June 2015 

Braking News

How manually operated roller coasters in Europe stay on track

by Juliana Gilling

In these days of increasing automation and driverless vehicles, there are amusement parks in Europe that still use an old-fashioned, hands-on solution to keep their retro roller coasters on track. Here, Funworld Extra highlights two parks that are keeping the tradition of onboard brake operators alive.


Time Travelling with ‘Rutschebanen’

At the grand old age of 101, “Rutschebanen” (Danish for “roller coaster”) remains the most popular ride at Tivoli in Denmark, as well as its oldest. “Rutschebanen” is one of only seven coasters worldwide operating with “brake men” (and women) on board.

Opened on June 12, 1914, just before the First World War broke out, “Rutschebanen” was built by L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway Company and Valdemar Lebech. It is a classic wooden roller coaster that rises to a height of 26 metres and is capable of reaching a top speed of 58 kph (35-40 kph is the norm) along 625 metres of track. There are five 20-seat trains in total, although no more than three trains run at a time. Around 1,800 people an hour can enjoy the two-minute ride.

More than a century on, “Rutschebanen” continues to amuse guests of all ages, according to Mogens Ramsløv, Tivoli’s vice president for operations and security: “It’s a one-of-a-kind ride that you have to try. It differs a little from trip to trip because of the brake men. Maybe I ride it too much, but I can tell the difference between them—you never get exactly the same ride. It’s a really great roller coaster experience.”

Trains are drawn up by a cable to the highest point of the roller coaster before gravity takes over. The brake operator, who sits between the first and second carriages, uses a manual brake to slow the train at key points, ensuring that it doesn’t jump the track. “We have seen it happen a couple of times, but there was no danger at all. It was an inconvenience because people had to get out and walk down the roller coaster, but that’s all,” says Ramsløv.

Staff training is essential to “Rutschebanen’s” success. Around 10-15 of Tivoli’s staff are qualified to drive the coaster. New recruits learn on the job alongside an experienced brake operator. “It’s about making sure the brake men understand the physical limits of the track and how to control the speeds,” says Ramsløv.

Tivoli’s team have discussed the possibility of an alternative braking system, which could improve the roller coaster’s reliability: “When it’s raining heavily, for example, we have to stop the ride because the track gets a little too smooth and you cannot control the brake,” says Ramsløv. But fitting new braking technology would prove costly and “we simply haven’t seen the need for it,” he says.

“Rutschebanen” is Tivoli’s “most reliable coaster and ride, but it also requires the most maintenance,” he adds. As well as the daily checks carried out by Tivoli’s team, regular renewal work takes place on the coaster, including the track and braking system. For “Rutschebanen’s” centenary last year, Tivoli celebrated by restoring the ride’s mountain scenery, which features a 20-metre-high waterfall, and building a new station. It was Tivoli’s way of honouring the roller coaster and the millions of passengers who have loved it.

“It’s still the same trip, but the environment you are riding in is completely different,” explains Ramsløv. “There will always be room in the market for a coaster like Rutschebanen. It’s wonderful that we still have this special ride with a brake man. It’s the heritage of Tivoli,” he says. As long as there are families and friends looking for fun, coaster fans seeking nostalgic thrills, and guests wanting to try a ride that has stood the test of time, it is clear this centenarian will run and run.


Did You Know?

- “Rutschebanen’s” original mountain peaks were removed in 1925.

- In 1944 “Rutschebanen” was blown up by Nazi sympathizers, but immediately repaired.

- In 1945, due to fuel shortages, the trains had to be pulled up to the top by hand.

- Safety bars were only added to the roller coaster in 1990.

- Women did not serve as “brake men” on “Rutschebanen” until 2006.

Linnanmäki’s Classic Coaster Lives On

“Vuoristorata” has long been a landmark at Finnish amusement park Linnanmäki. Valdemar Lebech designed the wooden roller coaster based on blueprints he created for eight previous rides, including “Rutschebanen” at Tivoli.

“Vuoristorata” opened on July 13, 1951, a year after Linnanmäki made its debut. The park’s founders invested in the attraction in a bid to woo guests heading to the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. “The lifetime of this roller coaster was supposed to be just a few years. But, with good maintenance, ‘Vuoristorata’ is still running and is still our most popular ride,” says Marko Tikkanen, operations director at Linnanmäki. The American Coaster Enthusiasts have deemed it an ACE Coaster Classic ride.


Apart from the frames of the trains, which are made of oak, little remains of the original structure, although all restoration work has been carried out sympathetically. However, the ride continues to retain its brake men. On “Vuoristorata,” the brake operator stands at the end of each train, adjusting its speed with a handbrake.

Over the years the ride has changed in a number of ways. Traffic lights have been introduced to different parts of the track, helping the brake operators to drive safely. A pneumatic brake system acts as a backup and emergency brakes have been added to every corner. The train can be stopped from the platform if necessary. Brake operators also wear radio phones for communication.

“The position of brake man is considered one of the most respected jobs at the amusement park,” says Tikkanen. Candidates are usually selected from Linnanmäki’s experienced team of ride operators. “Vuoristorata’s” brake operators must be physically fit and have a strong stomach. Trainees are mentored by older brake men and undergo two weeks of training, covering both theory and practice.

Linnanmäki’s oldest brake man was Topi Lipponen, who retired in 2012 after serving as a brake man for 37 years. A brake man’s age is measured by their working years and Linnanmäki is preserving Lipponen’s “number-one” ranking to mark his achievement.

In spite of its age, and with the help of the brake men, “Vuoristorata” remains the most popular ride at Linnanmäki. In 2015, the coaster continues to be one of the most recognizable parts of Helsinki’s cityscape, one of the park’s signature attractions, and the guests’ favourite.


“Vuoristorata’s” Vital Statistics

Height: 25 metres

Track length: 960 metres

Top speed: 64 kph

Ride time: 2 minutes, 15 seconds

Trains: Four 22-seat trains

Rider capacity per hour: 1,200

Maintenance schedule: Annually, around 100 metres of track is renewed and one train is disassembled and repainted. Other trains and track areas are also serviced every season, and the ride is inspected daily.

6. Vuoristorata

For more on iconic rides, check out Funworld magazine’s June edition, which features a story on Latin America’s legendary attractions: http://www.iaapa.org/news/funworld/funworld-magazine/legendary-attractions---june-2015

Juliana Gilling is a contributing editor for IAAPA’s Funworld magazine, covering the European attractions industry. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail.com.