Rollercoaster malfunctions, leaving passengers suspended upside down for hours

Originally published at: Rollercoaster malfunctions, leaving passengers suspended upside down for hours | Boing Boing




Isn’t there some way to introduce a mechanism that wouldn’t allow the cars to be left upside-down on those loop-de-loops?

At least they had a good view from there.

By the way, there seem to have been a number of cracks in roller coaster structures reported recently.

The latest one was at Cedar Point, owned by Cedar Fair - the same owner as Carowinds.

Edited to replace photo link with drop-in image grab.


I mostly trust permanently installed rides at amusement parks. Rides that are welded together on site, where you don’t have to worry that the guy put all the safety pins in all the right places when he set it up yesterday.

Yes, I’m sure they use check lists, and they have other people come and cross check their work, and they run safety tests and inspections every morning. But anything that is disassembled and reassembled is going to have constant wear on the connection points, every ride given is going to vibrate and stress them further, and every drive to the next fair is going to pound them with every pothole. And something like a roller coaster brake is a safety critical component that needs careful alignment.

It just seems to be a combination that doesn’t lend itself well to long term safety.


Did they try blaring a song with a good beat and getting them all to head-bang in unison to try and get it going again?

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Wow, that’s a pretty new coaster, too!

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i’d have figured gravity would do the trick. i don’t really even understand how it could get stuck, unless the wheels or something became trapped in the track.

At each point on a coaster there’s an optimal speed for the car to safely make it through the next series of hills. Engineers add brakes at various points to limit that speed, to keep the ride safe. The brakes also control multiple cars on the same track, so that you can’t have a car coasting into the station while the car ahead is still unloading passengers.

They usually add a track brake at the high points of a coaster. That’s where the car’s kinetic energy is lowest, and therefore the brake has the least amount of work to do to achieve the maximum rate change; this is where the riders feel it the least. The engineer would set that brake to lower the car’s speed by either a little or a lot, correcting for variables that can change on each ride, such as mass, friction, wind, etc.

The brakes can also stop the car completely, in case of an emergency. If anything on the ride fails, it’s supposed to fail safe – stop the vehicle instead of letting it run away into an unsafe condition. It’s better to have living riders inconveniently trapped than to let their car collide with another.

It’s possible that the station sensor failed and said “I detect a problem in the station! Don’t let another car enter the final run!”

It’s impossible from the picture above to know if there’s a track brake in the top of that loop. But I strongly suspect there is.


Upside down for four hours!! Good lord, those poor people. They surely blacked out and probably had trouble walking for a long time. Our bodies are not meant to be upside down that long. Even brain damage is possible from that, I’d suspect (IANAD).




that’s wild, this part ^ especially. thanks for all that information

i always assumed it was a fairly static set of variables - but it makes sense that a ride half full would still need to behave similar to a full ride, and brakes ( but not breaks! ) would be the way to make that happen

It’s all automatic, of course. It’s just slowing the car to the designed speed regardless of how fast it was going when it entered the brake. And even if the brake completely stops the car, the potential energy stored in the car’s height is enough to get the car through the next section of the ride.

most of the time at any rate :grimacing:

Alternate point of view: the carnival rides that get taken apart and put back together frequently will by necessity get more inspections than a static roller coaster.

On a permanent structure you would be limited to little more than a daily inspection via human eyeball along with scheduled maintenance of critical components. A thorough maintenance inspection would need to be done during the off season (if there is one).

I am not a carnival worker.


done by hand. Making welds that can at best be checked visually. On improvised supports. If it doesn’t fit, use a bigger hammer. Or a hydraulic jack. Never mind creating conditions that will put stresses into the construction it wasn’t designed to handle. And so on.
Better build the elements in a workshop under controlled conditions and with the proper tools.

Most of it comes down to the design, and that doesn’t just mean the overall structural design. The devil is in the details, from making the individual elements to storing, transporting, assembling and disassembling them. You can’t just design for the end state of the fully assembled structure and then willy-nilly add some joinings.
A good design will be both safe and practical.

Source: I started out in structural engineering and did site management for a while. These days I hand out building permits (or not), but this also means I’m one of the guys who check that temporary constructions like circus tents and fairground rides are properly assembled when they come to town.


Alternate alternate point of view- have you seen carnies? That profession doesn’t exactly attract the most sober people at the peak of their careers. Though they are at the high point of their careers in many cases. That’s who’s puttin’ those rides together :joy:

(I keed, I keed)

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It’s not the rollercoaster of the same name. It’s actually one of those travelling fair looping flat rides: a continuous circular chain with a train on it.

Thanks for 'splaining what I saw for myself the last time we went to Cedar Point 2 summers ago. :roll_eyes: