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Crash Studies

Author/Contributors: Metro Master

With most of us now fully equipped with RCT, CF, and LL here follows my updated observations on crashes. I'd first like to thank Steve Franks (sfranks2@sbcglobal.net) and Cav (Caviatte@aol.com) for their invaluable assistance in all aspects of this study. Let me emphasize that the observations and suggestions following are intended only as an informative guide and do not necessarily indicate what will or will not occur in your individual circumstance or theme park.

Before getting into major detail, it has become increasingly clear that game author Chris Sawyer invested a great amount of effort on realistic details. There appears to be very little that escaped him. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the more complex the ride, the greater the possibility for failure, breakdown, disaster. Hedge mazes and rowing boats do not breakdown. Bumper cars and Ferris wheels breakdown. Roller coasters breakdown and crash. I will be primarily concerned with roller coaster crashes here, even though from time to time I will make mention of other attractions if they are relevant to the subject matter at hand. Having said that, settle in and prepare yourself for long reading.

I observed all types of coasters running for about 10 game years under a number of varying conditions, which I will address in the same order as follows:

(1) With regard to braking sections and the station brakes failure.
(2) Regarding inspections, their schedules, and the assignment of mechanics.
(3) Other causes of crashes.
(4) The ride operations box (the one with the gears).

Firstly, I have never had a crash with only one train on a closed loop of track. There is just nothing else there for the train to run into, unless you have designed the coaster so badly that it simply sails off the track into open space. I do not say this derogatorily. Bobsleds, side frictions and water slides can get airborne a lot easier than you may think. Reverse whoa belly coasters and shuttle loop types can also be run off the end of the track to their demise, but then again, that's poor planning and bad design. Not the type of crashes under discussion here.

(1) Braking sections and the station brakes failure

If you are in the habit of zooming to the scene after a crash, and checking with the ride operations box, you will know by now that all too often it identifies the cause as "Station Brakes Failure" which is, by far, the most frequent cause of crashes. According to what Steve shared with me from the Official RCT/CF strategy guide, when this happens after the coaster has been in service for a number of years the cause is likely to be that the brakes have worn out, and replacing them (the brake sections) may very well be a viable alternative to tearing down the entire ride. This sounds better than it works. The game does not acknowledge new parts of the ride. And in tests I have discovered that the same breakdown will occur again within a year, while the reliability and down time do not change significantly as a result of such replacement. I have long maintained that adding additional braking sections prior to entering the station decreases the number of "station brake failure" crashes. I have subsequently observed that these two appear to operate in direct proportion to each other. In other words, If you want less "station brakes failures", add more braking sections. My observations with Steve's "Thunderbolt" and "Cyclone" bore this out very significantly. Both of these are very good renditions of their real life counterparts at Coney Island, N.Y. Steve used short trains on them. Short trains have less momentum and therefore require less braking. Along with this, there are long straight sections all with additional brakes adjusted to smoothly reduce train speed, just prior to the station entrance. The energy of the train is dissipated over a longer period, resulting in much less wear and tear on all the brakes. As such, crashes on these coasters are rare indeed. However, when I removed all the extra brake sections and conducted the very same tests, crashes began to occur as early as the third year in service. So additional braking sections are indeed a very effective way to reduce the number of crashes on your coaster. Although there are those who insist that all brakes fail when the "station brakes failure" occurs, I can assure you that this is not so. On several occasions during these observations I have seen the "station brakes failure" pop up in the operations window, and the next train into the station would slow down to a crawl on the braking section I had added prior to the station entrance, and then coast slowly right through the station and back to the lift hill. This indicated that only the brakes in the station had failed and not the additional ones. However, I also had times when it appeared that all of the brakes did fail simultaneously and the train would crash into its leader after blazing through the station with undiminished speed.

