Roller coasters are capable of producing thrills and excitement that few other experiences can replicate.
Believe it or not, roller coasters are only about 150 years old, though they have their roots in Russian ice sledding and railway systems that are a couple of hundred years old. The first coaster on Coney Island could only reach top speeds of about 6 miles per hour, whereas today’s fastest coaster, Formula Rossa, achieves a peak velocity of 149 miles per hour.
Roller Coasters – Engineering and Innovation
Roller coaster design has always involved feats of engineering and innovation, and today’s coasters are no exception. Remarkable rides like Kingda Ka, which towers more than 450 feet in the air, rely on the same fundamental design principles that guide the construction of simpler roller coasters all around the world. Factors like intended rider, preferred material, cart type, and track layout all combine to create coasters in nearly infinite varieties, from themed rides like Tron Lightcycle Power Run at Shanghai Disneyland to thrill rides like RailBlazer, a single-track steel coaster at California’s Great America.
No matter what coaster engineers set out to build, certain choices are sure to guide their process. For instance, a lift mechanism must be determined to give the coaster its initial kinetic energy, which is used to propel the cart the rest of the way. The two main types of lift mechanisms are chain lifts and catapult-launch systems. Once the train gets going, it will also need cleverly designed braking systems. Certain brakes are designed to slow the train down to keep it within safe operating parameters, while other braking systems are used to stop the train completely at the end of the ride or in case of an emergency. Other design features that engineers must consider are hills, loops, and helixes, all of which add to the thrill of a ride, but also play an important role in regulating g-forces.
Roller coaster – Safety and testing
Every design aspect is tested with a working prototype and a computer simulation before construction begins. Rigorous safety testing is also carried out before riders ever step foot onto a finished coaster. The result of this engineering process is a variety of rides that appeal to small children all the way to adrenaline junkies.
Roller coaster infographic
The infographic below visualises the entire process from start to finish.