Brake run

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A brake run on a roller coaster is any section of track meant to slow or stop a roller coaster train. [1] Brake runs may be located anywhere along the circuit of a coaster and may be designed to bring the train to a complete halt or to simply adjust the train's speed. Contrary to some belief, the vast majority of roller coasters do not have any form of braking on the train itself, but rather forms of braking that exist on track sections. One notable exception is the Scenic Railway roller coaster, which relies on an operator to manually control the speed of the train.


On most roller coasters, the brakes are controlled by a computer system. Some older coasters have manually operated friction or skid brakes, some with a pneumatic assist. These are either engaged at the control panel or operated by pulling or pushing large levers in the station.

Trim brakes

Trim brakes are sections of brakes which are intended to adjust a train's speed during its course rather than bring the train to a complete stop. They may be engineered into a ride at its design stages at certain anticipated troubled spots, or later retrofitted once it is discovered that trains traverse certain areas at higher-than-anticipated speeds. Trim brakes are often either added for safety reasons, to lower g-forces in certain areas, or for maintenance/mechanical reasons, to lower the cost of wear-and-tear damage (especially on wooden roller coasters) caused by the trains traveling at faster than normal speeds. Usually, a proximity sensor precedes the trim brake in order to identify the current speed of the passing train. From this, the trim will then grab the train's brake fins to reduce the train's speed to that set by the control system.

Block brakes

Block brakes are sections of brakes located on any roller coaster wherever more than one train is intended to run. They act as virtual barriers between the trains running on the roller coaster, preventing collisions should one train stop along the course for any reason. Block brakes must be capable of completely stopping the train (should a vehicle preceding the block stop) and starting a train (after it has been stopped). Block brake sections usually start the train again either by using a slight downward slope to let gravity take its course, or by using drive tires to push the train out of the block. Like trim brakes, block brakes can also be used to control the speed of the train. These are usually known as mid-course brake runs. An example of a mid-course brake run is on Titan at Six Flags Over Texas, which consists of such a brake run (which slows the train down drastically, almost to the point of stopping) due to the severe G-forces in its downward 540-degree helix following the brake run. Mid-course brake runs give more time for another train to be loaded.

Types of brakes

Various types of braking exist when dealing with roller coasters, some of which have been recently developed due to technological advancements in design.

Skid brakes are common on older wooden roller coasters, such as Thunderbolt at Kennywood Tbolt-skidbrakes.jpg
Skid brakes are common on older wooden roller coasters, such as Thunderbolt at Kennywood

Skid brakes

Skid brakes essentially involve a long piece of material, often ceramic-covered, situated in the middle of the track parallel to the rails. When the brake is engaged, the skid raises and friction against the underside of the train causes the train to slow and eventually stop. Skid brakes were one of the first advancements in roller coaster braking and are typically not utilized in modern creations with the exception of Twister at Knoebels Amusement Resort in Elysburg, PA and the Matterhorn at Disneyland in California.

Side mounted brakes are common on Schwarzkopf roller coasters, such as Scorpion at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Scorpionbrakerun.jpg
Side mounted brakes are common on Schwarzkopf roller coasters, such as Scorpion at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Friction brakes on Speed: No Limits at Oakwood Theme Park Frictionbrakes.jpg
Friction brakes on Speed: No Limits at Oakwood Theme Park

Fin brakes

Fin brakes involve a metal fin being attached to the underside of a train. The track is fitted with two computer-controlled squeezing mechanisms which upon closing, squeeze the fin and either slow or stop the train. Fin brakes are the most common form of brakes on roller coasters today. Sometimes they are thick metal box beams (mostly on Bolliger & Mabillard roller coasters); others are thin metal plates. They slide between pairs of friction pads similar to automotive brake pads. Fin brakes are designed to be fail-safe, so that a loss of power will cause them to engage. Brakes are constructed according to a certain measure of redundancy, meaning the ride is usually fitted with one extra set of brakes to bring the train to a hold even if one brake fails. Opening is done by a bellows type of air-operated actuator. Each set of brakes is fitted with its own air supply system controlled by supply valves which open the brake when it is safe to do so. A heavy spring, usually made of steel, is used to hold the brake closed by default.