The big steel coasters are indeed most likely to crash, simply because they are even more complex, intense, heavy and generally run faster than their wooden counterparts. This too, has been confirmed in my observations. I tested Cav's "Reflections", "Double Take" and "Psycho Line". These are very complex steel racing coasters, of which "Psycho Line" is of the vertical drop type and the other two are corkscrew. They all have a sweeping curve as the grand finale before entering the station. Hence no additional brakes near the station, and the station brakes themselves must dissipate all that energy on an already longer, heavier and faster moving steel coaster train. However, "Reflections" and "Double Take" are racing coasters on one continuous loop of track with two adjoining stations operating only two eight car trains, which are synchronized. So the trains were always equi-distant from each other and as such they never crashed. Nonetheless the dreaded "station brakes failure" did rear its ugly head about as often as could be expected. I did some major surgery on both of them and added brake sections prior to the station and in the ensuing tests the "station brakes failures" were reduced by about 30%. I had similar results with Cav's "Psycho line". There are six three car trains on this coaster also running as a racing coaster looped on itself and synchronized. But the track is so long that it is possible to avoid the crash entirely by setting the proper holding time in the station with the ride operations box (more on this later). If you have the luxury of a coaster with a very long track, the time needed for the trains to traverse the loop works in your favor and it's almost as if there were only one train present on the track. These coasters are true works of art. No serious RCTycooner should be without them. I had also conducted similar testing on "The Storm" which is a large mine train coaster in "Katie's World". Without modification this coaster crashed within three years. When I modified the station approach with additional brake sections, it gave me eight crash free years, while another steel coaster I had built elsewhere in the park (without) additional braking sections suffered a crash about every three to four years.

There are some types of coasters on which adding braking sections is not possible and most of them operate in single car consists. These include wooden crazy rodent, single rail, suspended single, heartline twister, and Virginia reel. It appears to me that when such single car trains are operated, the program gives us a break, in that even with "station brakes failure" evident, the cars simply bump into each other and stop without a crash and loss of life. But the fact is that crashes only occur at speeds over 30 MPH, with the big coasters. With these smaller coaster cars, the crash only occurs if the cars are outside of the station limits and moving at over 30 MPH. Even the water rides will crash if you can get the boat to collide at speed outside of the station limits. I've noted that multi car bobsled trains, however, will crash and kill, even though they do not have the option for additional brakes. But then again this is because the Bobsleds move at a much higher speed that these other coasters. The option to install additional brakes on rides operating such single cars is not needed, as these cars frequently do not have sufficient momentum to complete the track circuit, and will come to a complete stop unless the track has been carefully planned and laid out. Which brings me to another important point. Although these single car units do not generally crash because of "station brakes failure", they will crash and kill if they should lose momentum on a grade and roll back into the following car, (more on this type of crash later) or if they should fly off the track in a curve.

(2) Scheduling inspections and assigning mechanics

Assign a mechanic to each coaster, confining his patrol to the immediate area around the ride's exit. A good coaster will show enough profit to cover the expense of its own mechanic. Schedule inspection for every 10 minutes. Assigning the mechanic in this way can actually save the situation directly because of his proximity to the ride. Since my last report, I have had the situation in which a mechanic so assigned was able to access and repair the brakes just seconds before the train came racing in. There is no doubt in my mind that had he not been confined to the immediate area of the exit, there would have been a crash in the station, due to his longer response time. The other benefit to this, is that inspections will take place in a very timely fashion, and the ride will be maintained to its best possible standard. Also, "down time", best described as the time the ride is out of service (the interval between the breakdown and the repair) will be considerably reduced. Steve, also shared with me from the RCT/CF strategy guide, that it is sound planning to assign one mechanic for every two gentle and/or thrill rides, particularly as they begin to age (over three years old). I concur with this. Beyond that age, all rides can begin to experience frequent breakdowns, and not having enough mechanics, or their having to travel too far and service too many rides can keep rides out of service for excessive periods of time. Non working rides make no money and only serve to frustrate the guests who would otherwise enjoy riding them.

(3) Other causes of crashes

There are a number of factors, other than "station brakes failure" which can cause your prized coaster to crash, kill off a trainload of folks and a substantial part of your income. One of these, is where a train that has otherwise been operating normally suddenly fails to crest a hill, rolls back into its follower and KABOOM!! Steve had this experience and suggested wheel failure as the cause, and proposed additional lift chains near the tops of likely trouble spots as the solution. I didn't really give this much thought until a train I was operating had a wheel problem. Steve's suggestion came to mind and my railcar inspector's explanation confirmed what he (Steve) had said. This was my first indication as to just how much detail Sawyer had programmed into the game. Steve also recently shared with me, from the strategy guide, that his remedy of adding short lift chains to some hills is, in fact, a bona fide procedure used on some older coasters. The Coney Island Cyclone, for one, has had such "surgery". I recently documented such a crash with fatalities on a wooden crazy rodent coaster, as well. So when your aging coaster rolls back off the second or third hill and crashes, the problem is wheel failure and the remedy is to add lift chains to the hill or boosters just before as the case may warrant.

