It’s been over a week since The Smiler crash, and now the dust has settled somewhat, I thought I’d just put out a few musings about it all and the furore around it. I’m a massive coaster geek, and I call Alton Towers my ‘happy place’ because it really is one of my favourite places on earth.
Firstly, it’s terrible that five people were injured, and one person has lost a limb as a result of the accident, there’s no denying that – but it’s just that – an accident.
I’ve ridden The Smiler a few times, and I like it – it’s a very unique coaster – has this accident put me off this and other rides?
Put simply, this accident shouldn’t have happened – the way the coaster runs, and as many do, is based on a ‘block’ system. No two carriages should ever be in the same block, and if the lead car hasn’t cleared the block (or section), the following one will be held back on a lift or on brakes before it continues. With The Smiler the lead carriage had valleyed (it didn’t have enough weight / momentum to pass into the next block) and rolled back to a standstill. The Smiler is ‘known’ for valleying at this point (if you look on Google Maps in Satellite view you’ll see a crane pulling out a stuck carriage) it happens with empty carriage from time to time, and has happened with people on before too. On the 2nd June the rear car was held back (as it should) but then for some reason released to continue into the rear of the front car, and well, the collision occurred.
Was the fail-safe manually over-ridden by an over zealous techy? Maybe. Did a sensor / bit of technology fail? Maybe. We’ll not know until the HSE release their report. Either way, I’d still go on it when it reopens.
The thing is, accidents are so rare on UK Rides, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning TWICE than to ever be involved in anything untoward on a ride. There are so many fail-safes, safety systems and checks that rides have, you’re safer popping a child on a roller-coaster than you are actually DRIVING to a theme park with them.
So many people have demanded since The Smiler crash that it is torn down, and rides like these ‘banned’ – but ultimately, cars crash, aeroplanes crash – but we still use them. We learn from accidents, safety improvements over the years have happened because accidents are looked at, and analysed and ultimately improvements are made. So when The Smiler does re-open, you’ll know that it’s even safer than it was before, it HAS to be.
There are very rare occasions when accidents happen on rides in UK Parks – Zodiac at Thorpe Park failed in 2001 injuring two teenagers, in 2004 a girl fell from Hydro at Oakwood to her death, and in 2012 a little girl fell 13ft through a queue-line fence on Tomb Blaster at Chessington sustaining head injuries. A handful of incidents in a 15 year period seems acceptable to me, of course, in a perfect world, no one would ever get hurt, there would be no accidents.
Sadly though, we don’t live in a perfect world.
Accidents happen, we learn from them, and move on.
I can’t wait to get back to Alton Towers and show my support for all the staff that bring happiness to millions of people every single year.
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I’m not, and never have been, a roller-coaster enthusiast, but I do enjoy going to theme parks with friends and watching them enjoy themselves on the rides. I don’t think many people who enjoy coasters will be put off going on them after this crash though, I think it’s probably the few rather than the many who want to see all rides like that torn down.
I think perhaps we should wait to hear the outcome of the investigation before deciding whether it’s safe to go on again. If it was human error the system needs redesigning. It shouldn’t be possible to override such a fundamental safety check as only one carriage per section. Of course, that’s probably not the reason. We’ll soon know. In the meantime we can be grateful that the parks are taking this incident as seriously as they are.