Magnetic brakes

Rather than slowing a train via friction (such as fin or skid brakes), which can often be affected by various elements such as rain, magnetic brakes brakes rely completely on certain magnetic properties and resistance. In fact, magnetic brakes never come in contact with the train.

Magnetic brakes are made up of one or two rows of neodymium magnets. When a metal fin (typically copper or a copper/aluminum alloy) passes between the rows of magnets, eddy currents are generated in the fin, which creates a magnetic force opposing the fin's motion. The resultant braking force is directly proportional to the speed at which the fin is moving through the brake element. This very property, however, is also one of magnetic braking's disadvantages in that the eddy force itself can never completely hold a train in ideal condition. It is then often necessary to hold the train in place with an additional set of fin brakes or "kicker wheels" which are simple rubber tires that make contact with the train and effectively park it.

Magnetic brakes can be found in two configurations:

Magnetic brakes are silent and are much smoother than friction brakes, gradually increasing the braking power so that the people on the ride do not experience rapid changes in deceleration. Many modern roller coasters, especially those being manufactured by Intamin, have utilized magnetic braking for several years. Another major roller coaster designer implementing these brakes is Bolliger & Mabillard in 2004 on their Silver Bullet inverted coaster, making it the first inverted roller coaster to feature magnetic brakes, and again used them on their newer projects, such as Leviathan at Canada's Wonderland. These later applications have proven effectively comfortable and relevant for these inverted coasters which often give the sense of flight. There also exist third party companies such as Magnetar Technologies Corp. which provide various configurations of the technology to be used to replace and retrofit braking systems on existing roller coasters to increase safety, improve rider comfort, and lower maintenance costs and labor.

Magnetic brakes on Speed, located before the friction brakes. These track-mounted fins can be retracted to allow the train to pass without slowing it down. Magneticbrakes.jpg
Magnetic brakes on Speed, located before the friction brakes. These track-mounted fins can be retracted to allow the train to pass without slowing it down.

A disadvantage of magnetic brakes is that they cannot completely stop a train, and as such cannot be used as block brakes. They also cannot be conventionally disengaged like other types of brakes. Instead, the fins or magnets must be retracted so that the fins no longer pass between the magnets. Accelerator Coasters, for example, have a series of magnetic brake fins located on the launch track. When the train is launched, the brakes are retracted to allow the train to reach its full speed. After the train is launched, the brake fins are raised to safely slow the train down in the event of a rollback. This is currently in place at the Top Thrill Dragster of Cedar Point and Kingda Ka of Six Flags Great Adventure, where magnets on the track lower during launch and raise to slow the train in such event.

Related Research Articles

Roller coaster Rail-based amusement park ride

A roller coaster, also called a rollercoaster, is a type of amusement ride that employs a form of elevated railroad track designed with tight turns, steep slopes, and sometimes inversions. People ride along the track in open cars, and the rides are often found in amusement parks and theme parks around the world. LaMarcus Adna Thompson obtained one of the first known patents for a roller coaster design in 1885, related to the Switchback Railway that opened a year earlier at Coney Island. The track in a coaster design does not necessarily have to be a complete circuit, as shuttle roller coasters demonstrate. Most roller coasters have multiple cars in which passengers sit and are restrained. Two or more cars hooked together are called a train. Some roller coasters, notably Wild Mouse roller coasters, run with single cars.

Inverted roller coaster

An inverted roller coaster is a roller coaster in which the train runs under the track with the seats directly attached to the wheel carriage. This latter attribute is what sets it apart from the older suspended coaster, which runs under the track, but swings via a pivoting bar attached to the wheel carriage. The coaster type's inverted orientation, where the passengers' legs are exposed, distinguishes it from a traditional roller coaster, where the passengers' arms are instead exposed.

Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure

Kingda Ka is a launched roller coaster located at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, United States. Designed by Werner Stengel, Kingda Ka is an Accelerator Coaster model from Intamin that opened as the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world on May 21, 2005. It is also the second-ever strata coaster, a full-circuit roller coaster taller than 400 feet (120 m); Top Thrill Dragster was the first and previously held both records.

Bolliger & Mabillard, officially Bolliger & Mabillard Consulting Engineers, Inc. and often abbreviated B&M, is a roller coaster design consultancy based in Monthey, Switzerland. The company was founded in 1988 by Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard, both of whom had worked for Giovanola.

Launched roller coaster Modern form of roller coaster

The launched roller coaster is a modern form of roller coaster. A launched coaster initiates a ride with high amounts of acceleration via one or a series of linear induction motors (LIM), linear synchronous motors (LSM), catapults, tires, chains, or other mechanisms employing hydraulic or pneumatic power. This mode of acceleration powers many of the fastest rollercoasters in the world.

Eddy current brake

An eddy current brake, also known as an induction brake, electric brake or electric retarder, is a device used to slow or stop a moving object by dissipating its kinetic energy as heat. Unlike friction brakes, where the drag force that stops the moving object is provided by friction between two surfaces pressed together, the drag force in an eddy current brake is an electromagnetic force between a magnet and a nearby conductive object in relative motion, due to eddy currents induced in the conductor through electromagnetic induction.

Nemesis (roller coaster) Inverted roller coaster at Alton Towers

Nemesis is an inverted roller coaster located at the Alton Towers theme park in England. It opened to the public on March 19, 1994. The ride was manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard and designed by Werner Stengel, in collaboration with attraction developer John Wardley. It is located in the Forbidden Valley area of the park, adjacent to Galactica and The Blade attractions.

Launch track

The launch track is the section of a launched roller coaster in which the train is accelerated to its full speed in a matter of seconds. A launch track is always straight and is usually banked upwards slightly, so that a train would roll backwards to the station in the event of a loss of power.

Xcelerator Launched roller coaster at Knotts Berry Farm

Xcelerator is a steel launched roller coaster at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. It was Intamin's first hydraulically launched coaster, while also the fourth Intamin installation at Knott's, alongside Sky Cabin, Calico River Rapids and Perilous Plunge.

Accelerator Coaster Roller coaster model by Intamin

An Accelerator Coaster is a hydraulically launched roller coaster model from Intamin. The model usually consists of a long, straight launch track, a top hat tower element, and magnetic brakes that smoothly stop the train without making contact. The technology was developed by Intamin engineers as an alternative to electromagnetic launch systems, such as the Linear Induction Motor (LIM) and Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM), that are found on earlier launched roller coasters like the Flight of Fear and The Joker's Jinx. Unlike the earlier linear induction motors, the Accelerator Coaster's launch system exhibits constant acceleration and is capable of reaching greater speeds.

Storm Runner Roller coaster at Hersheypark

Storm Runner is a launched roller coaster located at Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Manufactured by Intamin and situated in the Pioneer Frontier section of the park, the Accelerator Coaster opened to the public on May 8, 2004. It reaches a height of 169 feet (52 m) and catapults riders from 0 to 72 mph (116 km/h) in two seconds. Storm Runner features a top hat element, three inversions, a dual loading station and a magnetic braking system. In addition, it was designed to interact with three other Hersheypark rides: Dry Gulch Railroad, the Monorail, and Trailblazer.

Orient Express (roller coaster) Defunct roller coaster at Worlds of Fun

Orient Express was a steel roller coaster located at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Missouri. Introduced in 1980, the ride was manufactured by Arrow Huss and designed by Ron Toomer. The red-orange track was in between the two entrances of the park. The station house is still visible, and contains the park's haunted attraction Lore of the Vampire and Club Blood. In 2004, the ride was replaced by Spinning Dragons, a Gerstlauer spinning roller coaster, which is still in operation as of 2021.

