“So… what exactly is going on with roller coasters recently?”
By now, we wouldn’t be surprised if even your friends and family who typically don’t know a thing about theme parks have begun to ask you, because the news is hard to ignore. Across the industry, there’s been a significant rash of standalone ride closures – and sometimes, photos of snapped cables, splintered track, and cracked supports to go with it.
While no one has all the answers, today we’ll do our best to explain six significant recent ride closures that have struck coasters across the world. While these issues are all completely disconnected, it sure does take a lot of explaining to be a coaster fan today!
1. TOP THRILL DRAGSTER (Cedar Point)
STATUS: Standing, not operating, and awaiting a “new formula for thrills”
On a list of iconic roller coasters, few rides can top Top Thrill Dragster. Opened in 2003, the Intamin Accelerator coaster was Cedar Point’s final stand in the “Coaster Wars” of the ’90s and 2000s, unthinkably surpassing the 400-foot height ceiling (and just three years after the park’s own Modern Marvel: Millennium Force had finally crested 300). A brief 17 seconds of white knuckle bliss, the ride famously accelerated guests from 0 to 120 miles per hour, rocking them vertically up a 420-foot tall top hat, then spiraling back down to the finish line.
We explored the landmark ride’s high octane life (and its unexpected pit stop) in our full Modern Marvels: Top Thrill Dragster feature. But suffice it to say that after a lifetime of technical problems, a last straw in 2021 saw the ride shutter for the season. Then, in September 2022, Cedar Point announced that a decision had been made and that Top Thrill Dragster would be retired permanently. Kind of.
As Theme Park Tourist has been following, it’s now clear that the first (of two) 400+ foot “stratacoasters” on Earth isn’t heading for the scrap heap. Instead, Cedar Point is in the midst of a major reimagining that will allegedly see the remains of Dragster reborn with a new launch system, a new ride experience, new trains, and almost certainly, a new name. Stay tuned as more details emerge and construction picks up, because all signs point to the park’s promised “new formula for thrills” serving as its headliner for 2024.
2. NEMESIS (Alton Towers)
STATUS: Dismantled… for now
Alton Towers in the U.K. is a park with a legendary coaster collection anchored by 1994’s Nemesis – an ultra-intense, hyper-customized, very iconic B&M inverted coaster. Famously, Alton Towers’ location in the English countryside comes with significant restrictions, like requiring coasters to remain below the treeline and unheard by neighbors. Nemesis fits the bill by being nearly entirely contained to subterranean caverns and rocky chasms, twisting and diving through the petrified exoskeleton of an alien beast.
A massive marketing effort in 2022 led up to the ride’s closure in November, after which the ride was swiftly demolished. Kind of. In fact, Nemesis is in the midst of the same treatment Universal gave to Islands of Adventure’s Incredible Hulk from 2015 to 2016. That is, it’s being precisely rebuilt but with all new track and supports (in this case, switching from rusted white to black with “veins” along the steel spine).
We don’t yet know exactly when the “reborn” Nemesis will emerge… but at least we know that this coaster’s closure was planned, and so is its return… the same can’t be said for…
3. EL TORO (Six Flags Great Adventure)
STATUS: Re-opened after a very rough set of years
When El Toro opened in 2006, it seemed like the future of wooden roller coasters could be riding on it. El Toro is unusual among its wooden siblings because it’s “pre-fabricated,” meaning that instead of pieces being sawed and assembled on-site (like nearly all wooden coasters), El Toro’s track was laser cut, then shipped to the park with every piece labeled for precision assembly. That unusual process gives Intamin’s pre-fabricated wooden coasters their nickname (“plug-and-play”) as well as their unique experience of being ridiculously smooth and nimble, able to tackle elements that most wooden coasters can’t.
Like too many of Intamin’s more boundary-pushing rides, El Toro has hit some rough spots. In June 2021, a train partially derailed on the ride. No one was injured, but El Toro remained closed for the entire 2021 season.
As a result, it was a cause for celebration when it was announced that the ride would re-open in spring 2022… But just four months later, another incident with an allegedly misaligned “pothole” on the track saw 14 riders injured (including five who were sent to a local hospital). The state regulation board’s inspection reported that El Toro was “structurally compromised,” leading many to wonder if – like other problematic Intamin rides – El Toro might’ve unknowingly ridden its last.
Much to fans’ relief, El Toro officially re-opened June 17, 2023. Let’s just hope this time, everything’s in tip-top shape. Meanwhile, just as El Toro finally returned to operation, another Six Flags Great Adventure icon closed…