Matt's Lego Roller Coaster

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This is the old version of the roller coaster page, and features mostly pictures of the original version of the roller coaster, first shown at GATS in Portland in February 2002. Be sure to see the newer pictures and current updates of the roller coaster at the Current Verstion.

So without further delay, here is a sequence of pictures of the first version of the finished project - enjoy, and feel free to ask questions. And don't forget to visit my "sponsor" site, AuctionBrick! (Click on any small picture for a big picture. From any big picture you can go forward or back within them if you prefer).

You can also see the video shot of by Mark Hafner of the old version of the roller coaster in action. It is about 15 seconds long, and you can download either the small 690KB version or the large 1.8MB version . I have tested viewing it only in Quicktime 5.0 - it is .mov format.

This is a shot of the side of the train. Each train is made of 3 cars connected by standard ball and socket joints (from the 70's). Each car hold 4 minifigures and comes with a restraining bar which folds down to help keep occupants in their seats. There is no side protection in the current version of the car, but it would be a good idea for the future, assuming it can be done in less than 8 studs wide to meet track clearances. The first car has aerodynamic styling in the front, the other two cars don't and are identical to each other. Probably 4 cars could run on this ride but I have never tried it.
Here is a view of the bottom of the car which was one of the most complex parts of the whole system. The wheels are 9V train wheels, 2 sets per car. I chose the fastest wheel sets in my collection. (I did not use any lubricants or other non-Lego parts of any type above tabletop.) The 9V wheel sets are the most modern 'critical' piece of the whole roller coaster, which means theoretically you could build the whole thing with parts from 1990 and earlier except for the 9V wheels which came out in 1991. They are extremely low friction, unlike any other Lego wheel systems. For the bottom of the cars I used 1x4x1 fence pieces mounted sideways to hold the train onto the track. They are lower friction than any wheel sets I tried, plus they are very flat which is essential around horizontal curves where the clearance between the bottom of the track and the support structure under it is one stud width, or slightly greater than a plate. The fence pieces stick out slightly more than 4 bricks wide. The grey things at either end of each car stick slightly lower than the plane of the fences, and are designed to catch the rubber Technic belts used in certain points on the up hills. The grey things are 1x2 ladder holder plates mounted to face down by sticking their studs into the two side holes on a 1x2 2-hole technic beam (a modern part but probably not 'critical').
The track - this is a close-up of typical horizontal track which is used around curves and a few level spots, but not on hills, loops and inclines. The bottom layer is 4.5V track assembled in the typical manner. It is used for shape and structural support. The top layer is just the rails of 4.5V track, mounted "pony-ear style" (see the horse ears in the Yellow Castle, set number 375) with plates clipped between studs. The upper track is what the train rides on. It needs to be held from the side to keep clearance under the track for the fence flange on the bottom of the cars which holds them to the track. The yellow plates you see under the track are 2x6 plates which are mounted pony-ear between 2 black 2x4 plates. The yellow plates help keep the gage of the top track from opening up wider than it should be. For 9V wheel sets it is important to keep the gage of 4.5V track at or slightly less than standard 4.5V gage.
This view shows a close-up of a typical joint on the rest of the track, where the two side rails have been faced towards each other so the train rides on the rail edges. I used 14 parts for each of these joints and there are 2 per section of track. The important pieces are the 1x2/1x4 car headlight brackets which hold the track. To get the gage right I needed to add a brick height to one side and then connect them with a plate 9 studs long. Since 2x9 plates are hard to find, I used 2x8 plates and on one side I added a 2x3 plate and decorated it out with the grey inverted slope piece. Underneath the main structure you can see more 4.5V track pony-eared into the bottom of the red 2x8 plate. A red 2x6 plate is pony-eared to the other edge of the tracks. All this stuff provides more track support. On inside curves, such as the loop, the short inside 4.5V track piece is what the train rides on and the long piece is pony-eared behind for support. On outside curves such as the crest of hills, the opposite track arrangement is used. Stiff track means that the roller coaster will not loose energy quickly - every wiggle as it goes by is energy lost.
A view of the same track joint as the last picture, from the other side. These photos were taken in the back of my truck where the layout still sits on it's three PNLTC standard tables. Thus the debris in the background.
An overview of the front side of the roller coaster, taken at the Great American Train Show in Portland, February 16th to 17th, 2002. This was the debut show of the roller coaster. Note the train is nearing the top of the big hill in the back. Tension is mounting - the trip to the top takes about 2 minutes but the trip around the track takes about 10 seconds.
Another overview shot, this from the backside, also at GATS. The train is not yet as high up as it was in the previous shot.
Here is a view of the station where passengers exit and enter the train. When the show started the station was crammed with people, but over the course of 2 days nearly everyone had a chance to ride. As passengers fell off in crashes or were whipped off around curves we replaced them with new. The bodies piled up in the middle. At the end the count was 55 casualties. The folks on the left of the tracks are leaving - note the fellows hurling over the edge. The guys in brown are the carnies. Note the axles which cross the track under the station - they have rubber tires mounted to them which catch the 1x4 fence pieces on the bottom of the cars and push them forward or back, or stop them. That way the train can stop at the station and then be pushed out again for the next trip.