Another, I honestly believe, is the slipstream effect. Sometime ago Cav designed a really nice coaster. It operated (if memory serves) five three car trains. The trains came off the lift hill, executed two loops and then curved around and ran through the two loops. It was very impressive to watch one train passing through the loop while its follower was executing the loop right around it. The problem was that if the trains passed directly over (under) each other, the leading one would experience a sudden and dramatic loss of speed, and subsequently stall out further down the track, with the result that the train that had so eloquently looped around it would now smash into it. According to Cav, he ran this test countless times always with the same result, whenever the trains passed exactly over (under) each other. I had him to e-mail me the coaster and I also achieved the exact same results in numerous test runs. I have to conclude that the program identifies with, and responds to the slipstream effect (called "wake turbulence" by air traffic controllers), which is created when an object is moving at speed, but the heavier and the faster it moves, then the more turbulence is created. The vortex from the looping train is literally pulling the speed off the other one. Maybe this explains the new larger loop in the Corkscrew Follies add-on!

On a rare occasion, you may have a crash and then find that the last breakdown was "safety cut-out". Indeed, it is rare. But I did happen to witness how it occurs during the testing. If the "safety cut-out" occurs immediately after the last car of a train clears the station, that train will stop. The train behind it will coast into the "waiting for passengers to get in" position. Even if you have various wait options selected in the Ride Operations Box (more on this later), the time will probably elapse while the ride is under repair. There should be no danger from an incoming train at this point as the problem is not "station brakes failure" and the next arrival should therefore make a normal stop. The problem is that as soon as repairs are effected the lead train will move and the second one will move right out behind it. (Does this program also simulate dispatching test trains after a failure?) Now you have two trains right behind each other with less than a car length between them. The space will be slightly relieved as train 1 will leave the lift hill first and gain a little headway on its follower. But when train 1 hits the station platform and suddenly decelerates to "arriving at station" speed with train 2 right behind it at "regular over the road speed", guess what? I suspect that if there were a long gradual braking prior to the station then train 2 might just engage brakes before striking the rear of its leader. However, I have been unable to confirm this, "safety cut-out" happens often enough, it just doesn't happen all that often right after a train clears the station platform.

(4) The Ride Operations Box (or scheduling your departures)

I chose to address the ride operations box last because I believe that its effect on crashes may not be as significant as I first thought. Although considering the attention given to detail in this game I would not discount it entirely. To me this box serves the same purpose as a Train Dispatcher does in real life. This box is simply the means by which you issue instructions to the staff that operate the ride. If you first think of what exactly it is you want to tell your ride operator to do, this box becomes simple. But here I will deal with how it relates to crashes.

Coasters with only one train are never a problem. So with them, concern yourself only with how many people you board without making others wait excessively. Set the "wait for" and "maximum waiting time" accordingly, and you should have no problem. At the other end of the spectrum is the steel coaster which is operating say seven two car trains. Just by the nature of steel coasters we already know that this could very well be a recipe for disaster. But it can still be operated in relative safety. For this type of coaster forget everything but the "minimum waiting time." There are a large number of fast moving trains on the line. This, in and of itself, should generate a good crowd waiting to ride. So in testing, rotate the screen so that you can keep a constant watch on the signal light at the end of the station. This signal is directly controlled by the "minimum waiting time". Adjust the number of seconds so that any given train is leaving the lift hill chain just before the following train is engaging it at the bottom. This will expedite your trains through the station as quickly as realistically possible thus minimizing their chances of being there should something go wrong. On Cav's "Psycho Line" mentioned earlier, I set the "minimum waiting time" at 20 seconds, and turned off everything else except "synchronize with adjacent stations". The distance between trains on such a long track afforded the mechanic stationed at each exit the time to access the station and effect repairs before the train could complete the circuit and crash. With other numbers of trains/cars, you should experiment and go with what works best for you. But do not ever use the "leave if another train arrives at station" and think that you will avoid a crash. I use the "wait for" and "maximum waiting time" for one train coasters and the "minimum waiting time" for all others. If you have a great coaster you won't have to "wait for" any load. The load will be waiting when the trains pulls in.

 

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