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PENNIES FROM KEVIN - California Careenin'

The Disneyland Resort features yet another roller coaster crash. No major injuries, but Disney is learning that one at-fault crash leads to a lot of undeserved - and much-deserved - scrutiny. Here's some much-deserved scrutiny...

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: July 30, 2005 at 2:24 PM

It seems the Disneyland Resort just can't handle their coasters! As if the collision of two trains on Big Thunder Mountain wasn't bad enough, two trains collided on California Screamin' across the way at California Adventure. Fortunately, that accident happened near the end of the ride, so the riders that complained of neck and back injuries were sent home quickly from their hospital visits.

Still, that doesn't exactly get Disney out of the frying pan, does it? Unlike the recent hospital visit after a Matterhorn rider got sick - featured here - this one is actually Disney's fault. AGAIN. And, even worse, it is highly reminiscent of that fatal Big Thunder accident (which the LA Times is now calling a derailment, for some odd reason). Also reminiscent? The "reason" being floated for this accident: operator error!

Allegedly, the ride was on manual operation, meaning the brakes weren't being run via computer. If this is true, the company was just BEGGING for an accident. Supposedly the second Big Thunder accident - the one without passengers - was due to an operator doing something incorrectly. Even though TPI has questioned the training and experience you get using so many low-wage employees. Not to mention our questioning everything from Disney's horrendous history regarding mechanical upkeep to the computer systems Disney uses. After all, Disney has had three coaster CRASHES in one year. How many trains have crashed into each other in that time frame at the other major theme park operators - Universal, Busch, Six Flags, Cedar Fair and Paramount? How many crashes have they had COMBINED? There is something wrong at Disney.

Yes, we've mentioned pay, experience, age, computer systems, what have you. But maybe the main problem lies in Disney's refusal to close down rides that need to be closed down. If the computer systems at the other parks were down, they'd probably just shut down those coasters. But because Disney did such a poor job building DCA, maybe the feeling is that they need to keep the few big rides running so guests don't go away any madder than after entering the park and realizing how little they were getting for their money.

Think about it... DCA has only three rides that rate a 9 on TPI, and of the three, California Screamin' is the only coaster. Compare that to Disneyland. There are three coasters over there (not counting the Goofy thing) and Big Thunder isn't the most popular one of the three. Furthermore, there are tons of other things to do, most of which are extremely popular. So closing a ride down over there may cause a lot of complaints, but people are still going to have a good day. How do you spend your day at DCA if one of the biggies is down?

So, the obvious solutions to Disney's problems would be to fix their programs, fix their people, fix their damn coasters! But I think one of the big problems here is that Disney isn't fixing DCA. If the park was a complete park, the coaster may have been shut down instead of relying on an underpaid ride operator to stop the coasters. Naturally, there will be lawsuits, and those lawsuits won't cost the park hundreds of millions, which would be the pricetag of completing the park. But how much would it have cost them had someone been seriously injured? Or died? Being cheap will cost Disneyland MILLIONS when the Big Thunder lawsuits get settled, and being cheap could cost them big if they don't get to serious work on DCA.


My two pennies... gimme yours!

Readers' Opinions

From Jason Lester on July 30, 2005 at 3:58 PM
My thoughts exactly man.
From Jason Jackson on July 30, 2005 at 10:11 PM
I am absolutely stunned that Disney would even run a coaster in manual mode. Good grief folks! That is Goofy and I am not talking about the character!
From rick stevens on July 31, 2005 at 12:57 AM
I agree with all of the sentiments. This is the only real coaster in DCA and they can not afford to lose it. My theory of why they operate in manual mode is to increase the ridership. If left in automatic they would not be able to shove as many cars through the circuit. I may be wrong, I really have no clue as to the innerworkings of the ride, but can't you see managment saying screw the safety devices....we want more riders. I love Disneyland and DCA, but it has always seemed that the upper echelon is bound and determined to squeeze the last rider into a ride trying to justify the bottom line. It took a change in management and a 50th anniversary to really spruce up the park. I remember going years ago and never seeing trash or items in need of repair. DCA is not that old, but seems to show it's age. Hopefully this will be one of many "wakeup calls" that will entice the managent to really look at what they have. One area they really need to focus on is the treatment of their employees. People working at Disneyland deserve to be treated well, they really give their all and go far beyond what is necessary. For the most part, the cast is loyal and dedicated to the Disney aura. They deserve to be congratulated, not only by managemnet, but also by us. Yes we the riders should show our appreciation for a job well done. Thank them for their help, they all have nametags....it isn't hard to do.
From Jason Lester on July 31, 2005 at 10:39 AM
Let's look at the facts here for a second. DCA has tons and tons of problems. The main one is the ride amount. This leads to many others.

