It looks like Six Flags' El Toro roller coaster will remain closed for at least the remainer of the season.
A New Jersey state investigation has ruled the Intamin coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure "structurally compromised" and ordered an engineering review of the attraction, which has been closed since an August 25 incident sent five riders to local hospitals. Riders reported a "pothole" on the track that jarred and injured riders.
"Based on initial findings of the ongoing investigation, [Department of Community Affairs] has deemed these damaged track support columns structurally compromised as it pertains to the continued safe operation of the ride," Department of Community Affairs spokesperson Lisa M. Ryan said in an email to reporters.
Before everyone catastrophizes this, the state did not rule that the entire structure is shot - just some support columns. The engineering review will determine the full extent of what needs to be done to bring El Toro back into safe operating condition. There is no timetable yet for the completion of that review, much less for whatever repairs would need to be made in response.
This is the second year in a row that an incident has closed El Toro for the season prematurely. A partial derailment of El Toro on June 29, 2021 led to the ride remaining closed for the rest of that year, reopening last spring.
The 4,400-foot Intamin coaster opened in 2006 and features a prefabricated wooden track. With a 176-foot, 76-degree first drop, El Toro reaches a top speed of 70 miles per hour and has twice won our Theme Park Insider Award for world's best roller coaster.
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Like I said in the previous El Toro topic here I could tell this was shoddy maintenance from day one. The maintenance people that work on rides have safety checks where they do certain things on a daily basis, certain things on a weekly basis, certain things on a monthly basis, certain things on a yearly basis etc to ensure that things like this don't happen. SF dropped the ball here.
I know someone will chirp in with "well its Intamin's fault because the other pre-fab wooden coasters needed structural work recently." Ok well maybe the wood needs work after a certain amount of time, but SFGAdv's maintenance department are responsible for doing the checks to ensure the wood is still in fair enough condition to operate, and if they find something wrong the attraction needs to be closed until they can ensure its safe to operate.
The ride ops came out and said they knew something was wrong but the maintenance staff couldn't figure out what it was and were perpetually understaffed and didn't have time to investigate further. Any company that actually cares about operating their park properly would have workers in there third shift with floodlights, and if they can't figure out what it is bring in Intamin and put them in a hotel. Hell even when I worked for Six Flags they did this when problems like this would occur. I can tell you several times at Vertical Velocity specifically there were stress related and fatigue issues with the ride where we noticed it and called Intamin out to look at it (look at pictures of V2 from 2003 and 2004 for example, notice there are more supports in 2004).
Things like this pi** me off because its just straight up preventable. Two preventable incidents in two years on the same ride.
As Robert says this is not a catastrophic finding for the ride. It sounds like Six Flags is going to be able to get away with just replacing a few columns; which is exactly what they'll do. This will be far cheaper than investing in proper QA or, shareholders-forbid, a refurbishment of one of the best rides (not just coasters) in the world now that it is as old as the park's target demographic.
With these preliminary findings it will be interesting to see if SF will be willing to step up and perform the necessary repairs and maintenance to keep one of the best roller coasters on the planet running. Given the company's recent distaste in making investments that do not directly impact the bottom line, I have a hard time believing they will do what it takes to get El Toro back on track.
El Toro is my personal favorite roller coaster and is a genuinely great work of art by any reasonable standard. I don't know that I'd ever be able to forgive Six Flags if they scrap it. El Toro must be preserved.
While this discussion is still active, it sounds like SFGAdv is planning to complete all necessary repairs and upgrades to allow El Toro to reopen for the 2023 season. The park's statements seem to downplay the seriousness of issues and that the reported incident that led to the current closure was a near miss that exposed some structural faults that will need repair/replacement.
This is obviously good news for coaster fans, but for me does not address the root of the problem. Is this issue that has also occurred on other Intamin pre-fabricated wooden coasters a function of poor design or poor maintenance. If structural decay on members bearing the greatest force a function of Intamin not properly designing supports to withstand the rigors of constant operation, Intamin not providing sufficient inspection guidance to find these faults before they become issues, or a failure in parks to sufficiently inspect and maintain these coasters to prevent these expected failures from arising?
There's still much to learn from this incident, but fans can rest easy knowing the El Toro will likely be back next year, and with an even higher level of scrutiny, should not have another incident in the near future.
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I think the larger question is what this does to the ride's reputation and whether or not six flags feels it's worth it to continue running it. I'm not going to pretend I have any insight, or even a good guess, as to how much work the ride needs or even what the public perception is among park guests but at some point I'd imagine six flags will be ready to cut its losses — even with a coaster as renowned as el toro.