Everyone loves to discuss roller coaster records. They are bookmarks of breaking barriers as the industry evolves. We, as enthusiasts, want to ride the tallest, fastest, longest, and subject ourselves to long strings of inversions. However some of these records have stood for a long time, and are just begging to be broken. The current record holders in the clearest superlative categories for roller coasters almost seem unbeatable, but when they first broke down their respective barriers you could have said the same thing. Right now the tallest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure, a title it has held since 2005. The fastest roller coaster in the world is Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi since 2010. The longest roller coaster in the world is Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagashima Spa Land, a title it claimed in 2000. Finally the roller coaster with the most inversions is Smiler at Alton Towers with a dizzying fourteen times being flipped upside down since 2013.
There are other records parks have claimed, but are sometimes regional, or very specific to an element or coaster model. I always say these records beat every coaster in the world except for those that it doesn’t. These dubious records are not meant to impress coaster enthusiasts they are meant to market towards the general public and get them excited. Why aren’t parks aiming for those big four superlatives that have stood for years unanswered? There are a variety of reasons from amount of space available, to limited budget, and of course if the park expects to see a return on such a massive investment. However to truly break a record, barriers do need to be broken down. To do something that has never been done before requires innovation. There is no map or example to look to, that have been in this uncharted territory.
We do not know how parks will plan for the future, but we do know about external factors that may affect plans. Right now as parks are closed due to Covid-19 we are hearing about how parks are changing their plans and budgets for the future including cutting back on capital expenditures. 2020 was supposed to be a huge year with a big handful of very interesting roller coasters set to open, and eventually they will. 2021 was also shaping up to be another year where we were expecting another interesting roster of rides based on early rumors. Let’s just say we should temper our expectations as planned rides might get spread over a longer timeframe than originally intended. I do not believe that any plans would be throw out, but delays are reasonable to expect. Since these rumor are not announced there is no way to know if they are real, or postponed until we hear it from the parks themselves.
Another external factor is that the cost of steel has gone up drastically over the last few years. The external factor has already impacted parks planning for the types of coasters they are building, and contributed to trends we can already observe. A major cost of constructing steel coasters is the size of the lift hill, as it will directly impact the total track length. A very tall lift hill will need tons of steel to support it and adds to the length of the track, but it also impacts how much track comes after the drop because coasters have to use up the energy added by that tall drop. You couldn’t have a ride like a hyper or giga with a short overall track length because it would enter the break run too fast. To create layouts that more effectively use steel we have seen many launched roller coasters. They trade a higher operating expense for a lower material cost. That is why you see parks breaking those very specific records like; fastest acceleration, numbers of launches, fastest launch on a multi launch, and even first dueling quadruple launch. There has been no shortage of launch coasters in North America over the past few years, and most likely we will be welcoming another three this year.
RMC has been a rising force and they have ways of making very impactful and dynamic attractions that use steel very efficiently. The most recent innovation is the raptor single rail coasters. They have a very compact rail system that minimizes the amount of steel needed to support the train and track. RMC is starting to be used for the unique ride systems they make. Just like B&M enjoyed creating records and first for each of their models RMC is able to one up their own creations to enjoy those dubious records. This year they will open record breaking single rail and hybrid coasters. Nothing saves you money on steel like not using it for the support structure. RMC’s hybrid track system has been built onto existing structures, however they have been getting more and more ambitious. When RMC built two rides for Cedar Fair they built up sections of Twisted Timbers, and they added onto Steel Vengeance in an unprecedented way. They followed that up by building their first ground up hybrid in Poland when they built Zadra. This year they combined parts of the two layouts of Gwazi together to create Iron Gwazi complete with a brand new lift. While the lift has steel support the remainder of the structure is wood. I am very excited by the possibility of more ground up hybrids being built, I really like the flexibility and possibilities this trend creates.
Finally there is another segment of the roller coaster story that can be expanded by this trend, and that is traditional wooden coasters. While I have minimized specialized records, I do think that wood coasters deserve their own records and consideration. While inversions are new they seem to be a growing trend as Gravity Group, RMC, and now GCI all have the ability to to produce inversions on wooden coasters. While the Beast at Kings Island has held the title for longest wooden coaster for over forty years. Unlike steel the record for tallest and fastest woody has changed hands many times in recent years. Wooden coasters have flirted with pushing boundaries for speed and height with varying degrees of success. Intamin and RMC have both made very successful wooden coasters that gathered records, both with their prefab track systems. Many people, from Ohio mostly, will also point out Son of Beast, but I think this is the example of biting off more than you can chew. It had an inversion, that needed to be removed, it destroyed height and speed records that have still not been topped, but the ride literally destroyed itself. Times have changed, and I think the wood coaster might be ready to go for a 200 plus foot lift hill, and that would most likely allow the coaster to exceed speeds of 80 MPH. That is exciting!
However the more exciting topic would be who is crazy enough to build it?