THE ROLLER COASTER: Working, Components, and Types


Roller coaster is an amusement ride! NO! It’s a heart pounding and a thrilling ride that makes you feel like you are going to fly right out of your seat. How does this scream machine work?

roller coaster



The roller coaster runs at a speed of 100km/hr. You may not believe, but the machine running at such great machine doesn’t have an engine. It’s like the winter sport, SLEDDING, where the car carrying 2 people is chained to dogs. The dogs carry the sled (the seated car) to the top of the hill. At the top of the hill the dogs are released and the car descends down the hill. The working of the roller coaster is very similar to sledding. But in roller coaster the action is repetitious.

There are two working technologies in roller coaster

Method A. Chain lift
Method B. Catapult lift


  1. The cars carrying the seating arrangement
  2. Brakes
  3. Driving components.
  • In chain lift mechanism, pulleys and induction motors
  • In catapult launch lift, electromagnets

Method A. Chain lift

Chain lift mechanism has a sinusoidal track. The car is pulled to the top by a pulley arrangement. The car then moves freely, like a free falling object under gravity.  The pulley is driven by an induction motor.  Assume the following image shows the track of the roller coaster


track of the coaster

Once the car reaches the top of the sinusoidal track (B), it is full of potential energy and falls freely to reach the bottom of the sinusoidal track (D), as its potential energy is being converted into kinetic energy.  Now at D it is full of kinetic energy. Its kinetic energy and it’s the wheeling action helps the car move to F. This goes on till a flat track is reached. 

Method B. Catapult lift

This mechanism works in a different way. Instead of being pulled up the hill, unlike chain lift, large amount of energy is built in a short period of time. It is done by placing one electromagnet at the first car and the other at the top of the track.


As roller coaster don’t use any motors, and rely on natural forces, it is essential to use brakes to stop the machine. This is done by the fins built underneath the track. These fins have a clamp like arrangement placed at the end of the track and at various other points of the track.  These fins hit against the bottom of the car and the car stops due to friction.

There are two types of roller coaster

  1. Wooden roller coaster
  2. Steel roller coaster


The roller coaster is mainly driven mainly as its potential energy is converted into kinetic energy at every fall. The sinking feeling that you like or hate the most is mainly because of the forces acting on you. The first force acting is the gravitational pull and another force is the force of acceleration, the force due to the speed. At every point on the roller coaster, the earth’s gravitational pull tries to bring you down to the surface. The force of acceleration is pulling you against the gravity. When you are climbing on the track these forces are in the same direction while you descend down they are in a different direction. When the forces are equal and opposite you feel like flying, no forces acting at all and hence you feel like freely falling. This gives the sinking feel!


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