Coaster Kingdom

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Turbine, Walibi Belgium

Currently, we are going through a really exceptional episode in roller coaster design, consequently, with each ride that opens, it presents a modus operandi previously considered as unachievable. Of late, we have had innovations such as the inverted coaster, stand up coaster, lie-down coaster, vertical drop coaster and heights and speeds are still on the up (literally).

Whilst to the new cohort of enthusiasts this is rather exciting, often it means that enjoyable classic coasters are becoming harder and harder to find, as although there is often a feeling of wistfulness whilst riding them, they are, in a nutshell, boring.

It was only ten years ago that the Corkscrew was the best coaster at Alton Towers. And then came Nemesis. And Oblivion. And then it was old, antiquated and worthy of jettison (which, of course, it is). It just goes to show how times change and more importantly, how tastes change.

Although that is the down side, when you do finally find a decent classic roller coaster, it makes it all the better, and you can sit there, smug, thinking Ďthose were the daysí.

In Ďthose daysí, Vekoma was Arrow and Bolliger and Mabillard were Schwarzkopf. In other words, Schwarzkopf had the fan clubs, the universal praise and in fact still does; hence Bolliger and Mabillard are often referred to the Schwarzkopf of the twenty-first century.

The Thunder Looper at Alton Towers was in need of a new home. It was becoming costly, and attracted queues longer than it could cope with. The ride was only built on temporary planning permission, and whilst Tussauds extended this once, it got to the stage where the final inheritance of Broome, the former owner, had to be removed.

A few Schwarzkopf shuttle-loop coasters remain in the World. Luckily for us pining Thunder, one is in Europe and perhaps the best of the bunch. Six Flags Belgium still is home to a fly-wheel launched shuttle-loop, which is works by spinning a cable on a drum at great speeds, before a clutch drops and the cable pulls the train to around 60 miles-per-hour before the train is in the hands of Sir Isaac Newton.

Fortunately, by the skin on our teeth, we are still able to ride Turbine, formerly Sirocco. In the days when it was known as Sirocco, it was not much different to the Thunder Looper. However, one day, it mis-fired, and although the train made it through the loop once, on the return, backwards, it stopped Ė upside-down.

Naturally, this caused a bit of a problem. Riders were held in only by lap-bars, and it was only with the clever use of a cherry-picker style crane that it was evacuated. The evacuation took four hours and made news around the world.

But the story didnít end there. It wasnít because of this, but of complaints from residents that the future of Sirocco was endangered. Luckily, due to the ingenuity of Walibi Wavre (as it was then known), instead of removing the ride, it was enclosed, completely, apart from the far end spikes.

Turbine really exists without a theme, as such. The building it is in is long, in places tall, and fronted by only a brick-style finish and large fake glass windows. The entrance is to the left-hand side of this building where you walk under the upward curve of the track as it emerges for itís brief outside stint.

The queue continues outside behind the building. In the distance, the first steep incline can be seen, and behind, the second spike of track. Every so often, like a crack of thunder, a train will come roaring out of the end of the building, climbing steeply, hovering, just for a moment, before dropping back into the depths of the building.

A sharp right-hand turn will take you up a ramp and into a long corridor that runs parallel to the launch track the other side of a graffiti-covered wall. Reading through the graffiti passes the time as you slowly move towards the station and it is at the end of the corridor that you are fed onto the platform. When the queue shifts forward and onto the station platform, there is no waiting behind gates, just getting on the awaiting train in whatever seat is free.

Turbine has only lap bars, and luckily isnít subject to the paranoia of most parks that feel it necessary to put over-head restraints on anything that goes anywhere near inverting you. The trains are the standard Schwarzkopf style that I am actually quite keen on. They are reasonably roomy and donít need a gold medal pole-vaulter to board them. Each rider has a separate lap-bar so you can be as secure as you desire. 

And then, in a stroke of genius, the lights go out and it is pitch black. And then there is a bang and like a bullet out of a gun, your head is being pulled back as the train is thrown in a powerful, prevailing and obstinate launch from the station.

Through a spate of strobe lights as you enter the tunnel, and should your head begin to return to an upright position from the launch, it will soon be pulled back as you are sharply thrown into a tight vertical loop. You see the corrugated wall, ceiling and wall of the structure fly by before you enter another tunnel and burst into daylight.

As the track straightens and you head towards the sky, the end of the track nears, and disappears out of view. As you begin to worry, the train gently slows down before dropping backwards and back into the darkened edifice.

As the walls fly past, you are forced to slump down as the train flies backwards through the loop, through the pitch black station, through the rest of the dim building before again, you burst into daylight and up a straight section of track. As you begin to look down on the roof, the pace slows, before you drop like a stone back to earth into the building again before you thunder into the station, stopping in a matter of seconds.

Phew.

It might be short, it might be old, but it still packs a punch like very few. The launch is just so brawny and potent it is hard to improve upon. They seem to slow it down as the day goes on though, but it is still an entertaining element that only marks the start of the ride.

The loop is a typical Schwarzkopf loop. It is nice and round and doesnít really give much opportunity for the train to even think about slowing down.

The upright sections of track at the end are great fun. The madness of the launch and loop are a distant memory as you float dreamily through the air, a stark contrast to hot, dark and muggy inside sections. As the track disappears, the riot continues.

As a classic coaster, it is hard to improve upon. The Schwarzkopf shuttle-loop is immeasurably better than the Arrow effort, which uses a flippant shove rather than a powerful launch.

A special mention should go to the fact that it is enclosed. It is a great example of a park using initiative to overcome a problem and even using it to the ridesí benefit. Where the tunnels and gorges add to Nemesis and form a part of the ride, so too does the darkness of the enclosure on Turbine.

Turbine is truly a one of a kind.


MS Undated

Good points:

The enclosed sections transform this into a one-of-a-kind ride
Very good launch, and intense elements either side
▪ One of a dying breed

Bad points:

Only a short ride 

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