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The Ups and Downs of Travelling Coasters

Phil Ariss

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Fairgrounds historically have always been at the forefront of the amusement industry, pushing the boundaries and putting on a show of magnificent scale to draw customers and their wallets in.

Just looking back over the last 30 years shows what incredible travelling coasters and companies made their name by dominating the fairground.

Sadly, this isn’t the case at this moment in time.

Most reputable mid-sized fairs are likely to feature a roller coaster; sadly, these days it’s most likely to be a Reverchon spinning mouse. With Reverchon selling as many units as the Ford Focus, it’s a safe but tragic bet.

Gone are the unique, custom designed, awe-inspiring coasters. These are replaced by the Reverchon spinning coasters and like for like alternatives. What market there is, is flooded with cheap, small to mid size coasters, all carbon copies of each other.

As a coaster itself, Reverchon did (begrudgingly) amazingly well. The amount of units sold is beyond belief; they even managed to sell two to Disney! They are quite simply, everywhere. Last summer, one Reverchon spinning coaster was sitting in the shadow of Eurostar at Hamburg during the Sommerdom, a perfect picture of rides at opposite ends of the scale, a stark contrast in every respect.

The success of Reverchon and its spinning coasters isn’t hard to see, they do give a good ride that appeals to everyone, the ride is of considerable length, the spinning of the cars is always different each time and great fun.

Better still and more importantly, the ride is cheap and easy to transport with only five trailers plus a crane needed, compare this with a Mondial Topscan which requires three trailers and a crane, the potential for revenue is far greater.

Travelling roller coasters are in a recession at the moment, without a new headliner since 1995 when Bruch gave Eurostar its debut. Since then, the above mentioned spinning mouse has caught on faster than a plaque in every sense of the word, leaving most fairs without a centrepiece attraction fairs desperately need.

Realistically, there are few places on Earth that could sustain giant travelling coasters on the scale of Eurostar. Understandably, giants of this scale are all custom built. However, I’m sure there are many countries that could sustain better quality, mid-sized coasters, the UK being one.

Any park in the world is quite literally, spoilt for choice. The massive choice of vendors and their products seem endless, but this choice isn’t there for showman anymore. Whether this lack of choice is down to the lack of interest from showman, or simply the lack of sales to push development for the vendor, it’s sad to see so few companies offering their products to showman.

MACK and Maurer Söhne are the only reputable companies that have been offering and selling their products, but nothing more creative than a slight advancement of the Wild Mouse concept. Maurer Söhne sold three units of their Xtended SC 2000 design named Cyberspace, Extrem and Spinning Racers between 2000 and 2001.

However the first two have since found their home at Camelot and Drievliet respectively and no longer travel and haven’t sold another unit since.

The lack of a new, exciting mid-sized coaster is a concern, there seems to be nothing to fill the void between the entry level clone and giant masterpiece. The only glimmer of light in a dark tunnel could be Gerstlauer, who with their Euro Fighter design could see some units being sold. “Typhoon” (Bobbejaanland, Belgium) has been built with a base frame, which is encouraging.

The ride was pre-built for testing at the Gerstlauer factory before being shipped to Bobbejaanland, so the potential for this ride model to travel is there. It has the right credentials too with it being compact, has an excellent throughput and offering a superb ride experience while being novel with it’s beyond vertical drop to insanely intense vertical loop. It could be a headliner, given the chance.

Like most well designed products, there are always going to be cheaper copies available from other vendors. SBF Visa Group filled this void and was quick to beat Gerstlauer to their own design. “Cool & Fresh” can be seen doing the rounds in mid sized European fairs. Very basic in design, it features a vertical lift, with a beyond vertical drop into a vertical loop.

Such is the bad design that the ride is killed by brakes down the drop and before the loop, killing all the speed that it craws back to the station and wastes the height of the lift. Without these brakes the ride would simply be too fast and violent through the vertical loop.

With only the capability to load and unload one car at a time and production looking exceptionally cheap, “Cool & Fresh” was never going to set the world alight. While SBF Visa showed plans for a longer version, whether any showman is brave enough to buy it remains to be seen.

Another potential ride for the future could well be Maurer Söhne and their X-Car design. While there has been nothing to suggest a travelling model, it does have the raw ingredients that could prove it to be a hit. The compact nature of travelling rides could really mean some interesting designs utilising the prolonged inverted position that each of their rides have to date. 

What the future holds for travelling coasters remains to be seen, one thing we can say with assurance is that if they are held in as high regard as the coasters currently travelling in Germany, then we will be very lucky. In Germany, we not only find travelling coasters of the highest grade, we find variety. This is where things get a little bit more exciting.

Held in the highest regard, without a doubt, is Rudolf Barth’s “Olympia Looping”. Making its debut in 1989, it was one of the last projects to carry the Schwarzkopf name. The sheer scale of this ride has to be seen to be believed, it’s quite simply mammoth. No photos or videos really give any justice to how big this ride is, or what a fantastic piece of engineering it is. It dwarfs anything near by and will always be the centrepiece of any fair it graces, a true headline act.

