What's the real story about roller coaster shutdowns?

March 16, 2017, 11:48 PM · How many times have you watched a TV news story about riders "trapped" on a "broken" roller coaster or theme park ride?

Like a car chase on an LA freeway, TV stations can't seem to resist showing live video of people sitting on trains that are stopped on lifts 100 or more feet in the air. Breathless reporters try to create a sense of danger and urgency, but actual theme park insiders know that the riders are in about as much peril as the viewers watching from home.

That's because rides shut down because their safety systems are working, not because they have failed. Now, Village Roadshow Theme Parks in Australia has produced a video explaining why ride shutdowns are not the perilous situations that many news reports try to make them out to be.

(If you're not familiar with Village Roadshow, it operates Warner Bros. Movie World, Wet'n'Wild, and Sea World on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. Note that Village Roadshow's Sea World - with a space - is not affiliated with the American SeaWorld theme parks. Nor is its Wet'n'Wild water park affiliated with the recently closed Wet 'n Wild Orlando park, though Village Roadshow Theme Parks does own Wet'n'Wild Las Vegas in the United States.)

Now, just because a stoppage isn't dangerous doesn't mean that it isn't inconvenient for riders involved. A shutdown that wastes a couple of minutes of a rider's time is no big deal, but one that leaves a visitor hanging for hours when he or she could be riding anything else in the park is a major annoyance that the park needs to address. That's why parks typically offer ride skip passes or even free admission tickets to people who are left stuck on stopped rides for a significant period of time. But that's intended as compensation for the inconvenience of lost time that the visitor paid for, not some preemptive settlement for endangerment.

Theme park ride systems are wonderfully complex machines, which is why some fans clamor for behind-the-scenes tours that show them how roller coasters and other rides work. As the Village Roadshow video pointed out, those tours sometimes lead people up the same staircases that evacuated riders would be walking down. But that's not enough for some theme park fans. A few (or maybe more than a few) actually hope that they'll be part of an evacuation, or "in-show exit," someday.

Theme park fans aren't masochists. No one wants to get hurt. I think that many fans understand that they're in more danger on the road driving to or from a theme park than they are on any ride in the park. And that small subset of regular park visitors who welcome an evac do so because it gives them that chance to see behind the scenes of a beloved attraction.

But most of us are happiest when everything runs at it should, when parks operate their rides to full capacity, and we can get on as many rides as possible during a visit — without any delays, downtimes, or news helicopters buzzing overhead.

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Replies (14)

March 17, 2017 at 1:56 AM · Thanks Robert, after the unfortunate incident at Dreamworld before christmas, the so called media are quick to post what they think is a news worthy article, beating it up and fear mungering, using the headlines "are theme park rides safe?" It is almost like they are wanting to have the parks closed, putting many of people out of work, let alone hurting the already struggling tourism industry here on the Gold Coast.

Being a local living extremely close to the parks, just makes me angry hearing these reports,yes report it,but not flog it to death.as the rides stop for a reason, keeping everyone safe if the system recognises a problem.

March 17, 2017 at 2:05 AM · This is of course a response to the high interest in a few recent shutdowns there, which probably got more interest because of nearby DreamWorld's tradgety. That event really shook up the local tourism industry and all parks in the state were audited after it to rebuild trust.
March 17, 2017 at 2:21 AM · Might be worth pointing out that the motivation for this video was a downturn in attendance at Gold Coast theme parks following a fatal accident at Dreamworld, which is only a few miles away.

In October last year, a ride vehicle overturned on a river rapids style attraction, killing the occupants and since the park reopened in December, there have been two major ride malfunctions, where riders were stranded for hours.

Warner Bros. Movie World might be serious about safety, but Dreamworld has had a history of poor maintenance and now that the worst has actually happened, many Australians are understandably cautious about visiting with their families .

March 17, 2017 at 4:28 AM · When one is stuck in a show building for an unknown amount of time is when one suddenly REALLY needs to potty! ^_^
March 17, 2017 at 6:16 AM · It's interesting that they made this. In the aftermath of the Dream World inciden (where Dream World's attendance is down 25% and they've list over $50m), any appearance of safety issues is potentially serious business in the Gold Coast theme parks. Wet'n'wild and Movie World are essentially across the road from Dream World, and similar to Orlando what effects one Resort has potential flow on effects to the others. It was a sensible move to make this video, although I wonder where it is being screened.
March 17, 2017 at 7:31 AM · They need better evacuation procedures. You can't be upside down for hours.
March 17, 2017 at 9:25 AM · It's never going to be feasible to account for every scenario Anton. If I told you that a coaster had a 0.01% chance that you would experience a failure and that even if you were experiencing that failure there was a further 0.01% chance that a given failure state would result in an extended period inverted, and that it would cost $100 Million to design out the possibility completely, would you pay for it?

I might be making up numbers, but the principle remains. If you want a coaster that is only going to ever fail in a way that is convenient, then you're going to be stuck ridding the Kiddy train in a small loop around a platform.

March 17, 2017 at 10:45 AM · Has there been a situation where people were left upside down? Or even vertical? That would be truly horrifying. Although I don't see it on a roller coaster, where gravity would naturally bring the car down to a normal position.
March 17, 2017 at 11:08 AM · @ Disfan - Seems that it has....


March 17, 2017 at 11:22 AM · Sarah Warner the article you linked to starts with this about Ninja at SFMM "a derailed car struck a tree". That is not true, Ninja did not derail and hit a tree, a tree branch fell on the track causing Ninja to partially derail when the train hit the branch.
This is further evidence of how the media playes loose with the facts to sensationalize a story.
March 17, 2017 at 9:45 PM · Being stuck inverted for a significant period could have significant health risks attached, so this is a worst case scenario, and one that I'm sure ride designers strive to avoid. That's not to mention the potential distress it would cause to patrons would be grounds for lawsuits in some places.
March 17, 2017 at 1:38 PM · rides do break down or have a failsafe issue that causes a stop, that's just part of the process...what i find completely unacceptable is how many parks seem to lack proper evacuation procedures. it should never take hours to "rescue" riders from a stopped ride. evac procedures should be accounted for in every park's standard operating procedure, as it's their responsibility to keep their guests safe and free of inconvenience...all too often parks rely on the local fire department to do their job.
March 18, 2017 at 6:57 AM · I think this is one of the biggest problems with society today. The fact that the media always feels the need to exaggerate and dramatize everything. And this is a perfect example. The sad truth is that, "People Inconveniently Stuck on Rollercoaster" doesn't sell quite as many papers or catch the attention of quite as many channel surfers as "Innocent Themeparkgoers Perilously Trapped atop a 60 ft Rollercoaster." And this problem is more serious than I think most people realize. We rely on the news to tell us what's going on in the world. And as such, they shouldn't be stretching the truth like this. Because then they're giving people the wrong idea. And getting the wrong idea can lead to many unfortunate things happening that shouldn't be happening. In this case, it causes park attendance to plummet because people are now afraid that they'll get injured on a ride; when in reality they have nothing to worry about.

Sorry for going on this whole rant. This whole thing just irritates me beyond measure.

March 20, 2017 at 7:52 AM · I am stuck on this line Robert - "Breathless reporters"...? Must be hard to write when One is Breathless....hahahaha

This is what makes Coaster's more exciting, you might get stuck...

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