to keep their guests happy and safe.
When rides are constructed, they are not necessarily tested for different medical conditions or intensity factors. It is a mix between manufacturer recommendations, amusement codes and local laws, ADA guidelines, and the park’s discretion to come up with criteria for rider restrictions based on the nature of the ride.
For example, at the park that I work at, we are told that guests with neck/spinal problems, heart conditions, pregnancy, and motion sickness, among other major conditions should not be allowed on any ride. While these medical issues are not always visible to the eye, it is the job of the ride operators to be vigilant and inform anybody who has a doubt about riding. “Ride at your own risk” comes into play, because only the rider knows their general health.
In the US, it is general practice to place ADA signs at ride entrances, and provide disabled guests with accessibility guides telling them the different policies for each attraction.
So in conclusion, it is more of a standard practice to restrict riders off the bat, rather than test rides to see if a medical condition can cause potential harm to a rider. The end goal of a ride manufacturer is to construct a safe and exciting ride, while designing it so that the majority of the general public can ride it.
This question came from a user on Quora. The original link can be seen here.
It’s going to depend on the size of rides and the size of the park in general. In the US, electricity costs are measured through the units of kilowatt-hours. The kilowatt-hour is defined as the usage of a device rated at a kilowatt (1000 Watts) for a consistent time period of an hour.
For example, if a furnace is rated for a kilowatt and runs for an hour, it uses a kilowatt of electricity. If a television rated for 100 watts runs for 10 hours, it would also use a kilowatt hour. It costs an average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour.
Let’s take a look at an actual situation regarding an amusement ride…
The HUSS Top Spin ride is rated for 220 kW. If this ride were to run at this rate for a 12 hour day, it would cost $316.80 in electricity. Keep in mind that the ride will take more power while in the ride cycle, than while loading/unloading. But this is a very basic, crude estimation for the maximum amount of electricity used.
To find the total amount of electricity needed to run a park, you would need to sum all of the running costs per ride.
This question came from a user on Quora. Click here to view the original response.
The Top Spin consists of two upright support arms, two mechanical sweep arms connected by a steel rod, and a gondola containing two rows of seats.
The sweep arms generate motion through 4 DC electric motors connected to the middle of the sweep arms through a gearbox. In order to help balance the weight of the gondola and riders, there are 4 counterweights connected to the opposite ends of the sweep arms.
The gondola itself is free to swing, independent of the sweep arms due to bearings between the connection. However, the sweep arms contain a pneumatic caliper which operates much like the brake system on a car. When desired, the sweep arms can lock the rotation of the gondola for loading/unloading, or part of the ride program where the gondola is held at a certain position.
The purpose of this ride is to generate swinging and flipping maneuvers for the thrill of the passengers. For most ride cycles, the sweep arms hoist the gondola to a specific height. At that point the rotation of the gondola is locked, and the sweep arms begin rotating to build up energy. The gondola is then unlocked, and free to swing or flip, creating dazzling visuals.
This video demonstrates a typical ride cycle:
Dreamland-Top Spin Off Ride & POV on Monotopia (with interesting facts & pumping action)
So to reiterate, the ride builds up potential energy from hoisting the gondola, locks it in an offset position, then releases it. Once released, gravity takes over (also aided by the ride motors), and the gondola will perform flips until it runs out of energy. Depending on the program, the ride may also hold the vehicle nearly inverted for a period of time to create a feeling of “hang time”.
HUSS Top Spins come with 9 pre-set programs built into the control panel, though most parks only run around 2–3 of them for average operation. This ensures to keep the line moving, and make it easier to maintain the machine.
There is also a manual drive mode that the ride can be operated in, but this is usually left for maintenance technicians when performing test cycles or repairs.
Ask the Engineer- 1/7/18: How are amusement parks kept during off season? How are roller coasters/large attractions stored/preserved during winter?
This question came from a user on Quora. My original response to the question can be found from this link.
The offseason is actually the busiest time of the year for maintenance personnel at any park. Not only are they tending to the park grounds, fixing infrastructure, and even constructing new additions, but they are also in charge of making sure that the current rides at the park are running in the best condition that they can be.
After the park closes on the final day of the operating season, the operations and park services teams do their final sweep of the grounds. The paths and ride queues are cleaned for the final time, and all garbage is disposed of. All items placed in the park by these departments are collected and put into storage for the winter. For operations, this includes ride water coolers, seats for operators, fire extinguishers, rain coats, and emergency equipment. Park services will remove benches, garbage cans, and other cleaning equipment from the grounds.
Maintenance then takes over and begins dismantling ride vehicles, and certain electronics/motors that will be stored and inspected during the offseason. For any type of ride in a certain park, the track, support structure, main housings, etc. will remain standing until opening procedures begin again.
