I love the decorations that surround Smiler's track. I also like how the waiting queue takes guests right under the ride thanks to the metal screens that weave among the coaster's supports.
Even though they are designed to be scary, roller coasters are usually very safe. With thousands of coasters giving millions of rides every year, coasters have an excellent safety record. Just above the track on the left of the picture, a small green proximity sensor is visible. This device uses an internal magnet to sense when a coaster passes over this section of track. On a large coaster like this, literally hundreds of proximity sensors are used to track the positions of the trains, the transfer tracks, the restraints, and even the gates around the loading platform. It is sad to think that these sensors were ignored and people were injured as a result. However, the park's operators have instituted new safety procedures that should ensure that another accident like the one in 2015 doesn't happen in the future.
I have been an airline pilot for many years, and I see a lot of parallels in roller coaster safety and airline safety. Like airplane incidents, even minor roller coaster incidents, like a train simply being stopped on a lift hill, can lead to intense media coverage, but no one reports the millions of flights that arrive without issues or the tens of millions of roller coaster rides that are uneventful. In aviation, we have very stringent safety procedures, redundant systems, and checklists that all ensure the safety of the plane and its passengers. Skipping procedures can lead to very bad results, and it seems that this happened on Smiler. As a result, Alton Towers lost revenue, had its attendance drop, suffered from bad publicity, paid a large fine, and may have more expensive insurance premiums in the future. To avoid a similar outcome, other parks have a big incentive to keep their rides as safe as possible, and based on the few safety incidents in 2016, it seems that roller coaster safety has returned to its typical high levels.
©2017 Joel A. Rogers.