US's temperamental roller coasters

At 206kph and a little more than 45 stories tall, the Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure gives riders quite a thrill.

That is, when it’s working.

As the amusement park this week unveiled another fast and furious roller coaster—a wooden one called El Toro—it’s also doing all it can to tackle a problem experts say is common with many high performance roller coasters: reliability.

Kingda Ka launched in May 2005 to much fanfare, narrowly beating out a similar ride called Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio to claim the title as the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster. Both coasters were built by a Swiss company, Intamin AG.

Kingda Ka launches riders horizontally from a standstill to 206kph in 3,5 seconds, then upward 137m at a 90° angle. At the top, the train slows almost to a stop, and then plummets back to earth.
The ride is over in about 50 seconds.

The ride is extremely popular and has received excellent reviews by roller coaster enthusiasts, despite being closed for nearly two months last summer. This year, it opened on schedule April 1, but was shut down for maintenance and modifications for three weeks. It is open now.

Kingda Ka is “one of the most complex rides in existence,” and has a maintenance and management team devoted to it, according to park spokesperson Kristin Siebeneicher.

“The ride’s been running very reliably,” Siebeneicher said. “It remained last year and continues through today to be our most popular attraction ... it has been a great addition to the park.”

According to many roller coaster aficionados, it’s common for a cutting-edge ride such as Kingda Ka to run sporadically when it first opens.

The Top Thrill Dragster was closed more than it was open during its first year in operation in 2003, said Duane Marden, a Brookfield, Wisconsin, computer programmer, who runs the Roller Coaster DataBase, a website that catalogues statistics about the rides.

“It’s not like the hydraulics in your lawnmower,” said Marden. “They’re not like normal roller coasters. They’re different designs. They’re prototypes.”

Kingda Ka was shut down June 8 of last year after it malfunctioned during a test run. The park said riders were not in danger, and the ride went back online on August 4 after the problem was investigated and new parts ordered from Switzerland.

Marden said Kingda Ka’s early troubles are not unusual. He can rattle off a list of new roller coasters that gave their owners headaches in the beginning: Hypersonic XLC at Paramount’s Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia. “rarely opened during its first season”. Superman The Escape, at the Six Flags park in Valencia, California, only had a limited—and late—opening in 1996.

He said many of these rides ran reliably once the kinks were worked out, and he anticipates the same will hold true for Kingda Ka.

For the people who had their hair blown back and were out of breath from screaming from riding the monster coaster, the ride was an experience to rave about.

“It was like a free face-lift,” said William Hall (16) from Amityville, New York. who was on a school field trip with friends. “I thought it was great.” ‒ Sapa-AP

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