The following video posted a couple of years ago by Kings Island shows off a lot of the procedures performed by the maintenance department to these rides:
From the beginning of the video to the 1:15 mark, you can see the process of removing vehicles from the ride tracks. Components like brake fins and vehicle covers may removed so that they do not get damaged while moving cars around. At that point, any hitching device that links cars together is unfastened, freeing each individual car. Then car-by-car, a crane lifts them off of the tracks onto a frame in which a forklift can move them to their designated storage bay.
Then begins the tear down process. This portion is shown up until 2:07. All seats, restraint devices, wheel assemblies, other moving parts, and hoods or paneling that gives the cars their shape are removed and cataloged for inspection. All that remains of the vehicle is the bare chassis, which is subject to NDT (non-destructive testing).
Some components are replaced with accordance to manufacturer specifications, which can be given through the ride manual via time in years, number of cycles, or running hours. These components are just replaced rather than inspected. Some of the parts that I am referring to here are wheels, bearings, springs, nuts, bolts, upholstery, and others.
Others are inspected not based by time of usage, but by their dimensions. In this case, the components are larger and more structural, such as spindles, shafts, hitches, and the frame itself. Much like manufacturers provide standards for other parts, they also give dimensions and tolerances for other critical components.
After undergoing a spray wash to clean away old lubricants or oils, parts are analyzed to see if they fall within the manufacturer's range. For example, a certain shaft may require a length of 24 inches, plus or minus a fraction of an inch. If the part falls outside of this range, it will need replacement. Along with dimension analysis, the steel and materials are inspected with ultraviolet lighting, or magnetic particle testing to look for any possible cracks, stress fractures, or bad weld joints. At times, a park needs to make the decision of buying a new frame or train entirely if the testing fails.
After it has been determined which components are good to use for another season, or need replacement, maintenance technicians then rebuild the cars back to operational condition. Along with new items, upholstery (seating/padding) and painting touchups may occur. Certain parks also polish or wax their vehicle's covers to make them shine brighter and repel moisture.
Once the weather thaws, track walks and inspections happen to see the integrity of the ride structures, and the ride vehicles are rebuilt on the track. Articles regarding track inspections and safety testing/inspections will be the subject of future articles.
For now, feel free to direct any more questions my way, or view the original Quora answer for more info. Thanks for reading.
I received another good question a few days ago that I would like to analyze carefully...
Can PTC survive this "new era" of wooden coasters?- Greg H. from California
That's a good question. Well, I'm sure you already know this, but PTC stopped building wooden coasters in the early 1980s. Their work since then has been limited to coaster trains, brake fins, and winter rehab projects. So in a way, they have already kind of died.
But will their other small projects one day fade away as well? Let's face it, their market is very limited. Most wooden coaster manufacturers now have their own trains that they supply with their coasters:
-GCI- Millennium Flyers
-Gravity Group- Timberliners
-RMC- RMC Trains
-Martin and Vleminckx- PTC
So only one manufacturer still utilizes PTC cars, and they are not even that big of a company. The silver lining here is that Timberliners have not yet become totally consistent. Who could ever forget that whole fiasco with Holiday World and the Voyage? After many years of attempting to switch over, Holiday World stuck with the traditional, clunky PTC cars.
But what about Millennium Flyers, and the new Gravity Group coasters that have successfully used Timberliners? PTC has lost its market with two of the largest wood coaster manufacturers in the industry. Any new wooden coasters that are built are not likely to use PTCs. Plus, many coasters now are modernizing and switching to other brands of trains. Look at Ghostrider's GCI treatment, or RMC turning wooden coasters into hybrids.
There are still many wooden coasters that receive new PTCs; ala Le Monstre or Thunderhawk at Dorney, but many parks will likely need to purchase new trains at some point, and a very small class of "historic coasters" will actually buy PTCs.
So what is PTC's answer to this dilemma? The PTC 360 train:
This train will offer many solutions to the issues that the articulated PTC cars have caused in the past.
First, it has steering wheels like MF and Timberliner trains do, which will give a smoother ride and save parks on track maintenance costs. Also, it will be a "trailered" train, which gives it better weight distribution, makes it lighter, and therefore, gives a comfortable ride. Finally, it will be able to go through more complex elements, some maybe never attempted before on a wooden coaster.
Back in the 1990s, PTC attempted to create a trailered train like this. However, a design error caused the trains not to operate effectively, and they "shuffled" along the track, causing much discomfort and stress on the track. Some of the most famous coasters to run these trains for an extended period were Texas Giant, Predator, and Raging Wolf Bobs. No PTC trailered trains are in operation anymore due to the issues they had.
Hopefully this solution can make it possible for more modern woodies to use PTC trains, but the question remains. How many manufacturers will actually use these instead of their own models? I guess we will have to wait and see if PTC gets back into the coaster production game, continues their current habits, or fizzles out after over 100 years of service.