This is a view of the workings under the station platform where a single motor drives 6 axles (12 wheels) to push the train out of the station.
Just past the station is the service area. Every 3 to 5 runs the train needs to be removed to have the undercarriage (and occasionally the passengers) tightened down. There is no glue in any of this roller coaster, and the forces are extreme. At this service area there are two sets of tracks which slide side to side. You can service one train while another is running, and then slide the track over to take out the old train and put in the new. Back and forth action is controlled by the motor in the back of the picture. The motor in the foreground controls 4 axles with tires attached to stop the train or move it forward or backwards. For lack of 9V polarity switches, this motor and the motor controlling the station wheels are on the same switch. In the background is the base of the roller coaster's loop.
Here is a shot of the train in the service area. Note that the right hand track is now connected to the roller coaster, and the left hand track is outside of the circuit so the train can be removed and serviced.
Another shot of the service area, looking back to the station. The service worker is working on the motor which controls the wheels in the station area. Most of the service area is built stud down. It is a big sliding platform which rolls on 4.5V track, visible at 90 degrees below the service area.
The first hill - this small hill is powered by one motor which runs 2 Technic rubber belts, connected by Technic chain. The train is pushed out of the station, caught by the service area and pushed out of the service area onto this hill. It is caught by these belts which run at high speed (they are directly connected to the Technic motor). The train is quickly pushed up this small hill for the coast around the end of the layout to the start of the big hill. I used the modern low-geared Technic motors for all motors in the roller coaster. Note the switches which control the service area and station area on the right foreground. the switch on the left foreground controls the little hill and the big hill behind.
Here is a view of the end of the layout, particularly the track from the first small hill (just out of the service area) around to the big hill. The slope here is one brick per track length, and the train easily slides down it under gravity. Note all the bodies which have collected in the field. This is also a good view of the underside of the banked curve.
The train is heading around the first curve towards the big hill. Bodies line the way…
Here is the bottom of the big hill. The rubber track at the bottom is controlled by a separate motor, since it is critical that the train mesh with the chain to the top at the right place. The carnie to the left is controlling the rubber track here. Most of the changes that would be needed on a future model would be made in this area. First, we need a couple sets of wheels (as used at the station), connected on the same motor as the belt, before the train reaches the belt. These would serve three purposes - they would automatically brake the train so it doesn't hit the belt to hard and get damaged or bounce off, they would push the train to the belt if it was going too slow, and they would push the train onto the belt in the event of any bounce. In actual use the train did not properly engage the belt about 50% of the time.
Another lesson we learned in this area is that a cutoff switch for emergencies on this side of the layout would be really good. The big chain is controlled only by the switch on the other side of the layout, and if anything went wrong with the chain (damage, break, miss-aligned train) it was difficult to quickly cut power. The motor and switch you see in this picture only power the belt at the bottom. We keep several 1x3 plates here too in case they pop off of the chain.
Here the train has successfully engaged the chain and is heading up the steep hill. It takes about 2 minutes to get to the top. It is critical that the yellow plates fall between the train cars and not under them, where they bind and cause chain breakage. You can see the return chain floating behind the yellow support beams here. The power wire to the motors for the hill (which are mounted at the top of the hill) is visible just below the level of the track. In the middle of each track section is a technic gear which the chain rides on. The chain also rides on two rails of stud-down plates for the length of the hill.
Another view of the train coming up. You can see the anticipation on the minifigures faces…
Here is a good overview of the hill. You can see each yellow 1x3 plate on the chain from here. The chain is made with 8 normal Technic chain lengths and then one Technic bulldozer chain length. The 1x3 plates are stuck to the bulldozer chain length. Another fix that I need to try is to replace the 1x3 plates with 1x4 tiles. The tiles should grip the train just fine, and they may have the advantage of being low enough that it will not matter where the train catches the chain - the chain will still not bind. If the roller coaster ever shows again that is what I will do.
At the top of the hill the train is grapped by two more rubber Technic belts which pull it over the crest. They are aligned over the curve at the top and are powered by another motor, connected to the same switch as the rest of the hill. This is the last motor on the round. Gravity takes over from here on out.
A close-up of the motors at the top of the hill, looking from below the track. The motor on the right controls the main chain up the hill. The motor on the left controls the two belts at the crest of the hill. All the motors were powered from on 9V train controller so we could have consistent power with no batteries to replace.
Another view of the top of the hill. Note the small chain connecting the two belts. Problems in this area are disastrous as they result in a 7 foot fall to concrete (or at 4 1/2 foot fall to the table top if you are lucky).
