So what is going on with Universal's new Hagrid coaster?

June 25, 2019, 1:42 PM · So what's going on now with Universal Orlando's Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure?

The new "family story coaster" opened in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure on June 13 to wide acclaim... and a 10-hour wait time. Yes, strong demand helped inflate that queue, but Universal was running the coaster at far below its designed capacity, adding to the wait.

Within days of its opening, Universal Orlando announced that the ride would be going on an indefinite delayed opening status, remaining closed to guests in the mornings and opening at "mid-day." As anyone who has lived or visited Central Florida in the summer know, "mid-day" is when the thunderstorms roll in, and Universal won't run the coaster when there's lightning in the area, compounding the downtime.

So why is Universal not opening the coaster with the park? It's that capacity issue.

I noted during the ride's media preview day that Universal was running only five trains on Florida's longest roller coaster track, loading riders only on a couple of them. Apparently, that wasn't just to take it easy with a limited crowd because Universal kept running only a handful of trains when it opened the ride to the public.

Universal Orlando had announced that it would implement its Virtual Line system for the ride if demand called for it, starting on the 14th, but that date came and went with no virtual queue opened, further raising suspicions that not all was going according to plan with the ride.

So when Universal announced three days later that it was going to delayed daily openings for the ride, that really shouldn't have shocked anyone. "This our most sophisticated, high-performance ride system ever - and our team needs time to take care of the ride's daily maintenance and technical support. It's been challenging to do that with our current operating schedule," Universal said in its statement.

Talking with people working on the attraction, the problem appears to be related to greater than anticipated load levels on the ride system. With a records seven launches, plus multiple track switches to accommodate a spike track and two drop track segments, the load levels on this attraction were going to be nuts, no matter what. But the timing requirements to support multiple show scenes, with trains passing at slow speeds so people could take in the details in between those launches, and Universal is playing in uncharted territory here.

On the ride's media day, I noticed that someone had placed a DSLR camera and a LED panel right next to the track in front of the unload station, apparently to monitor the track or underside of the ride vehicles (or both). So Universal has been on top of this issue since before the ride's opening day.

You might remember that I went on a media preview construction tour of the ride a few weeks before its opening. Given the proximity of the grand opening and the fact that Universal had been cycling trains for several days already at that point, many of us wondered if we'd be getting a preview ride on the attraction, kicking off a soft open for the coaster. That didn't happen. Team members got a couple of preview days, but no one outside of Universal or its contractors got on the ride until the media event two days before the grand opening.

The issue now is that Universal is looking for a way to fix this ride without having to repair it, too. What I mean is that Universal wants to be able to run this ride reliably at its full capacity (to fix it) but doesn't want to run a heavily loaded ride to its breaking point before it figures out how to do that, which would require repairing it, too. A potentially lengthy repair without clear direction for a long-term fix is the nightmare scenario here, and no one wants that.

My sources say that Universal is committed to the long term here. Universal won't confirm anything about the ride's capacity, but with seven launches (and their associated block zones), two drop track segments (you experience just one on the ride - the other is a duplication, installed to increase the ride's capacity while accommodating the timing in other block zones), and a lengthy continuous-chain-style unload/load station, it's possible that Hagrid could run around 12 trains at a time. With 14 riders per train and a cycle time around four minutes, that would give this Motorbike Adventure the potential to be a Pirates-class people eater, with a guest capacity around 2,500 an hour.

Universal could punt here — run just six trains, factor in an hour or so of downtime each day for the thunderstorms and slog through at a perfectly respectable capacity of half that. But it'd just be playing the lottery there, waiting for something to break on a system that is showing more load force than expected. So that's why Universal is delaying the ride's opening each day. That takes strain off the system and allows Universal more time to test and inspect the ride.

And a delayed opening makes more sense from a customer service perspective than an early close. If Universal had closed the queue immediately after opening it on June 13, it wouldn't have cleared that queue until around 7pm. Good parks always operate until the principle that it's better to keep people from entering a queue than kicking them out of it before they can ride.

Ideally, Universal finds its fix and a way to implement that without having to take the ride down completely for an extended period. But if that is what it takes to guarantee the productivity of the ride, again, Universal is playing this for the long term. It's just not possible to tell yet what will happen next with Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. But the potential is there for this attraction to be one of the world's premier theme park experiences while delivering one of the world's most robust capacities. Universal is not ready to sacrifice either one of those benefits, so that's why it is taking extra time to protect and fine-tune this one-of-a-kind attraction.