The nature of travelling coasters requires a compact layout. On one hand, it’s hardly compact with a footprint measuring 85 by 36 metres, on the other hand, its more than compact fitting in a total track length of 1250 metres! To put that into perspective, Nemesis weighs in at a mere 715 metres.

With such a long track length, Olympia Looping has two lift hills, both tyre driven. The first is a curved lift-hill from the station to the rides peak, a mere 33 metres. In typical Schwarzkopf fashion, the main lift rises to the back giving the perfect backdrop, allowing spectators to see the whole layout in all its glory. The second lift sits below the main lift; running in the opposite direction and has the added function of being a block segment. This lift matches the incoming speed of a train perfectly, without a noticeable decrease in speed; the flow of the ride isn’t affected at all and the train swiftly departs the block and continues the mayhem.

From start to finish, Olympia Looping never lets up. The train navigates the course with such speed it’s easily one of the most intense coasters out there, pulling in excess of 5g on the loops. Considering the ride is now in its 17th year, it’s impeccable for its age. The track work is near perfect, roughness just isn’t a question for this coaster like most other rides its age.

Its presentation is immaculate, the sense of occasion and magnitude is so apparent that it is worthy of the Olympia name and Olympic rings it bares. It’s an incredibly versatile ride, with the ability to run between 1 and 5 trains, and the train length can range from 5 to 7 cars, its throughput is simply unrivalled and can top out at about 3000 an hour. Olympia Looping is as near to perfection as a travelling coaster can get.

Olympia Looping shares its limelight with two other giants that travel throughout Germany. These being another Schwarzkopf classic, the 1983 Alpina Bahn and the 1995 Intamin/Giovanola creation of Eurostar.

Alpina Bahn stands alone in that it’s a non-inverting coaster, more of a “family coaster” if there ever was such a genre. It was the first of the great travelling Schwarzkopf giants and came before the classics Dreier Looping and Thriller. Like Olympia Looping, its age is merely a number; having been lovingly cared for by its owners, Bruch.

It rides like a dream, offering airtime, positive and lateral forces, head choppers and speed in abundance, all the ingredients that make this an incredible coaster.

The front is dominated by a large airtime hill that sits above the themed frontage and cash desks, with animatronics, flowers and other decorative props to this amazing show. This is a coaster that comes alive at night with its full compliment of trains running; there are few places that can match the atmosphere that Alpina Bahn on a packed ground.

Eurostar is probably the most remarkable of the three, due to its amazing conception, design process and the sheer amount of companies involved in brining the ride to reality. When it opened in 1995 it was the first transportable inverted coaster, opening just three years after B&M debuted their design.

Unlike Schwarzkopf coasters, Eurostar’s components are much larger. The track, trains, supports and base frame are all considerably larger. It takes a single trailer to transport just one of the four trains on a section of station track.

Consider that as mentioned above, a Reverchon spinning coaster travels on five trailers in its entirety, to transport Eurostar is a remarkable feat of engineering and logistics and is truly a credit to Bruch and their ability to manage such an on-going project as large as this, not to mention the transport of Alpina Bahn, Spinning Racers and a Huss Breakdance.

Like Olympia Looping, Eurostar is built with throughput in mind and at its peak, with its compliment of all four trains running, will hit just under 3000 and hour, that’s a train leaving the station, full, nearly every 30 seconds.

Lastly, we have Starworld. A transportable indoor coaster, laden with special effects and animatronics. With its futuristic theme, it’s another coaster that dominates the area around it, with everyone’s focus being drawn in by the ludicrously large animatronic robot.

Beckoning passers by to enter the ride, the wonderful robot speaks and makes gestures, all with moving limbs of course. With speakers tactfully hidden in his kneecaps, and flaming torch in hand, its hard not to be wowed by this incredible spectacle. Every so often, this gentle giant slows down to a stop and another animatronic figure speaks up, this time a light sabre wielding, dark figure by the cash desks challenges us to enter.

The ride itself is a self built spinning coaster similar to those Maurer Söhne spinning coasters with trains found at parks like Drievliet. Inside, the ride is pretty dark, with English commentary preparing riders to blast off into space. The darkness is broken up with a fantastic laser light that cuts across the building and a fire affect towards the end of the ride, which engulfs the final helix with fire and heat to give the riders the perfect send off before re-entering the station.

Each of these coasters is custom designed and built, offer something different and unique to one another and are undoubtedly a success in their own right and a credit to their owners. But what makes these coasters even more special is that unlike park operated coasters, they do and must hit the theoretical throughput.

It would be a miracle at a park to see a B&M coaster reach its optimal 1400 an hour, but at a fair, time is money and everything is done to make sure these coasters hit their mark. If that means a member of staff is on each row and closes your restraint for you, then so be it, there will be no delay in dispatching the train.

It’s been over 10 years since we’ve had a new headline act, let’s hope that when it does arrive it can achieve the same level of respect that previous headline acts command and deserve. Fingers crossed.

Guest Author: Phil Ariss

Coaster Kingdom Magazine
Issue 19: Jun 2006

Issue 19
King of the Kermis
Coaster Kingdom interviews Bas Derkink from KMG

Open Mic - Phil Arris
Travelling Coasters
Phil Ariss looks at how travelling coasters have changed over time in Open Mic

In The Picture
In The Picture
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