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Coaster Brakes

Author/Contributors: Greg Wolking & Steve Franks *

Simply put, any coaster that runs more than one train at more than 10 to 15 mph is vulnerable to crashes for various reasons. Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced a deadly crash due to the infamous "station brake failure". This article discusses ways to reduce the possibility of, perhaps even prevent, these types of crashes by understanding how RCT implements brakes, and how to incorporate them into your track designs.

General Brake Principles

All coasters have brakes built into their stations. These serve to slow arriving trains to a speed of 5mph, then bring them gently to a stop when they reach either another waiting train or the head of the station. The larger and heavier your trains are, and the greater the speed at which they reach the station, the more "wear" they put on the brakes, and thus the greater the chance that the brakes will fail.

Some coaster types also allow you to place braking segments on your track so as to control the speed of your trains. The effectiveness of these brakes also depends on the size and weight of your trains -- a single braking segment may not be powerful enough to reduce the train to the desired speed, especially with the longer, heavier trains used by the more modern steel coaster types. Except for those coasters that run single cars, I try to use at least three braking segments whenever the layout allows, more if I need to effect a large change in the speed of the train.

Track brakes (or "trim brakes") also seem to be more effective when you slow the train in stages. For example, if you want to slow a train from 40mph to about 20mph, use at least four braking segments at 36, 32, 27, and 22mph instead of one series all at 22mph. Not only does this seem to make the brakes operate more reliably, it definitely makes the ride less intense. Although the ride's ratings page does not display this particular measurement, deceleration forces do affect the ride's intensity rating.

In original RCT, it has been reported that track brakes may remain operational when the station brakes fail. I can't verify this because I have never run original RCT; I have always had at least the AA/CF add-on pack. I can say this: With the AA/CF and LL add-on packs, when the station brakes fail, all of the track brakes fail as well, no matter where they are located on your track. The same principle applies no matter what edition of the game you're playing: you cannot rely on track brakes to prevent a crash when the station brakes fail.

Crash Avoidance Techniques

There are several ways to reduce and, in some cases, eliminate the possibility of crashes due to station brake failures.

1. Design the track so that the coaster uses up almost all if its momentum before it reaches the station, entering the platform at 15 mph or less. This is the only way to guarantee that trains will not crash in the station when the brakes fail. The actual "critical crash velocity" depends on the type of coaster and the length of the trains. For example, a wooden wild mouse coaster can handle an impact (combined velocity of colliding cars) at up to 18 mph without a fatal crash. I've seen a suspended single-rail train (with three one-person swinging chairs) survive an impact at up to 25 mph. Generally speaking, the smaller and lighter the train/car is, the greater the impact speed it will tolerate. To the best of my knowledge, no train will crash fatally at a combined impact speed of 15mph or less.

2. Variation on #1: Design the track so the coaster uses up all of its momentum, requiring a lift hill to get back into the station. The extreme version of this is a "backwards" coaster in which the station is at the highest point and the only lift hill is at the end of the run. This completely eliminates the possibility of crashes due to station brake failures, but leave you vulnerable to crashes due to other failures (such as a "safety cut-out") that make the lift hill stop. If a train is hanging on the lift hill when it stops, the train behind it can crash into it. With coasters that run more than two trains, this type of crash is actually more likely to occur than a station brake crash because safety cutouts take much longer to repair than station brakes (see below).

However, the "stuck on a lift hill" impact is not always fatal. Unlike a train waiting in the station, a train on a lift hill is not locked in place, it is still free to move forward -- the lift chains only prevent the train from rolling backward. The trains can tolerate a higher speed without a fatal crash because the "stuck" train can move up the hill to absorb some of the impact.

3. Use a series of track brakes (called a "brake run") before the station. This serves two purposes. The first is to reduce the ride's intensity rating, especially when the train is still moving quickly (30mph or more) at the end of its run. Slowing the train in stages reduces the acceleration forces experienced by your riders, and thus reduces the ride's intensity rating.

The second purpose is to increase the overall reliability of the brakes in general. I don't believe that RCT actually performs any "wear calculations"; either the brakes work, or they don't. Essentially, the game chooses failures at random, weighted by the coaster's reliability percentage. That is, the game periodically "rolls the dice" to determine whether or not a given ride will break down, then "rolls the dice" again to determine the nature of the breakdown. Therefore, even a brand new coaster with 100% reliability is vulnerable to failures, they are just less likely to occur than with an older, less-reliable coaster. Longer, faster, more complicated and "intense" track designs also tend to deteriorate more rapidly than simpler, slower rides.

I have even seen a brand new coaster crash due to a station brake failure while it was being tested. Therefore, if you're building a track in a running park (especially when you're playing a scenario), it is always a good idea to save your game immediately before you begin a test run. If the ride crashes during testing, it is "tainted" just as if it had crashed while open, even after you modify the track and re-test without crashing. Even though the crash caused no deaths because the ride had no passengers, you'll still have to wait for 2 or 3 months after the crash before your "new" coaster gets decent ridership, as most of the guests will still be thinking, "It's not safe!"

Generally speaking, a brake run will not always prevent station-brake crashes because (as previously stated) when the station brakes fail, all track brakes fail along with them. However, experimentation has shown that the presence of a brake run greatly decreases the chance that the brakes will fail in the first place. In one particular test, a design with no brake run crashed within 3 years of opening. Adding a brake run before the station allowed the same design to operate for over 16 years without a crash.

Hint: With wooden coasters and the new "water coaster" introduced in the LL add-on pack, strategically-placed "water splash" sections can serve as track brakes that never fail.

4. Most Important: If your ride is subject to brake-failure crashes, place the ride exit at the tail of the station whenever possible. Since the brakes are located at the station tail, this gives your mechanic the greatest chance of reaching the brakes and repairing them before a crash occurs. This works best if you dedicate a mechanic to maintain that coaster, routing him using a single "grid" that includes the ride exit. If the ride has multiple stations, assign one mechanic to each station. If you have the staff to spare (the game limits you to a maximum of 116 employees altogether), you may even consider assigning two mechanics to each station, one with "repair" orders, the other with "inspection" orders. While it doesn't happen very often, coasters can break down while they're being inspected, so this technique guarantees that you will always have a mechanic available to fix the ride.

It's also useful to note that unlike other failures, the brakes resume operation as soon as the mechanic finishes the fifth stroke with his hammer, before he has re-opened the ride. I have even seen a mechanic hammering on the brakes as an arriving train appears to run him over, finishing his fifth stroke just in time to stop the train before it crashed! Compare this to a "safety cutout" failure, in which the mechanic must walk the full length of the station twice, attending to the safety cutouts at both ends of the station. The lift hills will remain stopped until he returns to the exit, makes his "it's fixed!" radio call, and re-opens the ride. With appropriate exit placement and staff assignment, brake failures take much less time to repair than almost any other type of breakdown.

5. Damage Control: When you get the "ride has broken down" message, pause the game immediately and see if it is due to a station brake failure. If so, save the game. If the ride does crash, go back to your saved game and try again -- there are various random factors involved, so it is possible that it might not crash the next time around. However, some crashes are inevitable -- the arriving train is simply too close to the station for the mechanic to fix the brakes in time. You cannot reset the ride until it has been repaired, so the only way to avoid the crash is to demolish the ride completely. This is irrelevant when you are "playing in the sandbox" with a "workbench" park, but can be very important if you are trying to beat a scenario. It will cost $$ to rebuild the ride, but that may be preferable to the tremendous hit your park rating will take when guests die.

Note: All original articles have been transcribed and illustrated by Steve Franks for exclusive use at RCT Station, and are posted with the permission of Greg Wolking.


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