By Donald Wittkowski
A 125-foot-high roller coaster that serves as the centerpiece attraction at one of Ocean City’s oldest Boardwalk amusement parks is getting a new track to give passengers smoother rides.
The Gale Force roller coaster made its debut at Playland’s Castaway Cove in May, thrilling its riders with a series of twists, dips and loops on a serpentine-like track while traveling at more than 60 mph.
However, a Playland executive explained that an inspection found the track’s rails were not completely in alignment, giving passengers a slightly bumpier ride than intended.
“It was a little bumpy,” Brian Hartley, the amusement park’s vice president, said in an interview Monday. “The rails were a little off by a hair in aligning with each other, so it was not as smooth as we wanted.”
Hartley emphasized that passenger safety was never jeopardized. In New Jersey, amusement rides are inspected and regulated by the state Department of Community Affairs, or DCA.
“If that was the case, we would have never run it and the state of New Jersey would have never approved it,” Hartley said of any possible safety risks.
DCA spokeswoman Tammori Petty said there was an “alignment issue” between the roller coaster’s car and the magnetic drive system that propels the vehicle.
“The tolerance between the car and the drive system required that the operator check the clearance frequently. With better track alignment such checks will be less frequent. The safety of the ride was never in question,” Petty said in an email Monday.
The existing track is being removed and will be replaced by new steel at no cost to Playland, Hartley said. The cost is being absorbed by the roller coaster’s designer, S&S Sansei Technologies of North Logan, Utah, he noted.
Using a huge crane, work crews are dismantling the distinctive blue track that towers above the Boardwalk at 10th Street. A new track is expected to be completed by January, allowing Playland to reopen the roller coaster by Easter weekend in April, Hartley said. Playland is now closed for the off-season.
Gale Force’s grand opening last May came about a year later than originally scheduled. Hartley noted that the delays were caused by similar problems with the track’s alignment.
Hartley said the public’s initial reaction to the ride over the summer was “great.” He added that most riders were never aware that the coaster was slightly bumpy.
The ride propels passengers through a series of breathtaking twists and turns at a top speed of 64 mph while zooming 125 feet high and plunging earthward at about a 90-degree drop. Riders also flip upside down and travel backwards, adding to the thrills.
At times, the coaster gives riders the sensation of free-falling, as if plummeting off the side of a cliff. The ground below disappears as the coaster car contorts, zigzags and swerves along the undulating track.
The roller coaster is a multimillion-dollar ride, but Hartley declined to disclose the exact cost. It is the latest featured attraction at Playland’s Castaway Cove, which originally opened in 1959 and is among Ocean City’s most historic amusement parks.
The Simpson family has owned Playland since its inception. The late David Simpson founded it. His wife, Madelyn, is retired from the business now. Their son, Scott Simpson, has stepped in to run the park along with his wife, Linda, Hartley said.
Visitors to Playland are greeted by the park’s iconic, giant pirate ship overlooking the Boardwalk between 10th and 11th streets. A swashbuckling pirate – complete with an eye patch – and his green parrot form the ship’s whimsical crew.