When you don't have enough rides to fill even half a day, you need to get as many guests as possible on the ones you have. This leads to mistreatment of employees who have no clue what they're doing. The above poster is right. The ride is put on manual to get more riders through. Now we know what happens when you put a ride on manual with a bunch of mistreated employees who Disney doesn't feel deserve the proper training that goes with running a ride.

So Disney, what should you do? How about put some money into DCA. Maybe a few more shows to pass time. Maybe a new restaurant. Or maybe, ANOTHER FRIGGIN' RIDE! Find the room and put in another E-ticket. That would solve some problems.

Second, take time to sit down with your employees and train them. There's been so many accidents at Disneyland and Disney World that I can't even keep them straight. Some have been what they're called, accidents. But what about Thunder Mountain. That was operator error. Disney, you have to do something.

Third, work harder to keep guests happy and entertained. Be nicer to them, don't be forceful when putting them on rides, a problem I've encounter many times at DCA and Disneyland. Maybe throw some scenery in and clean up the park. That always help with guest's impressions.

So Disney, how about throwing the millions of people who visit your parks a year a bone. You have the money, you just don't want to spend it. And that's not the right thing to do Disney. It just isn't.

From Derek Potter on July 31, 2005 at 12:18 PM
Gotta agree with you here Kevin. There is some validity to the low wage operator arguement, but all park chains pay low wages to ride operators, yet Disney seems to be the only one dealing with so many crashes. It's not just one park either, it's both California parks, and if it's two, than why would I believe that Disney maintenance standards are any different in Florida either...so I might as well at least suspect Disney World of poor maintenance too.

I understand that California Screamin is one of their most popular rides (It is a coaster after all)...however, it should never have been in manual mode. Operating a coaster that way only invites trouble, especially when running more than one train, and with the kind of money Disney rakes in, all of their rides should be in top condition all the time. Regardless of how good or bad DCA is, their rides should at least be safe. If they didn't want to close one of their most popular rides to fix it for fear of losing customers and lets face it....money, than I guess we know what's more important to them. Customer safety comes first, at any and all cost.

One advantage that seasonal parks have over Disney is this, they have 6 months out of the year to do all of the maintenance in the world on their rides because they are closed. Most of hese places take the time to take apart, XRay, and put back together all of their trains every year, update all computer systems every year, and even retrack or paint if necessary. If a ride is on the fritz, than it's closed until it's fixed (although some parks are better and faster at fixing than others) Disney and others are open pretty much all year in some capacity. That sure doesn't excuse Disney from maintenance, because Universal and Busch haven't had to deal with this, and if a ride is not running as built for any reason whatsoever, than it should be closed until fixed period no questions asked. They should be thankful that the trains merely bumped each other, because things could have been a lot worse.

As I said before, DCA may be a less than stellar park, and yes it does need a lot of attention. The state of the park and it's lack of attractions may have been reasons why Disney chose to keep the ride open, but it surely isn't a good excuse. Now instead of just taking a little time and money to fix it in the first place, they now are forced to close the ride for probably longer than they want to, fix it, and pay for some lawsuits and probably some lost customers. There is no earthly reason why Disney should be cheapskates. They make quadruple or even more times the money most other companies make, yet the little guys seem to have their head on straight.