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Replies (21)

June 25, 2019 at 2:06 PM

Answer - It's an Intamin.

Even after Intamins have been load tested and "broken in", they suffer from long stretches of downtime. Name any Intamin coaster, and you'll see long delays when it first opened, and even more unexpected downtime years later.

June 25, 2019 at 2:14 PM

Can someone explain what is meant by "load"?

Is this saying, essentially, that the riders are fatter than expected, and thus putting more strain on the cars than was anticipated?

Or is it something else? Because you just have to take a look around to see how heavy we are on a diet of butterbeer and funnel cakes.

June 25, 2019 at 2:14 PM

Yep .... Infinity Falls was down again last night ... DOH !!

And Hagrid's ride is way more complex than 'The Falls'

June 25, 2019 at 2:35 PM

Intamin has other complex new coasters just opened and without these gremlins too- have you checked out their new Dueling Dragons at Guangzhou Sunac Land? Newly opened theme park (remnant of Wanda Group's "pack of wolves" for mainland China) and a very unique ride and greeted 300,000 on opening weekend. Triple launch with riders both above and suspended from the track, and the irony of the name is certainly not lost in this!:) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzZI5yay1iE

June 25, 2019 at 2:40 PM

"Load" has to do with the number of guests cycling through the attraction. Typically when parks perform initial "load" testing on coasters, they start with empty trains, and then work up to water dummies before progressing to actual people. The load testing is then performed under different stresses (one train at a time up to the maximum number of trains at a time).

If you've been on Intamin coasters before, the biggest issues they run into are with overheating of components, particularly the LSM motors and the copper fins mounted on the trains (their wheels also have a tendency to overhead as well). While trains might cycle perfectly and components stay within temperature thresholds with empty trains, things can spiral rapidly once you start adding another ton or more of mass in the form of people. What ends up happening is that the LSMs and brakes have to work harder to accelerate and decelerate the trains, causing them to heat up faster. As you attempt to cycle more trains through, it decreases the amount of time individual components have to cool down, meaning that they have to work even harder to make the coaster run (particularly the LSMs). Only after you run the coaster under optimal loads for extended periods (meaning you need lots of people wanting to ride) can you tell at what frequency trains can cycle.

As Robert noted, the hypothetical capacity of the coaster might be 2,300 pph, but if the individual components need more time to cool between cycles to prevent a cascading deterioration of performance, then they might never be able to run the maximum 12 trains. What seems fine and well within tolerances on paper can be very different in the real world.

It does sound like Universal was rushing to get this ride operational to meet their Grand Opening, and were unable to perform load testing under more controlled circumstances. Being able to cycle riders through the attraction for an hour or two would have yielded far more usable information than bull rushing the attraction to maximum capacity like they did. Opening the coaster later in the day allows them to slowly ramp up the system and better manage the cycle time while managing guest expectations.

June 25, 2019 at 3:25 PM

Russell get out of my head...I said the same thing the first time the ride went down "Intamin". Although I am aware of the loading problems they are currently experiencing, this couldnt be at least slightly rectified with spraying some of the overheated components with water as they do now on other Intamin coasters?

June 25, 2019 at 11:38 PM

Thanks.

I've always been under the impression that Bolliger & Mabillard are the gold standard when it comes to coasters. I don't know why I feel that way, but I have always felt like there's B&M, and then there's everyone else.

Is there a reason Universal didn't use them again? Are they too expensive? Were they not interested in such a complicated system? Or perhaps they are already booked with making roller coasters for other parks? Or Universal was in a rush and it'd have taken B&M too long, because they needed a rush job, as opposed to quality?

June 26, 2019 at 7:34 AM

@Gabriel - B&M doesn't do launches - Hulk was a unique design with the launch system specifically designed by UC, while Thunderbird at Holiday World (the only other B&M I'm aware of with a launch) was a compromise between B&M and the park to allow the wing coaster to fit into a relatively small footprint. The launch system was subcontracted by the park (not B&M), and is reportedly completely separate from the main PLC.