Griffon (roller coaster) Steel roller coaster in Virginia

Griffon is a steel roller coaster located at Busch Gardens Williamsburg amusement park in James City County, Virginia. Designed by Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), the Dive Coaster model opened to the public on May 18, 2007. It climbs to a height of 205 feet (62 m) and reaches a maximum speed of 71 mph (114 km/h). The roller coaster features two Immelmann loops, a splashdown, two vertical drops, and was the first B&M Dive Coaster to use floorless trains. Griffon was well-received by media and enthusiasts, and it placed third in 2007 in the category of Best New Ride polled by Amusement Today for their annual Golden Ticket Awards. Since its debut, it has also consistently ranked in the top 50 among steel roller coasters worldwide in the same annual publication, peaking at 19th place in 2010.

Silver Star (roller coaster) Steel roller coaster at Europa-Park

Silver Star is a steel roller coaster located at Europa-Park, a theme park in Rust, Germany. The coaster has a height of 73 metres (240 ft) and a drop of 67 meters, placing it in the hyper coaster category. Although it is one of Bolliger & Mabillard's tallest coasters, it was surpassed as the tallest in Europe by Shambhala: Expedición al Himalaya at PortAventura Park in 2012. Silver Star has 3 trains which seat 36 people each, giving an hourly capacity of 1,750 passengers. This hypercoaster is situated in the French area of Europa Park and is sponsored by Mercedes-Benz.

Behemoth (roller coaster) roller coaster Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

Behemoth is a steel roller coaster located at Canada's Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario. Designed and developed by Swiss manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), Behemoth opened to the public in May 2008 as the tallest and fastest roller coaster in Canada, a claim it held until 2012 when Leviathan opened at the same park. Behemoth is similar to Diamondback, Intimidator (Carowinds), Goliath and Nitro.

Roller coaster elements are the individual parts of roller coaster design and operation, such as a track, hill, loop, or turn. Variations in normal track movement that add thrill or excitement to the ride are often called "thrill elements".


Kanonen is a steel roller coaster that will open at Lost Island Theme Park in Waterloo, Iowa in 2022. It originally opened at Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2005. Built by Intamin, the ride features a hydraulic launch. The tightly packed layout is the result of a limited area to house the ride. On 30 December 2016, Kanonen closed permanently and was replaced by Valkyria, a Bolliger & Mabillard dive coaster.

Intimidator (roller coaster) Steel roller coaster at Carowinds

Intimidator is a steel roller coaster built by Bolliger & Mabillard at Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. The roller coaster is located in the Celebration Plaza section of the park. Intimidator is the thirteenth roller coaster installed at Carowinds and is located on the site of the former Carowinds River Adventure near the entrance of the theme park. It is currently one of the tallest, fastest and longest roller coasters in the Southeast with a 232-foot (71 m) lift hill, a top speed of 75 mph (121 km/h) and a track length of 5,316 feet (1,620 m). It was announced on August 26, 2009 and opened March 27, 2010. The roller coaster's name comes from the nickname of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt.

Wing Coaster Type of roller coaster

Wing Coaster is engineering firm Bolliger & Mabillard’s designation for its winged roller coaster designs. Winged roller coasters are a type of steel roller coaster where pairs of riders sit on either side of a roller coaster track in which nothing is above or below the riders. B&M began development on the first Wing Coaster between 2007 and 2008 leading to the opening of Raptor at Gardaland on 1 April 2011. There are currently sixteen B&M-designed Wing Coasters either under construction or operating worldwide as of December 2020.

Nitro (Imagicaa) Floorless coaster at Imagicaa in India

Nitro is a steel Floorless Coaster at Imagicaa amusement park in Khopoli, Maharashtra, India. Manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard, the roller coaster reaches a maximum height of 132 feet (40 m) and a maximum speed of 65.2 miles per hour (104.9 km/h). The coaster also features five inversions. Nitro opened to the public in October 2013.


  1. "Roller Coasters | Glossary". Retrieved 2010-10-18.