How roller coasters are designed and built

Roller coasters provide immense joy and wonderful thrills in our lives. Rides like Kingda Ka push the boundaries of design and physics with towering structures and intense speeds. It’s quite difficult to imagine the first roller coaster opened less than 150 years ago and traveled only six miles per hour. Nowadays, the world’s fastest roller coaster, Formula Rossa, reaches top speeds of 149 miles per hour. But what’s the process behind the design and construction of these thrill machines?

roller coasters

By Daniel Gray

When we enjoy these rides, we don’t often stop to consider the design and construction process that turned an idea into reality. In our infographic below, we look through the entire process to see how roller coasters are built. When building a roller coaster, designers and engineers consider factors like the intended rider, preferred material, cart type, and track layout. As a result, we end up with designs that vary from a thematic coaster like Space Mountain to a thrill ride like the Superman Ride of Steel.

In every case, a particular set of choices guides the process from conception to finished product. For example, engineers decide what sort of lift will give the cart its initial energy, with chain lifts and catapult-launch lifts the most common choices. Braking systems are also integrated into the ride, both to slow the train down if it’s going too fast at any point and to stop it entirely at the end of the ride or in the case of an emergency. The design process also includes research into loops, hills, helixes, and other design features that add to the thrill of a ride while also controlling the force exerted on the riders.

All of these features are informed by years of research and computer modeling, and every roller coaster is rigorously tested with a prototype before construction begins. After construction, safety tests are undertaken once again before opening. The result for all of us is a wide world of roller coasters with something to satisfy everyone, from small children all the way to adrenaline junkies.

Enjoy the infographic created by BigRentz below to see the entire process from start to finish.

roller coasters built

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