B&M designs tend to be very conservative in terms of innovation and forces, which is why they tend to be extremely reliable. I don't think it really has anything to do with rushing - a B&M coaster can be assembled in about the same time it takes for any other custom layout coaster - it's really the fact that Hagrid's is an extremely complex coaster with lots of elements that have to all work together within tight tolerances. I seem to recall California Screamin' (also a multi-launch Intamin - I believe a record at the time as well if you include the lift hills, which are technically launches too) going through a lot of downtime when it first opened as well, though it tends to run very reliably now.

The track for the Jurassic Park/World coaster just showed up in Orlando, and the early word is that it is also from Intamin, though Mack/Zierer have used similar-looking track. However, it is definitely NOT from B&M.

@Mike - It's not as simple as shooting some water on the components. First, you have to get the water where you need it, and if you've ever looked closely at the cooling systems on TTD, Kingda Ka, and I-305, they're obviously not part of the original design (essentially commercial-grade garden hoses). Plus those systems create a lot of unsightly puddles making a greasy mess below because they were not part of the original design. I think retrofitting a cooling system is the last thing UC wants to do, particularly for a coaster that they're going to want to log tens of thousands of hours before being replaced.

June 26, 2019 at 8:15 AM

It just seems so odd to me that they didn't do a soft opening for this ride. I wonder if they regret pushing the opening date in advertising.

June 26, 2019 at 9:10 AM

@Gabriel B&M typically will only take on 3 rollercoaster projects in one year. I've always shared that sentiment, as well as other theme/amusement park executives, that B&M were "the Mercedes standard" of rollercoasters. Although ppl have their personal preferences, I'm coaxed into picking a park based on their B&M lineup.
@Russell thnx for the clarification

June 26, 2019 at 9:45 AM

Russell and others are on the first few steps of a root cause analysis (RCA). I am guessing that Universal and Intamin have folks skilled in this, and are applying it at this point. RCA (should) help them move past initial (superficial) causes. This helps with creating actions that get to deeper causation (beyond cooling water hoses).

Also, the hard engineering reasons (causes) are fine to cite. But in other venues (healthcare), there is usually a human interaction element. These are often uncovered with controlled usability testing early in design. If not done, usually found when errors or inefficiencies occur.

If interested, read "Set Phasers on Stun" by Casey. Several short stories from all walks of life that demonstrate my above points. The lead short story is where radiation technicians got so experienced and fast, their key strokes induced an "unexpected" hardware glitch allowing massive radiation overdose. During final engineering safety testing, novice technicians slowly typed out instructions into the system.

June 26, 2019 at 4:41 PM

Sounds stereotypical- asserting blame for their own "failure to launch ";)

June 26, 2019 at 8:57 PM

I'm a huge Intamin fan, as that company manufactured my all-time favorite coaster (El Toro) as well as some of my other top picks (e.g., I-305 and Superman at SFNE). When it comes to launched coasters, however, it seems to be hit or miss. Cheetah Hunt with its 3 launches has operated smoothly every time I visited BGT whereas Maverick at CP has experienced downtime whenever I was there. And look what happened to Volcano at KD. What could have been one of the best coasters in the world suffers from a major design flaw, IMHO. For Skyrush, I think that OTS restraints would make a lot more sense than the thigh-crushing restraints which were installed. The legs are being crushed while the torso is completely unrestrained. Try putting your hands up on the first drop, where the camera is, and go to the photo booth after the ride. You will look completely off balance, as if you are about to fall over sideways; I guarantee it. OTS restraints would restore balance to the upper body and still keep the legs from moving excessively.

June 27, 2019 at 9:41 AM

@Bobbie - Don't forget that I-305 had to have its first turn completely re-profiled because the g-forces were too intense. Also, Maverick had an inversion completely removed (heartline roll over the lagoon) because it too was too intense and was ejecting water dummies out of the train during initial testing. All of that doesn't top the collisions that have occurred on their hypercoasters that resulted in guests being injured, splintering cables on their stratacoasters that lacerated riders, or a guest being ejected and killed riding Intamin-designed Perilous Plunge.

