May 13, 2008
Can X2 succeed where X failed?Longtime Theme Park Insider readers might be familiar with the saga of X, Six Flags Magic Mountain's revolutionary, but ultimately flawed, "4-D' roller coaster, which debuted in 2002. The Arrow Dynamics design drew good reviews [check the byline, then click the video link to the right], but could not keep up with the hype. Literally. Trains broke down, Six Flags cut capacity by running just one train at a time, then, eventually threw in the towel.
But not before Arrow ended up in bankruptcy, Six Flags ended up the target of a shareholder revolt and Magic Mountain lost its crown as the nation's coaster capital, as its already shaky reputation for customer service tanked.
Next week, X will be reborn... as X2. The track will be the same, but the trains radically different. Six Flags will have added new on-ride effects and a new park management teams is counting on a three-train operation and improved customer service throughout the park to help X2 win customers back to Magic Mountain.
Last Thursday, park president Jay Thomas and general manager Tim Burkhart showed me the newly installed third train on the X2 track, and explained how this will be a very different X.
"We inspected the entire track and there were no problems," Burkhart said. "The track was really well done. The problem [with X] always was the vehicles."
Burkhart showed me where engineers had used a computer analysis called "finite element analysis" to identify ways that they could cut weight and redesign train elements to improve the ride's reliability.
"We took more than 20,000 pounds out of each train," he said. "A Goliath train weighs 18,000 pounds, so we took the equivalent of the weight of an entire Goliath train out of each train on X."
Cut-outs now dot the metal on the train frame. The "pickle fork" attaching each train arm to the central unit is now a "pickle spoon," Burkhart said. There's a new wheel design, one that's lighter, stronger and the improves airflow, allowing it to run much smoother.
"We've been testing the trains and haven't had to replace a wheel. On X our first summer, we were replacing 18-20 wheels a day," he said.
The new wheel performance means a much smoother ride, said Burkhart, who has ridden the new X2 "hundreds" of times during testing.
Coaster fans also anticipate the new ride elements on X2. Six Flags will immerse the underground section at the bottom of the initial drop withy fog, creating a vortex effect as trains pass through during the day. After the second raven turn, flames will shoot at the passing trains, an effect that Magic Mountain execs say will be especially impressive at night. To cool riders after the flame effect, misters will blow on the trains on the block brake before the unload station. [Ride sensors will shut down the flame effect during high wind and gusts, however. That decision will be made by the ride's computer on a train-by-train basis.]
Most impressive, executives say, will be an on-ride audio system that "makes the one on [Disney's] California Screamin' sound like AM radio," Burkhart said.
So, can X2 succeed where X failed? We will soon find out. The press gets its look at X2 on May 22, and the public two days later.
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