The Aging Attraction Dilemma - What Do We Do?

Last month saw the terribly sad news that the Jetline rollercoaster at Stockholm's Grona Lund amusement park derailed, resulting in the death of one rider and severe injuries for several others. It's always terrible when tragic accidents like this occur, but then I saw somebody on Twitter point out that this was the third instance of a derailing like this occurring on similar coaster types, which begs the harrowing question: could this have been avoided? 

We're very lucky, especially as roller coaster enthusiasts, to exist in a bit of a roller coaster golden age. There's never been as many operating coasters in the world as there are right now as far as I am aware, and that is showing no sign of slowing down with newer, bigger and better coasters appearing year after year. We've also gained tons of knowledge about how to look after these machines in better and safer ways than we ever have before, meaning that the first properly bold and levelled-up designs we saw emerging in the early nineties are still able to deliver thrills to riders 25+ years later. 

And that's fantastic - with the explosion of social media the small forums and message boards full of theme park nerds like us who care about this stuff expanding from a dusty tucked away corner of the internet in the early 2000s into the cold light of modern day there's now a louder cry than ever for parks to take care of what are now classed as heritage attractions, and that public pressure means parks are investing in ways to keep these attractions running for as long as possible. 

Which is of course brilliant, but as with all things like this where is the cut off point? Is it safe or necessary to keep a roller coaster running after decades of continual operation? According to a very quick Google search I just did, the average lifespan of a car is about twelve years, or 200,000 miles (300,000 if well maintained). And we all know how that goes, towards the end of your car's life things can get a little bit janky, even if you're very good at looking after it. It's just the way machines go, and so surely the same can be said of roller coasters?

So, what to do? Because theme parks are places that are so intrinsically linked with heightened emotion, childhood nostalgia and general joy, it's easy to understand why these machines mean so much to people and why so many of us grow real, personal attachments to the things. The thought of the big bad theme park taking a wrecking ball to a ride you have fond memories of really is heart breaking, and realistically no park in the world wants to take the decision to permanently remove iconic rides. In fact I'd say that often those working in the parks have an even stronger attachment!

The good news is, it seems like the parks are very much aware that we're approaching a point in the theme park timeline where a lot of big, iconic coasters are nearing the end of their lifespan, and have been showcasing lots of different ways to keep attractions alive in one way or another. 


Something that seems to be a very popular option of late, retracking. Essentially this involved replacing most, if not all of a roller coaster's track like for like. We first saw this in a big way in 2015/2016 when Universal Islands of Adventure retracked their iconic Incredible Hulk coaster. UK enthusiasts are currently watching with mixed emotions as Alton Towers retrack the legendary Nemesis roller coaster. This is a fantastic way of giving roller coasters a new lease of life, and theoretically increasing the longevity of an attraction infinitely given the budgets are there. I like to think of this as the Trigger's broom solution - yes all the original parts might be long gone but essentially the machine is the same and delivering the same ride experience it always has. 


Kind of like a retrack but with a twist (literally). Often the choice for parks looking to keep older wooden coasters standing but with a modern update, parks have been calling in modern coaster manufacturers to update older rides to give them a new lease of life. RMC are most famous for doing this, spurning the phrase 'RMC it' or 'this needs to be RMC'd' referring to a rough wooden roller coaster in dire need of an update. Whilst this doesn't provide a like for like replacement ride experience like the aforementioned direct retrack approach, which may upset die hard fans, this is a fantastic compromise option. The original ride itself isn't completely gone, but also the park gets an exciting new, different addition to their attraction line-up. 


Sometimes it's not worth, or simply not possible, to retrack or update the attraction, in which case a park may decide to make the difficult decision to tear the whole ride down and replace entirely with something new. I know I'm not alone in thinking this approach can work, however what is replacing the attraction being removed better be infinitely better than what stood in its place previously. My brain here is drawn straight to Duelling Dragons/Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Islands of Adventure. Duelling Dragons was an incredible attraction, however with all the issues in its latter years of operation and the need for some new Potter blood, AND the fact that Hagrid is an incredible ride, I'm completely at peace with the decision. Plus, there are little nods to Duelling Dragons in the Hagrid queueline if you know where to look, and that to me shows that the park understand what this coaster meant to people and are being respectful to those who miss it rather than just pretending it didn't exist. 

And then of course there are a couple of other options: tear the thing down and do not replace it, or just leave it standing but not operating (SBNO). Both options of which I'm sure everybody reading this will agree should only be considered as absolute last resorts. 


I think we're in a really interesting point in history when it comes to what we do with these big, iconic rides in the future and I'm intrigued to see how parks continue to innovate to maintain that balance between operating safely, respecting and honouring heritage and also ensuring things feel fresh and new to keep visitors coming back for years to come.

Talk later xoxo,


  1. Great points raised!
    Would like to see more memorabilia kept, if a ride has to be retired, such as the corkscrew sculpture at Alton Towers.

    1. Yes I love that! A nice nod to an iconic attraction without having to keep the whole thing.