by Danny Miller
Today I come back to my Employee Insider series, and this time I will focus specifically on Talon: The Grip Of Fear, my personal favorite coaster at Dorney Park. I worked on Talon during the 2011 season, and we experienced just about every type of situation you could imagine, from guests losing their lunch, to ride breakdowns, all the way to guests shoving security guards.
In this edition, I’ll talk about ride breakdowns and exactly why the ride commonly breaks down, and also a few interesting stories as to why we had the ride break down that weren’t so common. Almost always, when a roller coaster like Talon shuts down for “maintenance,” it is simply due to a computer error. This type of breakdown is commonly referred to among operators as a “ride error” because the computer screen displays “RIDE ERROR” when this occurs. Essentially, a ride error is the most common breakdown, and usually just requires the computer system to be reset by maintenance, allowing the ride to resume operations in a matter of 15-20 minutes depending on where maintenance is in the park.
A ride error is usually caused by an issue with the photo eye sensors. If you go back and read part 1 of my Employee Insider series, I mention how part of block testing is to block the photo eyes to ensure the train stops on the lift hill. That test is done specifically to simulate a ride error during daily operation. On Talon, the train has eight cars, so the photo eye needs to have its connection broken eight times so that the computer knows that all eight cars have traveled through the course. There are several photo eye sensors on the ride, including a set at each end of the station, a set on the lift, a set near the trim brake at the bottom of the Immelman loop, and then multiple sets on the brake run.
When a sensor is not broken eight times exactly, the computer senses that something is wrong. In the most drastic case, a car has become detached from the rest of the train. In this case, the sensor may only be broken seven times, so the sensor immediately relays the information to the computer that something is wrong and the ride must emergency stop, which is why sometime rides will stop on the brake runs, lift hills, or even halfway in or out of the station, because power is immediately cut off from the ride and all of the brakes close to avoid collisions.
This is a great insight as to how safe rides truly are, but that doesn’t explain why a ride error may occur when everything is running fine. In most cases, it is simply a bird, bug, or butterfly landing on the photo eye, causing it to be broken but not the correct number of times. The computer thinks something is wrong and shuts down the ride.
It is fairly common for this to happen, and has nothing at all to do with the reliability of the ride. It takes a quick call to maintenance and a few minutes to reset the system before one test run can be made and the ride is up and running again. Many ask how rain does not cause the computers to malfunction when the sensors are exposed to the elements, and that is simply because the sensors have a special solution (typically Rain-X) on them to “outsmart” natural elements and avoid weather related sensor issues.
At one point during the year, we had to close the ride from opening at 10AM until about 4PM due to an issue with the transfer motor. I will talk a bit more about transfer when I discuss ride closing procedures, but for Talon, each train is stored nightly in a maintenance bay on the main brake run. In order to get the trains into each bay, they must be stopped on a specific track segment and then that segment is moved laterally from the main run to the storage tracks.
These bays are not track, but rather hangars. If you look closely, B&M inverted trains have tiny wheels on the very end of the trains that are not used during operation. These wheels roll into a slot on the inside of the catwalks and this is what supports the trains. The reasoning for this is to keep the main running wheels free of pressure from sitting on track and to avoid flat spots on the wheels.
When maintenance concludes their daily work, they move the trains back onto the main run for operators to open the ride. On this particular day, the first train was brought online, but when the second train was moved onto the transfer segment, the track did not move. We later found out the motor that moves that segment had broken. After hours of attempting to fix it, staff determined that we would have to run just one train for few days (it ended up being three before a new motor was installed).
The segment was moved onto the main run by hand via a crank that is basically a giant wrench on the side of the transfer table. The weight of the train is too much for the segment to be moved by hand, so we had no choice but to leave the second train in transfer.
Another break down we experienced was for a feeder wheel. If you look closely at most inverted B&M coasters, specifically the Batman clones and other ones that immediately engage the lift out of the station, the segment between the station and the lift has several transport wheels. One day, the rubber cover of the wheel cracked and was sagging off of the wheel itself. This is a great example of how employees must watch the ride, because this is an issue that the computer would not detect unless it caused a mechanical malfunction. Maintenance was able to replace the wheel and allow us to resume operation in a little over an hour.
Another reason that breakdowns might occur, while rare, is a lift motor malfunctioning. Like the transfer motor, the lift hill motor may blow, but the ride cannot operate with this issue. This didn’t happen during my time, but our own Tori Finlay experienced it where the ride was closed for several days while a new motor arrived (I question why a spare is not on sight).
On that note, if you go to Dorney and ride Talon, from the front row before you load, look at the track just before the lift outside the station. Above it is a ladder leading to a motor. If you look closely, the motor is currently a shade of blue, not orange and yellow like the track. You will also notice that it is not the same blue as the supports. The reason for this is that this motor currently installed is actually a replacement motor from Afterburn at Carowinds. Close inspection will show that the motor does indeed match the blue of the Afterburn supports.
So there is a little inside peek as to what may go wrong with rides and just how serious, or silly, they may be. Nine times out of ten, if a ride is down during the day but was running earlier, it is probably a simple ride error and will be back up and running shortly. Stay tuned for the next part of this series where I will take a look at common maintenance issues with Possessed, a ride that shuts down a bit more often.