Report says Alton Towers Smiler accident result of manual safety override

Posted Sunday, August 23, 2015 8:46 AM | Contributed by Jeff

Two staff from Alton Towers are under investigation over the horrific Smiler ride crash that seriously injured four people, including two young women who each lost a leg. According to The Daily Mail, an engineer overrode an automatic safety lock, allowing the ride operator to send the carriage full of people careering into an empty vehicle that had ‘stalled’ further down the track.

Read more from The Daily Mail.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015 8:48 AM
Jeff's avatar

This is pretty much what we all assumed happened. I can't imagine that you ever put the ride in manual mode loaded. Ever.


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Sunday, August 23, 2015 12:28 PM

And somebody's feeling pretty badly about himself today.
What a terrible shame.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015 1:28 PM
Rick_UK's avatar

I'm sure he/she have been having horrific nightmares about it since June.


Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015 2:12 PM
rollergator's avatar

I had stated on an earlier thread that no single individual should be allowed to restart the ride after a sensor-initiated shutdown. Turns out it did take two people to override the system, and both of them failed to recognize and act to protect the safety of the passengers. I'm certain that both of them feel horribly, and my intention isn't to point the finger at them as people, but to indicate where improved safeguards might be more effective to prevent a similar incident in the future.

Thinking the failure of the first train to "appear" at the next block might prevent an override without having someone physically walk up to that block brake and replace the (apparently) broken sensor that failed to find that first train HAD arrived but wasn't found by the control system.

Last edited by rollergator, Sunday, August 23, 2015 2:12 PM

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

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Sunday, August 23, 2015 6:43 PM

The news article makes it sound like that the possibility of overriding the control system is a mistake. Well, I am not certain the knee jerk reaction of completely prohibiting the ride system to be overridden is the correct choice either. I can think of multiple scenarios where overriding the control system would be a safer course of action, opposed to evacuating a ride mid-course.


Fever I really enjoy the Simpsons. It's just a shame that I am starting to LOOK like Homer.
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Sunday, August 23, 2015 9:13 PM

The rule at my former job was an automatic evac for any e-stop. No question. Unless it was a quick block violation that the system could automatically correct when vehicles moved to appopriate spots, the ride would be evacuated for this very reason. An evac may be an annoyance, but to get things going again the ride had to be put in manual mode, and doing so with guests on vehicles was not an option.

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Monday, August 24, 2015 4:29 AM
Rick_UK's avatar

^ I guess it depends on the hardware you're using. Some rides can't be evac-ed easily. Maurer mice and spinners for example don't have the means for guests to get out at every block.

Also, dealing with the public at height during an evac is my least favourite experience of working in an amusement park. They either tense up and don't want to move or they're uber confident and hard work to manage.


Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Monday, August 24, 2015 8:58 AM

I can't imagine a ride where riders can't get out at a holding brake would even pass. It seems like that would not only be inconvenient during an evac situation but also for maintenance of said brake and sensors.

Then there's, where is it, Japan? Where every coaster has to have a catwalk along every inch of track? Now, that might qualify as overkill. (Please put a catwalk down this 250 foot drop. You know, in case anyone should have to walk down...)

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Monday, August 24, 2015 11:19 AM
Rick_UK's avatar

^ Many coasters with single cars have ladder access to platforms, rather than stairs for the exact reason I mentioned - evacs are typically but not always a last resort. Having people sat on a brake or a lift for an hour or so is preferable to walking 36 riders down a 300ft lift hill, because it can take an hour to get them all off.

Not to mention an SLC, for instance. Many SLC evac platforms have never been used because it's so much work to get everyone off. The stairs are inaccessible from the train, of course.

Last edited by Rick_UK, Monday, August 24, 2015 11:21 AM

Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 2:41 AM
Carrie J.'s avatar

If I understand correctly, they not only dispatched the passenger train before the empty test train returned, which already doesn't make sense, but then after the safety system engaged and stopped the passenger train on the lift, 10 minutes passed without their recognition that they are missing a train and they overrode the system to push the passenger train through.

Folks, that's more than just a mistake or error, that's gross negligence. And they're both still working at the park? That doesn't make sense to me.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 8:02 AM
Rick_UK's avatar

^ I don't think the above is quite right, or at least we don't know.

The Smiler has a unique lift whereby the train can be lowered backwards down the lift hill, so rather than evacuating the train at the top, it can be lowered to the flat platform at the bottom. It's possible that instead of reversing the train down the lift, it was sent forward, manually - into the empty train.

Also, the ride is like a Wild Mouse whereby when all trains are stopped, they're not all in the station area. There's a ton of things that we don't know yet, also it's worth noting that this 'news' comes from the Daily Mail which is somewhat of a joke in the UK.

In terms of negligence, I suppose it depends if the operators/tech member in question did something that directly contradicts the procedure supplied by the park, or if the procedure was incorrect or inconclusive of what to do in this event.


Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 11:20 AM
Pete's avatar

Well, even if not all of the trains stop in the station area, they at least must all be accounted for if the safety system is overridden. Not doing that sure counts as gross negligence to me.


I'd rather be in my boat with a drink on the rocks, than in the drink with a boat on the rocks.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 12:25 PM
Rick_UK's avatar

Pete said:

Well, even if not all of the trains stop in the station area, they at least must all be accounted for if the safety system is overridden. Not doing that sure counts as gross negligence to me.

As I said, it may be that the stalled train was identified and the attempt to move the train on the lift away from the stalled train to allow an evacuation resulted in the train being sent the wrong way.

It's a new thing - as far as I know, no other coaster has this function, but I assume you could do it on a tire driven lift?


Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 12:59 PM
Carrie J.'s avatar

I didn't know about the reverse lift, so I appreciate the additional perspective, Rick. That scenario would lean more to the possibility of mistake over gross negligence. But it's still sticking with me that there should never be a time when a train of passengers is moved when the safety system has accurately engaged. And perhaps this is the learning example of reason. Evacuation from any point on the lift, though stressful in its own right, would always be better than the chance of something like this happening.

It's admittedly difficult for me to give any benefit of the doubt given the monumentally horrific outcome. I'll own that.


"If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins." --- Benjamin Franklin

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 2:02 PM
CoasterDiscern's avatar

Would they now Install Bumpers on the trains following this major incident? Or do any other type Modification to the trains? Curious if anyone might have information on this. What do you guys suspect will happen?


Ask not what you can do for a coaster, but what a coaster can do for you.
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Friday, September 4, 2015 11:58 PM

Fahrenheit also has a reversible lift mechanism. And of course, the launched coasters are mostly designed to roll backwards after a failed launch.

There are some great points in this conversation about evacuations. It's worth noting that the latest version of the ASTM ride design standard actually includes a reminder that the normal loading and unloading areas are preferred for evacuation, followed by planned evacuation points such as block brake platforms, then other locations as a last resort. The section on safety related control systems also indicates that the control system needs to be able to facilitate an equipment re-orientation. What all of this means is that if the ride shuts itself down, it needs to allow for enough of a system override to get the people off of the ride.

But the point of an override is that you are putting the responsibility for the safe operation of the ride into the hands of a qualified person. The system initiated stop happens because the ride system has gotten into a condition that the ride control system cannot handle. This makes it particularly important that the operator understand exactly what is happening and how to clear the ride in a safe manner.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.


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Wednesday, February 7, 2018 4:23 PM

The Causality podcast created an excellent episode detailing everything that went wrong. It's dry but should be interesting to this crowd.


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Thursday, February 8, 2018 2:38 AM

Also an interesting read – the personal side of the accident:

http://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/reports/a16668732/leah-washington-in...-joe-pugh/


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