The Smiler is a steel roller coaster located at Alton Towers in Staffordshire, United Kingdom. Manufactured by Gerstlauer, it opened in 2013 as the world's first Gerstlauer Infinity Coaster. With 14 inversions, The Smiler holds the world record for most inversions on a roller coaster. However, it has experienced a series of incidents. A malfunction at a press preview event delayed the official opening date by two weeks, and in 2015, a major collision left five riders seriously injured. An investigation by the UK government's Health and Safety Executive was initiated, and the ride eventually reopened the following season with revamped safety standards.
The Smiler trains dueling
|Opening date||31 May 2013|
|Replaced||The Black Hole|
|Track layout||Infinity Coaster 1170|
|Lift/launch system||2 Chain lift systems, 2nd is vertical.|
|Drop||98.4 ft (30.0 m)|
|Length||3,838.6 ft (1,170.0 m)|
|Speed||52.8 mph (85.0 km/h)|
|Height restriction||140 cm (4 ft 7 in)|
|Trains||4 trains with 4 cars. Riders are arranged 4 across in a single row for a total of 16 riders per train.|
|The Smiler at RCDB|
Pictures of The Smiler at RCDB
Plans to build The Smiler were submitted to the local authority in December 2011. Permission was granted on 15 March 2012 following a Staffordshire Moorlands Council meeting, despite some local opposition to its construction. Gerstlauer, a German manufacturing company, was hired to build the roller coaster. Less than a month after obtaining permission, Alton Towers launched a website announcing a new ride – codenamed Secret Weapon 7 (SW7) – for the 2013 season. Its codename followed a similar format used for other roller coasters during their teaser campaigns, such as SW4 for Oblivion and SW6 for Thirteen.
In June 2012, a trademark filed by Merlin Entertainments, parent company of Alton Towers, hinted that the new ride would be named The Smiler. On 17 October 2012, a number of facts about the coaster were revealed to the public including its maximum speed, track length, ride time, passengers per train and ride cost. Despite the release, Alton Towers did not announce or confirm the name for the ride.
The site for the new ride was determined to be an area in the park being occupied by the tent that previously contained the Black Hole, a roller coaster which closed after the 2005 season. The park began dismantling the remaining Black Hole structure on 12 April 2012. The first pieces of track arrived at the park in late October 2012. Sections of track were later moved to the construction site on 6 December 2012.
In January 2013, Alton Towers officially confirmed that the ride would be called The Smiler. In February 2013, the park revealed some of the ride's elements. The trains arrived in March 2013, as Alton Towers began posting images on both Twitter and their official Smiler website. Vertical construction was completed approximately one month later, as the final piece of track was installed at the top of the first lift hill.
Marketing for The Smiler started around the same time as construction when, on 11 April 2012, a minisite was launched allowing visitors to register for updates on the ride's progress. A competition to be the first to ride the rollercoaster, at this time codenamed "SW7", started in July. To enter guests were invited to scan a QR Code with their smartphone, which subsequently redirected to Alton Towers Official The Smiler Minisite where guests entered their details.
In September 2012, the park began the second stage of advertisement through the overnight spray painting of a stencil logo (which resemble a smiling face) all over the park. This was followed in October with new boards around the park, new 'subliminal' advertising on different sections of the main Alton Towers website, and a countdown timer on the Alton Towers mini-site. The countdown timer initially gave a scheduled opening date of 16 March 2013, but was removed however on 4 January 2013, as the ride hit delays.
More overt advertising started in January 2013, when the "Smile" logo was used in various forms across the country. Including billboards in London; ticket barriers at Leeds railway station; projected onto various buildings including Big Ben; and sprayed onto flocks of sheep in areas including Leicestershire, Devon and Perthshire.
John Wardley, a ride consultant on the project, confirmed in a radio interview on 19 April 2013 that The Smiler would feature more inversions than any other roller coaster in the world. Although construction had revealed this earlier, the statement was the first official confirmation that The Smiler would break the inversion record. In an earlier interview Wardley had said that The Smiler would have "...5 mind manipulating elements that play around with you on the ride, so it’s more than just a physical rollercoaster."
From early April and throughout May, Alton Towers published videos online giving snippets of the ride's fictional backstory. This was followed by footage of weather presenter Laura Tobin riding The Smiler, live on ITV's Daybreak programme and an advertising campaign on boxes of Krave cereal.
Initially, The Smiler was expected to make its public debut in March 2013 for the park's opening day, but due to construction delays, the date was pushed back to 23 May 2013. The date had to be pushed back further after technical issues were encountered during testing and a ride incident occurred during its preview event that stranded riders on the lift hill. Following the incident on 17 May 2013, Alton Towers explained on their website that The Smiler would not open on the originally scheduled date due to "unforeseen teething problems."
The ride's delayed opening initially caused controversy as many had booked advance tickets and stays at the Alton Towers Hotel in order to be among the first to ride the coaster. However, Alton Towers later announced it would allow those who had made advanced bookings to change their tickets and hotel reservations free of charge. The Smiler eventually opened on 31 May 2013.