Intamin certainly likes to push the envelope in terms of design and forces, but parks need to think twice about their calculations. It shouldn't be difficult to determine what the g-forces will be on a coaster given the advances in computer design programs, but Intamin seems to gaffe far too often. Delays during the break-in period are normal and should be expected. However, when you have to completely replace sections of track, remove half the seats on a train so it can accelerate to an acceptable velocity, decommission a ride because it has developed stress cracks in supports long before its intended lifespan has elapsed, retrofit additional safety and cooling systems just to keep the attraction from e-stopping every 10 minutes, or change operational protocols because braking systems are not failsafe, it should signal that the ride designer is not trustworthy. It's one thing if this happened just once or twice, but there are dozens of documented issues with Intamin designs (beyond just roller coasters) from all around the world. Any park who engages with Intamin should do so with eyes wide open and understand what they're getting themselves into by this point.
Nobody should be surprised when an Intamin-designed attraction has issues. My only hope is that parks are getting a discount on these haphazardly designed attractions and/or being forced to pay gobs of extra money to insure attractions by a manufacturer known for flawed designs.

UC likely knew what they're getting themselves into, and fans frustrated with the operational limitations of Hagrid's can direct their anger and disgust at not only Intamin but park management that knowingly contracted one of the most unreliable coaster manufacturers on the planet, and might have doubled-down on it with the upcoming Jurassic World coaster too.

June 27, 2019 at 1:32 PM

@Russell. Agreed that Intamin should have foreseen the potential problem with the original design of I-305. Also agreed that B&M coasters tend to be more reliable. However, Intamin comes up with such interesting designs that I can't help loving their coasters. Yes, Maverick has had its problems and continues to have them but when it's operating properly, it's nothing short of awesome. You wouldn't get that coaster from B&M. So it's a trade-off.

June 27, 2019 at 2:35 PM

So true Bobbie, but what good is it to have a Bugatti if it's always in the shop? Sure, it's pretty to look at, and really fast, but pretty useless when it's down for repairs after a couple hours on the road. It's not just the lack of reliability from Intamins, it's their consistent track record of safety incidents and having to make modifications to their designs after installation that really bothers me.

It's one thing when you have to plan THREE days at a theme park to get 2 and a half rides on their record-breaking coaster (what we did in TTD's inaugural season), it's another when you actually do get on one of their rides, and find yourself injured because of poor designs without appropriate safety factors built in. I've never personally been injured on an Intamin ride, but the reported major incidents on their attractions far exceeds any other manufacturer in the world. Couple that with the frequent downtown, bleeding-edge/unproven designs and technology, and I just don't understand how they can stay in business or why theme parks continue to prop them up.

I agree, they make some of the wildest, most unique coaster on the planet, but what good are they if they have to take out elements or can't run more than a couple hours a day because of poor design and engineering?

June 27, 2019 at 2:44 PM

Meanwhile Intamin is involved in three major new ride openings in June, and neither Dueling Dragons in China nor Taiga in Finland have had down time issues whatsoever- only Hagrids. All three involve multi launch coasters, and Dueling Dragons is certainly an all new concept technologically and getting attention from fans far from mainland China. Disproves assertion that every new Intamin ride has issues and allows for the notion that what's happening at IOA isn't necessarily to be blamed on Intamin.

June 28, 2019 at 7:13 AM

@David - That's fine and dandy, but it does not alter their track record of frequent downtime, shoddy designs, and significant injuries here in the US. Maybe it's an American problem and our failure to embrace the metric system.

June 30, 2019 at 5:27 AM

I beleive guys its just the heat and humidity of florida thats causing the new tech problems with new tech it is not a one size fits all when geography comes in to play china and finland have different geography than florida which is probly a good thing for the tech it could keep it operating at ten or more degrees cooler and within its limits
Never had a problem with Maverick... not once
https://youtu.be/BIJBz1w3uYw

July 1, 2019 at 8:55 AM

Maverick has frequent downtime, and you seem to neglect its original design flaw that forced Cedar Point to remove a heartline roll after the tunnel launch because it was flinging water dummies out of the train and into the lagoon below.

Bejing, where Dueling Dragons is located, is even hotter and more humid during the summer months than Orlando, so I don't think it's a climate issue. I think it's a hit or miss issue emblematic of Intamin coasters. The tech can obviously work under various environmental conditions, it's just a matter or whether Intamins work consistently on every installation, which they have shown is a serious flaw of their designs.

July 1, 2019 at 1:40 PM

Dueling Dragons is NOT in Beijing, it is in Guangzhou at Guangzhou Sunac Land, southeast China same region as relatively warm Hong Kong. Beijing climate entirely different story. Either way, doubtful climate has anything to do with Hagrid's issues- though both Taiga in Finland and Dueling Dragons had extensive technical rehearsal soft openings....

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