by Danny Miller
Well it looks like my career as a ride operator has come to a close, so I would like to take the chance to explain to folks some of the things that go on behind the scenes at amusement parks around the world, specifically my park, Dorney Park.
Keep in mind that all of the things I tell you in this series are things that most people involved in the amusement industry already know, and I am not in any legal or physical danger by disclosing this information. The main idea of this series is to better inform the general public of reasoning for why things happen the way they do in the amusement industry.
The first topic I will discuss is opening procedures for rides. I will focus on two rides in particular, and they are Talon and Possessed, two roller coasters at Dorney. Up to a certain point, both rides (and all rides in the park) follow the exact same protocol.
Ride operators arrive an hour prior to park opening, and if the ride is not cleared by maintenance yet, the operations crew cannot do anything to the ride itself for opening procedures. They instead take care of “housekeeping” items, such as testing all of the rides phones, making sure ride signs are in good shape, and checking for trash or debris on the surrounding paths.
Once maintenance signs the ride off, the operators begin opening the ride. For Talon, this consists of logging in to the computer and checking to make sure all restricted area gates are closed and locked. After that comes the emergency stop test. This requires every red emergency stop button to be pressed, including those on the brake run, operating panel, station platform, and the lift hill. The person who checks the lift phones also tests the lift emergency stop button.
For Possessed, the emergency stop buttons are tested automatically when the ride is logged on, so the next step is to unlock and open all of the rides harnesses, and then lock and close each of them, checking them as if you would during the day. Talon follows the same procedure, with harnesses being opened, locked, and then checked. From this point, trains are ready to be run for testing. Talon involves an extra step where the lift motor must be started or “jogged.”
From here, each train on each coaster must make three full ride cycles to verify that the trains are tracking right and that sensors on the rides circuit are functioning properly. At this point, each ride requires different procedures.
Talon requires what many know as block checks. The photo-eye sensors located on the brake run and the station are blocked in a specific order to fool the computer into thinking a train is sitting on the brakes. This should stop the other train on the lift hill, which is why you will often see a train stopped on the lift just prior to opening. Once each sensor is checked properly, the attendant returns to the station and the employees take part in the best part of their job: test riding.
Possessed requires what is referred to as a light curtain test. Many shuttle coasters and rides with retractable floors are equipped with infrared light sensors that create a curtain of invisible light on either side of the station. This ensures that no one is in a dangerous location during dispatching of the ride. For Possessed, this is especially important because the train passes through the station at high speeds.
To simulate a guest or employee breaking the light curtain, a flag is used to trip the sensor when the train is at the high point of the front spike. This ensures that the train gains full speed prior to approaching the station. The goal is to have the train stop just prior to it entering the station in the launch area so that guests can be evacuated if need be, but also ensures that the train will not strike any person or object that may be in the train’s path. Each light curtain (one on each side) is tested, followed by the ride stop buttons located at the back of the station and on the panel.
Once those tests are complete, employees get the chance to test ride prior to the park opening. Once the ride is operating, the procedure is essentially the same throughout the day. For Talon, the harnesses automatically unlock upon the train stopping in the station. The “button” attendant opens and closes the gates, and guests take their seats.
Each of the four attendants checks their respective rows and return to their posts. The “button” attendant (rear load side) gives the clear signal, followed by the “lift” position (front load). Then comes the “window” attendant (front unload), and finally the head attendant (rear unload), who then signals to the operator that the train is clear. The operator says “ready,” at which point the “button” attendant presses and holds their dispatch button until the operator dispatches the train and it has cleared the station. Both must hold their buttons down to bring in the following train as well.
Possessed is very similar, although in addition to the guest gates needing to be locked, each attendant must also be behind their gates which must be locked. The clearing procedure is identical for Possessed, starting with the “button” attendant and ending with the head attendant.
So there you have it. A brief insight on what goes in to opening and operating a ride throughout the day. Next time you go to a park, especially a Cedar Fair park, pay attention to how the operators work. It really is a very well oiled machine that puts Cedar Fair capacity above some of the other major theme park chains that use slower and less efficient methods. Ride On.