The History of the Pipeline Coaster



Spaland's Ultra Twister

Roller coasters can generally be grouped into two categories: standard over-the-track coasters, and hanging coasters. A hanging coaster, of course, is any coaster that runs underneath it's tracks, such as a suspended coaster, or an inverted coaster. The other category includes any wood or steel coaster that runs above it's rails. There are a few types of coasters that don't seem to fit into either of these categories. Vekoma's "Flying Dutchman" design, for example, seems to fit into both these categories. However, there is one type of coaster that completely defies this kind of categorization: the Pipeline coaster. Pipeline coasters are special because their cars run directly between the rails. This allows them to perform barrel rolls; a maneuver that no other type of coaster can pull off. In a barrel roll, the train completes a perfect roll around it's axis of travel while facing directly forwards the entire time.

Placing the car between the tracks presented some difficult engineering challenges. It meant that the tracks had to be very far apart, and holding them at a fixed distance that far apart was troublesome. It also meant that the tracks are by the side of the car and thus act as an unpleasant obstruction to loading and unloading passengers.

"Ultra Twister" at Six Flags Great Adventure with its origianl vertical lift

The first pipeline coaster was devised by Kazou Yamada of the Japanese manufacturer TOGO. TOGO solved the problem of keeping the rails at a fixed distance by using multiple spined track and very heavy ribs, and thick steel rings on the barrel rolls. The loading difficulties were overcome by removing the side rails at the station and having the cars roll on a different set of rails located underneath them. Unfortunately, TOGO's pipeline design cannot turn corners because of the design of the cars. To complete a full circuit, the coaster uses transfer sections to switch between an upper and lower track. This also means that the cars traverse the bottom run of track in reverse. The standard TOGO "Ultra Twister" layout features a vertical lift,vertical drop, and three barrel roll inversions. TOGO settled on this layout after toying with a number of alternative ones. One of these alternatives is shown at right, along with the standard layout. In this layout, the car travels forwards the entire length of the track, and also performs extra inversion, similar to Manhattan Express's "Twist and Dive", instead of a second transfer track. All of TOGO's Ultra Twsiters use the standard design, except for the one built at Rusutsu Resort (Rusutsu, Japan), which features the alternative layout pictured to the left. TOGO installed the first pipeline coaster at Nagashima Spaland (Nagoya, Japan) in 1985. Since then, TOGO has installed "Ultra Twisters" at several parks including Mitsui Greenland (Kumamoto, Japan), Rusutsu Resort (Sapporo, Japan), Korakuen (Tokyo, Japan), and Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey). The one at Six Flags Great Adventure but moved to Six Flags Astroworld in 1990. It's lift hill was also modified in 1990 from the standard vertical lift, to a 45º configuration. The Ultra Twister at Korakuen was removed to make room for the world's first Intamin "Impulse Coaster", Linear Gale, which opened in 1998.


Top: TOGO's standard "Ultra Twister" layout Bottom: A variation on this layout

Arrow's pipeline prototype under construction

The next company to design a pipeline coaster was Arrow. After working on the design for much of the late eighties, they finally built a prototype. This coaster was ready to carry it's first passengers by the summer of 1990. The first four people to ride the pipeline prototype were Michael Smith, Dal Freeman, and Larry Miller from Arrow; and Randy Geisler, then president of ACE. The trials were very successful; however, Arrow still had problems, such as the pipeline loading problem, the weight of the trains, the cost, and the roughness. Because of these problems, no Arrow pipeline coasters have ever been produced for a park. Since 1990, Arrow has reportedly reduced the train's weight by about 50%, and fixed various other problems. Hopes of seeing a full production Arrow pipeline coaster were ended in December of 2001 when Arrow filed for bankruptcy protection.

Workers attach the last section of track for the pipeline prototype

Intamin's pipeline "Spiral Coaster"

It wasn't until 1995 that the first ideal pipeline coaster was built. Intamin's "Spiral Coaster" at Lotte World Sky Plaza (Pusan, South Korea) was both practical, and capable of negotiating corners. The coaster features four inversion elements: two barrel rolls and two diving turns, with one of the latter in reverse. It also features a drive system developed especially for this coaster; it uses a single tire to make direct contact with the underside of the cars. This provides a smooth, consistent acceleration. Intamin's design is an ideal one: it loads easily, it has a very strong track system, and unlike Arrow's, runs very smoothly. Intamin offers their pipeline coaster either as a tire driven coaster, or as a standard chain-lift coaster. The "Spiral Coaster" was moved in the year 2000 to Al Sha-ab Leisure Park in Kuwait.

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A model of TOGO's racing pipeline coaster model, shown at IAAPA

There also exist a few Pipeline designs that have not yet been built. For example, TOGO also offers a dual track version of their Ultra Twister design. This coaster features the standard vertical drop, along with about six inversions per side. This version also features lateral turns. It manages those by banking to 90º, and pulling up as it would at the bottom of a hill. Intamin has also shown an alternative layout for their pipeline design. Even an LIM Pipeline design, made possible by the merger of Premier Rides with TOGO, is a viable attraction, just waiting for a customer now. Roller coaster enthusiasts can only hope that in the future we will finally see increased interest in pipeline coasters. It's a shame that they are so rare, since they are so versatile. They can be built to be very compact, or very large, and can perform maneuvers that no other type of coaster can perform. Hopefully, in the future, more amusement parks will see the incredible potential of the pipeline coaster.

Written by James Kay
Photos: TOGO, Fabriweld, Intamin