From Jason Lester on July 31, 2005 at 7:00 PM
I have to agree with you on some things, but not others. If this truly was human error, then Disney would have no reason to shut down the ride. Everything would have appeared to be fine until a ride operator screwed up. I do think Disney needs to close for rides for check-ups once in a while though. That's the problem with DCA. Taking one ride away, especially the most popular ride, would cause a lot of problems. But then again, what's better, angry guests or dead ones? I'd go with the former any day.
From Kevin Baxter on August 1, 2005 at 1:00 AM
Something that is problematic is that Matt Ouimet wants to throw money at DCA. One ride at a time, but mostly at fixing things that are wrong, like theming and such. Don't get me wrong, this stuff would be more than welcome, but none of it addresses the attraction problems, which is still the park's Number One problem. And I think this accident just underlines that point.
From Russell Meyer on August 1, 2005 at 8:35 AM
I think part of this problem can also be a result of the Disney's need for high capacity rides. Screamin' frequently run with four or five trains (It has six, but reportedly cannot operate with six without having collisions). That's a lot of things to keep track of, not to make any excuses for this accident. The more a coaster operates, the greater the chance something is going to happen at least once. I can only imagine how many cycles Disney coaster go through every day. Yeah, their dark rides are high capacity too, but the forces exerted on a dark ride are miniscule compared to a roller coaster.

Not only do Disney attractions have to run at high capacity, but they also have to run year-round. Many other parks have months to perform annual maintenance on their attractions, while Disney has to pick and choose a week or two every year or so to pull attractions off-line for maintenance. The costs of a vacation to a Disney park are so high, that Disney cannot disappoint guests with half of the park down. I personally understand that there are going to be attractions down, but those who are less-informed will expect every attraction to be running when they're visiting, or are going to expect some sort of refund. Disney perhaps has taxed their attractions to their limit, and their lack of an off-season and extended operating hours is starting to catch up with their equipment.

Let's also consider the ride manufacturer, who hasn't had the greatest safety record. Chalk up yet another accident on an Intamin coaster. This is yet another Intamin coaster to have braking problems. Maybe we can lay off Disney, and point the finger at a popular scapegoat, Intamin.

From Jason Lester on August 1, 2005 at 10:21 AM
True, but as you point out yourself, Intamin is a scapegoat. Blame should go to both sides. Diseny for exerting so much force on their coasters without at least taking them down once in a while and Intamin for the braking problems their coasters have.

So maybe Disney should throw in another E-ticket to DCA to keep people happy when they take down a major ride. Although that probably won't happen for a while.

Then Intamin should look into the braking problem on their coasters and see what causes it and why it happens. There, both problems solved. At least until another accident.

From Kevin Baxter on August 1, 2005 at 11:43 PM
Plus, when is DCA ever full enough to run 5 trains? In manual mode, which means the operator has to get the train out of the station before the next one comes in, they shouldn't run no more than four, so two could be in the station and two on the coaster. If that's how many were running, then there are MAJOR problems here.
From g coronado on August 2, 2005 at 3:50 PM
I'll wait until the facts come in before I start pointing a finger at the cast members of DCA. Otherwise, it's all just supposition and conjecture.
From Kevin Baxter on August 6, 2005 at 4:50 PM
Well, naturally, that was the scuttlebutt out of Disney, who will always blame a CM before themselves. Go to MiceAge for coverage beyond what the media has given. Like the fact that operator error does not look like it will fly as an excuse and that there may have been longterm problems with one of the brake zones. I also found it interesting that Intamin built the coaster but WDI put in their own computer system. Have I not pointed the finger at Disney computer systems in the past? I'll never ride Big Thunder again, because I don't trust the system on that ride. Will I have to dump the best ride in DCA now too???
From Robert Niles on August 6, 2005 at 6:02 PM
The OC Register reported this week that Disney modified the ride programming on Screamin' without notifying Intamin.

Ooops.

From Jason Lester on August 6, 2005 at 6:03 PM
I'm not going to dump it, but I'm certainly going to be a bit more nervous before boarding. I still rode Big Thunder after it's two accidents, but with a different feeling before boarding than before the two incidents.
From Kevin Baxter on August 11, 2005 at 9:58 PM
I haven't ridden BTMR since the accident, and I won't again. And now I'm wondering if I should do the same with California Screamin'. With all the brake stations, I doubt there will ever be a major accident there. But if Disney is "fixing" the ride without Intamin's approval, which they are SUPPOSED to get, then what else could be wrong? What happens if the second lift hill isn't working and it causes two trains to crash into each other at much higher speeds? I guess I'll have to find out what the outcome of this whole thing is.