Wooden Car Design
The wooden car design is very simple considering it was the first car design for a roller coaster. The first patented roller coaster was fashioned out of an unused railway by LaMarcus Adna Thompson and the cars were railroad trains which road on a wooden track. This idea continued to grow into the wooden roller coasters we know today. Depending on the design of the car and whether it's the front car or not, a wooden roller coaster car can have a number of wheels ranging from 2 to 8 wheels (not including looping woodies which have to have 12 wheels per car, standard). Shown at the right is a diagram of an old style, middle, wooden roller coaster car. Notice how it only has 2 wheels. This is because the front weight of the car rests on the back wheels of the car in front of it and the back weight of the car rests on its own 2 wheels. The reason the front car has more wheels is because it needs to support its own front weight because there is no car in front of it. Some newer (today basically) wooden coaster cars have wheels on the inside of the track (side-friction wheels) and wheels under the track (upstop wheels) to further prevent the posibility of de-railment. With all these safety wheels, the total number of wheels comes to 12 per car and 120 wheels per train! (assuming there are 10 cars per train) That's a LOT of wheels! The ideas for these types of wheels were developed by John Miller. Some other designs include each car to have the same design as the front car for better durrabillity. The type of wheel also differs between wood and steel coasters. The materials in each wheel differ because they both go to work under different conditions. Because the woodie cars ride on rough steel plates, the wheels have to be durable, long lasting, and flat. The design of the steel car's wheels is explained in the steel car design section below. Also, because of the wooden track design itself, wooden roller coasters are:
- Not very fast.
- Do not have invertions (at least true woodies do not).
- Do not have steep drops or turns (for the most part).
- More shaky and wild.
You know how wooden coasters always give you that fear in the back of your head that it is unstable, colapsable, and overall dangerous because they have cars going highway speeds on wood! Well this is all psychological fear because it is all untrue. In fact, believe it or not, wooden roller coasters are actually safer than some steel coasters and that you have a greater chance of getting hurt by crossing the street than riding a woodie! Some coaster designers actually design woodies to look old and rickety to increase the thrill and scary nature of the ride. All cars and track designs are state of the art and should not be woried about.
Steel Car Design
The steel car design is a lot more modern, more high tech, and safer. Its design also differs a lot more than a wooden coaster car because there are many different types of steel coasters which require different car designs. Also, steel cars in general alow steel coasters them selves to go faster, do invertions, bank, have bigger drops, etc. I have broken up the car into three major parts that differ from the wooden cars below; the wheels, the car frame, and the safety systems and safety bars.
Steel roller coaster car wheels are a bit more "cleaner" than wooden coaster cars. They are not as rough as woodies, and a little wider in diameter. Most steel car's wheels are made of polyurethane-coated wheels which alow the car to be smoother and be able to go down steeper drops and go faster than a wooden roller coaster. Steel cars also have more wheels. One steel roller coaster car can have from 12 wheels to 20 wheels (like X2). For X2 (shown to the right ), each train has 140 high-tech, state-of-the-art, decinigration proof wheels! That is a lot of wheels! And guess what, each wheel costs over ~$5,000! That really sucks if one of their wheels gets broken. Okay, back on topic now. Steel cars usually have a wheel on the top of the track, the side of the track, and under the track. The wheel(s) on top of the track are called running wheels. They support the main weight of the car throughout the ride (usually). The wheels on the side of the track are called side-friction wheels. The keep the car centered in the center of the track. Lastly, the wheels under the track are called upstop wheels. Their job is to keep the car from de-railing durring inversions, steep drops, and air-time. Some steel cars have more wheels on the top, sides, or bottom to increase duribility and saftey of the car. Steel car wheels are also rounded and not flat like woodies. This is because the car rides on a tubular track and not a flat one so curving the wheels grips the track better.
The car frame also differs. It can come in many different shapes, sizes, and designs. The frame is mainly based on what type of roller coaster it is. Wooden roller coaster cars, on the other hand, are usually just a box car and can vary a little between rides. The seats can be just sitting down, advanced seat, or even no seat (standup coaster) for steel rides. Some coasters are designed to go at fast speeds so designers make the cars aero-dynamic to reduce drag on the car and to maintain speed throughout the ride. Most car frames are made of carbon fiber and steel and are a bit more durable then wooden coaster cars.
There isn't a huge difference between the safety bars of a wooden car and a steel car, but there is a difference. Wooden roller coasters, by standards, have to have at least one measure of safety on their cars. This can range from a simple seat belt (not very common any more), to a lap bar, and sometimes, even to a shoulder harnest (for looping coasters). But since there are practicly no more than 3 to 5 wooden, looping coasters in the world, i'm going to say that wooden roller coaster cars, basicaly, will never have a shoulder harnest where ever you will go. The reason for this is that (most) wooden roller coasters do not have inversions so all they need is simple lap bar. On the other hand, steel cars usually have more safety bars. If the ride does not do any inversions, it will probably have just a lap bar. If the ride does have inversions, it will either have a shoulder harnest, a combination of a shoulder harnest and a lap bar, or a harnest that is designed for the ride's type that probably immitates a shoulder harnest. For extra safety, newer rides have added seat belts just incase a harnest were to fail. But the chances of a harnest failing is 3% or less. Steel cars can also hold safety systems. These are basically computers that are in the car but cannot be put in wooden coaster cars because there is not enough room. All they do is moniter the car through out the whole ride making sure all the harnests stay locked and that the car is "safe." But don't think the computer is gonna kill you by purpously opening your harnest. It is now impossible these days for that to happen because the only way that computer will do that is if another computer tells it to and the only computer that can do that is in the station, safe from any danger.