The need for speed…and safety

2 Aug

I’m standing in the queue for Rita at Alton Towers. I’ve been in the queue for about half an hour and am slowly creeping nearer to the front.

For those of you who have not experienced Rita before, it is one of the main attractions at Alton Towers.  Loosely based on a drag race, the Intamin accelerator coaster, to give it its scientific name, launches you from 0-62mph in just 2.2 seconds.

As I wait, I watch the ride above me on repeat as I stand in the queue. I hear the screams of people as the ride takes them up and down and round and round at a phenomenonal speed. Right above me is a net which has captured a number of pairs of sunglasses that have obviously flown off people’s heads.

As I inch closer to the front of the queue, the nerves start kicking in and the adrenalin starts pumping – that’ll be me soon. I just want to get it over and done with so I can say I’ve done it, but the waiting time gives me chance to study the ride – I make a mental note of where the camera is so I remember to smile, and I listen to which part of the ride produces the loudest screams, as obviously that will be the fastest, scariest bit.

I can see the platform now where people are nervously but excitedly getting in their carriage…and the people disembarking the ride while fixing their hair and laughing to their friends about how fast it was. “Oh my god, that was amazing,” I hear one girl shriek. “I bet I’ve got my eyes closed in the photo.”

There are about 35 people in front of me so it won’t be long now. But then I realise it’s all gone quiet. I don’t hear the whooshing sound of the rollercoaster as it speeds round the track or the continuous screams from the people on the ride. The ride has stopped. Rita has died.

“We regret to inform customers that Rita is currently unavailable due to a technical fault. We apologise for any inconvenience and hope to have her up and running again shortly.” As other people in the crowd respond to the announcement with a loud groan and leave the queue, I immediately put on my health and safety hat.

What technical issue? How long will it take to fix? What procedures do they have in place for fixing such an issue? As far as I can tell, there’s no one stuck on the ride, which would be my worst nightmare, but how have they come to realise that there’s a technical hitch?

As more and more people either become too impatient or think the ride is now unsafe, I edge closer to the front of the queue. Although I realise they won’t let people on the ride again until they know it’s completely safe, a part of me hopes I won’t be the first to ride once it starts up again.

After about 10 minutes with no movement and being surrounded by some increasingly impatient people all sharing horror stories about being stuck on rides, there is an announcement to say they will be carrying out a test run of the ride.

We all watch in anticipation as an empty Rita launches and flies around the track. The silence is deafening. There are no screams, but ironically the camera still takes a photo of the empty carriages. The ride ends and we wait for an outcome. It seems like forever but then finally the front of the queue moves forward and people are allowed to ride Rita again.

Luckily I’m not on the first ride. The people sat in the carriages look even more anxious than normal though. “Please let it be fixed. Please don’t let it get stuck,” I hear them pray. The ride starts and they are launched at 62mph round the track. The welcome return of screaming is hopefully a good sign. They seem to be screaming for all the right reasons.

Now it’s my turn. I take a deep breath as I take my seat in the carriage. I pull my harness down over me, ensuring it’s firmly locked in place. And we’re off. The force is incredible. I close my eyes and hold on for dear life. I think I’m screaming louder than anyone else. And then it’s over. It’s funny how we patiently queue for an hour and all for 45 seconds of sheer fear and adrenalin.

I’m pleased to say I did it and didn’t end up getting stuck – well done to the Alton Towers crew who fixed the ride quickly and efficiently. Needless to say, I wasn’t smiling in my photo…and my eyes were firmly shut!



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