Over the past several months, rumors have been spreading that Lightning Rod, Dollywood’s world record-breaking launched wooden coaster, has been slowed down significantly for the 2017 season. Hopefully this article will shed some light on what the situation really is.
First off: Lightning Rod’s launch is no slower than it has been. The train still reaches its top speed of 45 mph during the uphill launch with the same intensity it did before.
Even though the launch still hits its 45mph top speed, that speed isn’t maintained for as long. Since the launch is on an incline, it means that the train loses momentum faster after the launch ends. As a result, the trains slow down more before reaching the top of the 206ft hill. So while the launch is modified, it doesn’t make a massive difference to the ride experience.
The ride starts out exactly the same as before, a right hand turn out of the station into a small straightaway over the road before the launch. The launch itself has the same kick to it as before and feels just as forceful, and surprisingly, doesn’t feel shorter than before. The crest of the first hill is noticeably slower, but the first drop is similar to before. The wave turn isn’t much different either aside from feeling a little sluggish, even though the forces are similar overall and perfectly enjoyable. The same experience holds true for the breaking wave turn immediately following the wave turn.
Regardless, you can’t forget that this is Lightning Rod here. Nothing about this ride says “slow” even now, so even if certain elements feel a little slower than before, no one that isn’t actively looking for a difference will notice it. The next two hills (the 45-degree airtime hill and the first hill of the double up) now have noticeably weaker airtime than they did in April. However, the Quadruple Down feels pretty much exactly the same as before, only slightly slower than before and not enough so for the average rider to notice. The last hill and “non inverting half loop” are also, as far as I can tell, the same as they used to be.
This leaves the big question: Why did Dollywood slow down Lightning Rod? During the Thrills in the Hills event in July, the Coaster Hub team got the chance to ask the operators themselves. What they said (without disclosing more than they were allowed) was that the speed at which Lightning Rod was running in April was adding additional (and likely unexpected) wear & tear to the ride. They determined that this could be prevented by running the ride at a slightly slower speed, ultimately giving Lightning Rod a longer life to thrill riders.
When I rode the coaster back in April, it instantly became my new #1 coaster, and I’m happy to say that it is still in that position, although maybe not by as much as before. The new ride experience isn’t actually that much different, and being less intense makes the ride more re-rideable than before. So is the slower speed worth it for the park? I say yes, because I would much rather be able to ride this Lightning Rod in 25 years than no Lightning Rod in 15 years, and the additional re-ridability of the “new” Lightning Rod only makes things better for a visit to the park.
What are your thoughts about this change? Is a longer lifetime worth it to you, or would you rather have the full speed ride back? If you had the chance to ride before Lightning Rod slowed down, what do you think about this, and could you notice the same changes that I could?