How Long Will Dollywood's Lightning Rod Be Delayed?

Edited: March 30, 2016, 1:30 PM

Dollywood's new coaster for 2016, Lightning Rod, did not open with the park this month, due to problems with coaster's unique launch system. Lightning Rod was to be the world's first launched wooden coaster, but the new system hasn't worked to the satisfaction of the ride's developer, Rocky Mountain Construction.

In a statement, RMC's Fred Grubb expressed his disappointment with the delay:

"We have been working with the launch system subcontractor on-site to bring it up to speed and working as intended.

As is often the case with prototype attractions and especially with launched coasters, delays are an ever-present possibility. During the course of testing, we determined that the third-party launch system would not be able to perform at the level required for proper operation.

While we strive to meet all of our deadlines, we cannot and will not sacrifice safety or ride quality in the name of saving time. RMC never has nor ever will open any new attraction until it has passed our rigorous standards.

At this time, we cannot speculate as to when the attraction will open to the general public. That date is ultimately decided upon by the customer, therefore all questions regarding an opening should be directed to Dollywood."

The statement raises the question whether RMC will be able to find a way to work with its current subcontractor to fix the launch system, or whether RMC and Dollywood will need to find another company to develop and build the coaster's launch system.

Switching subcontractors at this point could mean a delay measured in months, rather than days or weeks. At this point, though, we're all just speculating. No one knows how long this will take.

Here is a 360-degree animation of what a ride on Lightning Rod is supposed to be:

Replies (6)

March 30, 2016, 2:07 PM

The delay would be one thing if Dollywood announced it weeks ahead or didn't say it would be open opening day but the PR has not been great and their attendance will suffer.

March 30, 2016, 6:43 PM

For what it's worth Dollywood did an awesome job with Lightning Rod's station and the refurbishment of Jukebox Junction. The details and lighting at night are just great! The ride looks mighty impressive in person too.

Edited: March 31, 2016, 8:38 PM

When this ride was first announced, I had some concerns. "Worlds Fastest wood coaster" may not be the best title to aim for. Especially when a launch is involved. I am a little concerned because we are actually planning a visit to DW in mid June. First time in over 6 years. Have not ridden an RMC wood coaster yet. Was looking forward to the experience.

March 31, 2016, 10:08 PM

This is a prototype coaster with a prototype launch system, and after seeing how far behind they appeared to be during construction it doesn't surprise me at all that the ride didn't open on time. I don't know anything for sure, but I've seen speculation that Dollywood and RMC are considering everything from simply replacing the stators to redesigning the coaster to remove the launch entirely, which would likely make this a 2017 attraction. My guess is that it won't be that bad, but given that the trains have been removed I doubt this is a quick fix. If I were to guess, I'd say May/June is the probable opening timeframe, but we'll have to see when more develops.

It's hard to completely blame Dollywood's PR as I believe they thought there was a chance it would be ready on time, but I also think it is a bad idea for a park to announce an opening day until an attraction is testing and there is a fair amount of confidence it will be met. Likewise, enthusiasts should not assume that a ride will open on time or that a park's history is a perfect indicator, particularly when a prototype is involved. If riding a new attraction is critical, wait until it is open before planning your trip or, if that is not possible, plan it for mid July or later to reduce the chance of a delay affecting attraction availability.

Edited: April 1, 2016, 9:47 AM

@Jaiden - Dollywood has been pretty upfront about the delays. After all, it's a little hard to cancel publicity when it was bought and paid for last year when the coaster was initially announced. Delays like this happen all the time, and the park has done a pretty good job informing the people that need to know that the coaster is delayed (coaster community and theme park media). As with any new theme park attraction, if you've planned a visit explicitly to ride a new attraction trying to peg its opening date, and miss out, then that's on you. There are always delays and issues associated with new attractions, especially ones melding technologies for the first time. You'd have to expect that something like Lightning Rod would not be ready for opening day. Look at Flying Turns at Knoebels - the construction on that coaster was completed 2 full years before it actually opened to riders.

My rule of thumb is that if there's a new attraction that is opening outside of my region, and I'm planning a specific trip to experience it, I give 2-3 months leeway to make sure it's going to be open when I'm there. It work for me on Top Thrill Dragster - We planned a trip in mid-July when Cedar Point said it would be ready for opening day in May, and even when we were there, TTD only operated intermittently 1 of the 3 days we spent in the park on that trip. We waited in line for 4 hours through a handful of rollbacks and shutdowns. Bottom line, if you want to experience a cutting edge attraction at a regional theme park, wait until mid-summer when hopefully the ride is running consistently.

April 6, 2016, 6:50 AM

Any updates on Lightning Rod? Any workers sighted in the
last couple of days to fix the launch?
Got the official answer when emailing to Dollywood ("...The ride
manufacturer asked for additional time to commission the ride..."), would
have liked to receive an estimated opening time frame like "late
summer/August" :cry:
We might be in the area during July, 6th until 10th, only visiting if the
coaster will be open then.

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