While many theme parks are used to closing for the frigid winter months, many are not used to shutting down for the extended period that they were in response to COVID-19. Each year, as the ground starts to thaw, so do the rides at theme parks around the world. As with anything that has been non-operational for an extended period, there is a checklist of items that needs to be reviewed to ensure the rides are ready to welcome back guests.

For most parks, winter is when annual maintenance on rides is performed. Manufacturers provide parks checklists of the necessary maintenance that must be completed leaving little guesswork for parks. But what about when the ride has been closed for a long duration that wasn’t annual maintenance? Little guidance is provided, so we have put together a list of key items that should be checked before the re-opening of attractions. Keep in mind, each attraction requires a separate set of checks, but the ones shared today are universally beneficial to ensure the rides are one step closer to their safe re-opening.

Most mechanical equipment will begin to see issues the longer it sits unused. Issues such as corrosion, seizing, flat spots in wheels, etc. can occur. For these reasons, it is recommended that rides should be cycled at least once a week to help prevent these issues. Understanding that this is not always possible for parks, an alternative would be to winterize (or protect from the weather) the ride. This process involves removing ride vehicles from the main structure of the ride and storing them in a protected indoor space. At the very least, ride vehicles should be covered up and sealed off from the elements.

Typically, when a ride is winterized, it also goes through its annual tear down, refurbishment, and inspection where welds are inspected, wear items are replaced, and mechanical components are freshened up. This past year some parks completed their annual inspections on their rides, but the park never actually opened, and while it might seem like a non-issue to proceed as though the ride is fresh out of refurbishment this is not exactly the case. While a full-blown annual inspection is not required, a more thorough inspection does need to be completed before returning to operation. Mechanical components such as bearings, actuators, joints, brakes, chains, hydraulics, and pneumatics can have issues after being inactive for so long. Simply firing up the ride and running it like normal could lead to some negative consequences without verifying the condition and operation of these components first.

When it is time to run the ride again, the following items should have a thorough inspection for correct operation before the first cycle is completed:

  • Replace all fluids, drain air tanks and refill.
  • Inspect bearings for corrosion and seizing.
  • Grease components
  • Visually inspect the entire area of the ride. For a roller coaster, a track walk is suggested. For high areas, use binoculars to get the appropriate up-close view.
  • Cycle each mechanical system manually before cycling the entire ride together.

Another unique issue that we have seen this year is newly constructed rides whose openings have been delayed a significant amount of time. Even brand-new attractions need some extra effort to open after sitting stagnant for so long. It is normal for a ride to go through commissioning before opening to verify its overall operation, and almost always this occurs with the manufacturer present on site. This commissioning process should be repeated, albeit abbreviated, with the manufacturer present again to verify that the attraction still meets the manufacturer’s specifications before opening. Just because something is new does not mean it is exempt from the issues older rides face from lack of use, so a similar inspection of all mechanical systems should be done to yet-to-open rides as what is being done on existing attractions.

Parks are currently working to complete their annual maintenance ahead of the spring re-opening, with many of them needing to implement the items on the extended shutdown safety checklist. Operators will be sure to take extra precautions when opening parks back up as we begin to see life return to pre-covid days.

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