A key feature of the ride is the large spider-like structure that serves as a centrepoint for the coaster track. Called ‘The Marmaliser,’ it has 5 legs, each with a distinct function to manipulate riders into "smiling". It is also equipped with a wraparound screen, which displays graphics and video relating to the theme of the ride. The roller coaster intertwines within the structure causing greater interaction with riders to enhance the experience. The track is divided into 5 block sections, permitting up to 5 trains to operate on the ride at once, which would create a theoretical capacity of 1200 people per hour (pph).
|1. Heartline roll|
|3. Dive loop|
|4. Dive loop|
|5. Dive loop|
|9–10. Sea Serpent|
|11–12. Cobra roll|
The train dispatches from the station, playing audio of a man saying "join us!" The train immediately enters into a sweeping drop 180-degrees to the left. Partway through this drop, riders encounter a heartline roll, the ride's first inversion. The train then comes to a stop on block brakes, before ascending the first lift hill. Upon reaching the top, the train drops into another 180-degree right turn before banking into the second inversion, a downward corkscrew. The train drops down into the next two inversions, two consecutive dive loops before travelling over a trimmed airtime hill into the ride's largest element, a Batwing (this element consists of a sidewinder and reverse sidewinder).
The train then travels through another corkscrew before reaching the second set of block brakes, after a brief pause the train ascends the second lift hill, this time at a 90° vertical angle. The train then enters another drop, 180-degrees to the left, banking into a downward corkscrew. Riders then navigate through a sea serpent roll, followed by a short drop into another trimmed airtime hill. the train then dives into a cobra roll. Upon exiting the cobra roll, the train twists through two consecutive corkscrews before a short left turn into the final brake run.
The ride has been known for a number of significant structural and technical issues since its launch. The most serious incident occurred on 2 June 2015, when a loaded train collided with an empty test train, causing serious injuries to a number of riders. Usually, only four trains are allowed on the ride at a time, but a fifth was added due to large crowds. However, due to high winds, the test train got stuck, and management overrode safety warnings, as they were unaware of the test train. Two people in front required leg amputations. Subsequently, Merlin Entertainments decided to close The Smiler, Saw – The Ride at Thorpe Park, and two other roller coasters at Chessington World of Adventures (all of which have since reopened) while safety protocols and procedures were evaluated. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) served a Prohibition Notice upon the Smiler, preventing the ride's use until remedial action had been completed. On 27 July 2015, it was stated by Merlin Entertainments chief executive Nick Varney that The Smiler would "not be opening this summer". The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) initiated a criminal investigation that focused on the actions of two employees – a ride engineer and a ride operator – who may have failed to follow basic safety protocols leading up to the accident.
In the incident's aftermath, Alton Towers and its owner Merlin Entertainments observed a drop in revenue and visitor numbers, which contributed to the decision to eliminate up to 190 job positions at the theme park. Six rides were closed during the 2016 season as a result of the crash. Varney released a public statement stating:
This has been a terrible incident and a devastating day for everyone here. We have a very strong record of safe operation of our rides here at Alton Towers and it is our priority. I would like to express my sincerest regret and apology to everyone who suffered injury and distress today and to their families.
The ride eventually reopened on 19 March 2016 for the start of the 2016 season with additional safety features. Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd was prosecuted by the HSE at North Staffordshire Justice Centre on 22 April 2016, in which the firm pleaded guilty. On 27 September 2016, after a two-day hearing at Stafford Crown Court, Judge Michael Chambers QC fined Merlin Entertainments £5 million. In September 2018, Vicky Balch and Leah Washington, who lost their legs on the ride after the crash in June 2015, sued Merlin Attractions Operations Ltd for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty.
|17 May 2013||31 May 2013||The Smiler suffered a malfunction during a preview event for celebrities and journalists which delayed the coaster's official opening. The train became stuck on the first lift hill trapping passengers in their seats for approximately 30 minutes until they could be evacuated.|||
|4 June 2013||5 June 2013||One of the trains stalled on the ride's batwing element during a test run before the park opened to the public.|||
|10 June 2013||11 June 2013||A train stalled once again in the same batwing element, but unlike previous times, weighted dummies were present on the train. The cause of the incident was revealed as a computer malfunction that triggered the trim brakes.|||
|21 July 2013||25 July 2013||48 people were evacuated from the ride after a piece of debris fell from a section of track. Some eyewitness reports described the debris as a 1-foot-long metal bar (0.30 m), while others described it as a bolt. The incident caused two sections of track to partially disengage creating a small gap in the track.|||
|30 July 2013||4 August 2013||The ride was closed for five days after cracks were found around the base of one of the ride's supports.|||
|2 November 2013||7 November 2013||Four people were injured when they were struck by guide wheels that detached from the chain guide as the train ascended the vertical incline.|||
|2 June 2015||19 March 2016||A train carrying 16 riders and travelling approximately 20 mph (32 km/h) collided with an empty, stationary train. Of the eleven riders who required medical treatment, five were seriously injured. Two required partial leg amputations in the weeks following the incident. According to reports, the train carrying passengers was stopped automatically on the lift hill by a safety mechanism that prevents two trains from occupying the same section of track. It correctly detected that the empty train sent previously had stalled. A ride engineer manually overrode the mechanism allowing a ride operator to dispatch the halted train, which led to the collision.|||
- Mellor, Andrew (July 2013). "Record-breaking looper opens at Alton Towers Resort" (PDF). Amusement Today (4). p. 6. Retrieved 31 July 2019.
Gerstlauer, has officially received the Guinness World Record status for the most inversions in a coaster anywhere in the world...
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Smiler.|
| First roller coaster with 14 inversions
May 2013 – present