Tonight's non-story: Riders got stuck on a roller coaster
Written by Robert Niles
TV news in Orlando and cable stations around the country broadcast from Universal Studios Florida Wednesday night, after the park's Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit roller coaster got stuck, stranding 12 riders near the top of the attraction's 167-foot lift hill.Tweet
What might be news to assignment editors at TV stations shouldn't be news to theme park insiders — rides "break down" and get stuck all the time. And once in a not-too-rare while, riders get stuck for longer than an hour. That's what happened tonight in Orlando.
Yes, spending more than two and a half hours stuck on a roller coaster stinks. But no one on Rip, Ride, Rockit (or anyone on one of the other hundreds of rides that get stuck for an extended period every year) was in any real danger. The Orlando Fire Department responded and worked with Universal Orlando personnel to get everyone down safely, at around 9:45 pm Eastern time. (And Universal Orlando certainly will accommodate those riders with some compensation for their lost time and ordeal.)
Park insiders and visitors often talk about rides "breaking down." But when roller coasters trains stop on their track, it's almost never because they "broke." Instead, rides stop because that is what the ride's designers wanted. Coaster designers create mechanical and computer software systems to ensure the safety of riders and equipment. When these systems detect something not exactly correct about the ride's operation, they begin a procedure that shuts down the ride.
We wrote about this several years ago, in explaining why people have to be 40 inches tall to ride Disney's Thunder Mountain. Roller coasters are designed to operate on a precise cycle, and anything that disrupts the cycle prevents the coaster from operating properly. Whether it's a crying child in a station holding up a train, or a sensor somewhere on the track reporting something amiss, the ride's computer system will try to bring trains to a safe stop, as quickly as possible.
Ideally, the shut down brings riders to a place on the track where they can be easily and quickly exited from the train and led out of the attraction. Obviously, that didn't happen here. While the coaster stopped in a way that ensured riders' safety, it did not do so in a way that minimized their inconvenience. TV crews seem to love shots of people stuck on theme park rides, though heaven knows what they think might happen. People are stuck on rides because the ride worked. If it had actually failed, you'd be looking at a far different scene. Fortunately for visitors and the industry, that's a scene that rarely happens.
Even though Rip, Ride, Rockit did its ultimate job by keeping its riders safe, this Maurer Söhne coaster has endured sharp criticism from fans over the years for failing to deliver the entertainment that any ride should. Fans have complained about frequent shutdowns that back up lines and rough rides that have made them question why they even bothered to wait in those long lines. Many fans on Twitter and Facebook used tonight's shutdown to call again on Universal to give up on this ride. Sister park Universal Studios Japan also has a music-themed roller, but that coaster was built by Bolliger & Mabillard and has a much better reputation for uptime and rider comfort.
That said, when you see these scenes on TV, chill. No one's in danger. The moment of greatest risk actually has past. But enjoy the visuals of the park — there's a lot more depressing stuff you could be watching on TV, after all. And let's hope that someone among the 12 stuck on Rip, Ride, Rockit tonight got some fresh Harry Potter construction photos from up there that they'll share with the rest of us tomorrow.
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