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Saturday, 4 May, 2002, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Riding the highs and lows
Air at Alton Towers
Riders on Air soar through the sky "like Superman"
Three new record-breaking rollercoasters are opening across England. But do they compare with the joys of the country's oldest ride?

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By Doug Marshall
BBC News Online

Brake man John Husband gives the rollercoaster a push start and hops aboard.

A gate is lifted by hand as the rickety ride clatters upwards to the first drop and falls at a top speed of 35mph.

It's a long way from the roaring, curving, contorted white-knuckle rides that have risen in theme parks across England in recent years.

John Husband
John Husband has worked the brakes for 28 years
Yet the Scenic Railway at Dreamland in Kent is the only ride to be marked out as a national treasure and protected for the future thanks to its new listed status.

And despite its pensionable age, the country's oldest rollercoaster - like similar wooden rides - remains as popular among enthusiasts as the modern steel structures.

It is more than 80 years since the Scenic Railway made its first journey and the rush to build faster, bigger, loopier and scarier rollercoasters continues.

Another three ground-breaking new rides are opening within weeks of each other in various parks across England.

'Loopiest' ride

People queue for two hours at Alton Towers in Staffordshire to ride Air, the world's first "flying" rollercoaster where riders soar through the air like Superman.

Built by renowned rollercoaster duo Bolliger and Mabillard, the idea was dreamt up a decade ago but only 21st Century technology has allowed it to be built.

Rivers of blood thrill those brave enough for Nemesis
Record-breaking Colussus at Thorpe Park in Surrey is the "loopiest" ride in the world with riders being turned upside-down 10 times along the 850-metres of track.

And a third innnovative rollercoaster is being built to mark the Queen's Jubilee at Fantasy Island near Skegness in Lincolnshire.

When it opens later this month, the Jubilee Odyssey will be the longest suspended rollercoaster in the world.

This follows a decade of frenetic building of rides searching for that extra thrill.

Record breakers

Highlights included Nemesis - the first legs-free ride - and Oblivion - the first vertical-drop rollercoaster - both built at Alton Towers.

And at Blackpool Pleasure Beach the Pepsi Max Big One opened as the world's fastest, tallest and biggest rollercoaster.

If you get off a ride thinking that was brilliant let's have another go - that is a great ride

Andy Hine, rollercoaster enthusiast
Rollercoaster designers are pushing limits and each new ride seems to break one record or another.

But this is a trend Andy Hine, chairman of the Rollercoaster Club of Great Britain, says cannot last.

"The sad thing is they are all steel ones being built.

"Wooden ones are perceived as old by people until they ride them and see they are fun.

"It is a shame - some of the English parks, instead of trying to build the world's fastest or longest ride, should build ones that are fun.

'Wood is good'

"We are going to have to get a new wooden one, there are no new innovations left.

'Don't look down' is the catchphrase for Oblivion
"Wooden coasters have got to be the next option."

For him riding rollercoasters is not about being scared or feeling you have achieved something.

"If you get off a ride thinking that was brilliant let's have another go - that is a great ride.

"The Scenic Railway is a ride that has given pleasure to people for 80 years and will continue to give pleasure.

"It was essential that something was done to make sure it could survive."

He explains why he thinks "wood is good".

'Best job'

"It is the shake rattle and roll. It is the tradition. You get off smiling and laughing.

"Now that we have claimed all the records - lets have the world's most fun."

The Scenic Railway
The Scenic Railway was built in 1920
Brake man John says enthusiasts from around the world tell him the Scenic Railway is their favourite.

Better than the faster, longer, steeper and loopier rides that have sprung up - most since he began working the ride in 1974.

"In America they are starting to rebuild the wooden coasters because they have gone as far as you can.

"All you get on a metal ride is the sensation of the motion and the speed - on here you also feel the ride vibrating."

John has probably broken records himself having lost count of the number of times he has ridden the Scenic Railway over the past 28 years.

"For me it is just a job - but better than any other job."

See also:

10 Jan 02 | Health
Rollercoaster risk warning
21 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
World's fastest rollercoaster opens
25 Jul 98 | Entertainment
On track for coaster target
15 Mar 98 | UK
A leap into 'Oblivion'
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