Here is a view of the other side of the mechanism at the top of the hill. Note the monorail track used as support, and the tension rod coming across the top. And be sure to see the train reaching the top of the hill…
The tall end of the roller coaster. Monorail track on end supports the great height. The two outer arms are connected by a tension rod to keep them from sagging.
Here is a close-up of the monorail track supports at the end of the layout. Every 1/2 length of track one of these connectors bids the 4 risers together into a more solid unit.
Looking up at the curve at the top of the layout. It is supported at 3 points by 4 pillars of monorail track. A tension rod connects the two outer pillars. The track is supported by a heavy Technic infrastructure so it will retain its proper shape and slope around the curve.
The train is under gravity now, heading around the top curve to the big drop. I estimate scale height to be roughly 200 feet, but I have not figured it out exactly. Note the central monorail support arms under the track.
Here is where the bottom of the first curve is attached to the top of the big drop and to the monorail track support. The tension rod goes off to the right. Two Technic axle pins hold the top curve on at this end.
Here is the train right at the top of the hill… chances are about 1 in 4 that not all of these passengers will make it back to the station…
Looking down on the connection between the top curve and the top of the big drop. It is important that the two track alignments meet as smoothly as possible. Note the dust collected on those pieces - abandoned for most of 2001 in my basement which underwent a little bit of remodeling...
Here is the view straight down the big drop and into the loop. I recommend holding on for this ride!
This view of the big drop is not so vertigo inducing as the last. Here you can see the train approaching the top of the hill behind, and you can get a good view of the blue support structure for the big drop. The shiny rails are 12V center track rails - they are 16 studs long and as stiff as 2 2x16 plates stuck together. The two sides of the structure are attached pony-ear to each other by 2x10 plates, stiffened midway by 2x4 plates. All that pony ear construction is very rigid - this support structure is probably the stiffest single unit of the whole monorail (with the exception of the sold blue brick tower which supports the up ramp half way).
This shot shows where the down hill track (background) meets the downhill side of the loop (foreground). It also gives a good close-up of loop construction techniques.
This view is from the inside of the layout, looking out the loop and the big hill leading to it. The loop is supported by simple yellow brick structures with 1x2 brick hinges at the angles.
Here is the loop in all its glory. The train is just leaving the first hill outside of the station in the foreground. You can see the hill leading to the loop is quite steep (3 curves of track). Past the loop is the banked turn to the other side of the roller coaster. There are 17 sections of track in the circle of the loop (instead of 16) to give it extra flex as it corkscrews over 8 studs.
Looking down through the loop. We piled the bodies in the middle of the layout when they hit the floor (a common occurrence).
We posed this shot (after attempting to capture the speeding train several times). But you can get a great idea of the feel of the loop and the ride from it anyway. I hope those guys are hanging on good! Note the women's restroom sign in the background at the Portland Expo Center.
I couldn't pass up some special effects around the base of the loop. They warn you to not take cameras, hats, binoculars, etc on these rides, but people never listen… Note that the center outside connection is missing a 2x2 inverted slope piece in this shot.
Coming out of the loop at 45 degrees, the track heads into the banked curve. The train is still moving very fast and this track junction between types needs to perform perfectly. We had a couple of messy accidents here when it wore out and needed tightening. About every 2 or 3 hours all the joints in the whole system need to be tightened up again since the extreme forces of the train loosen them so.
A great shot of the banked turn leading out of the loop. We lost quite a few riders off the side of this curve and out into the train yard and bridges to the left. The Technic superstructure under the curve keeps it strong enough to only need support on the two ends.
Here is the curve from the other direction, looking towards the loop.
And here is the train coming around the curve.
Here is the junction between the end of the banked curve and the slope down from there. The track continues to the bottom of a dip, then comes up to a hump after this.
This is a view looking up to the hump coming after the dip. On the left edge of the shot is the giant blue support column for the hill to the top.
A view out of the dip and over the hump to the spiral. The giant blue support column back there holds up the hill to the top. A smaller blue support column holds up the hump in the track.
Out of the hump the track goes into the final spiral. I put in a few dragons here for a touch of class. I had hoped to do a lot more to decorate this ride, but in the end the important thing was to get it done! Note the base of the monorail support columns in the middle of the spiral. The bases are monorail switch pieces to spread the support.
Here is a close-up of the top of the spiral. Just in case you didn't fall out, watch for the dragon!
The train going around the loop and through the bottom of the steep down hill support structure. Note the line snaking from the entrance, under the track and to the platform. We had a few people still in line at the end of the show…
Here is the bottom layer of the spiral as it just ducks under the top layer.
This is a view from the other side of the same point as the last picture. These guys have survived the hard part. Jar-Jar was our only casualty here, and only because his ears didn't clear those columns!
An overview of the spiral, heading back to the station. The entrance to the ride is at the lower left. Note Jar-Jar at the base of the yellow column near the black dragon.
That's me! And the roller coaster of course…
I couldn't leave you without at least one crash shot! Here is what happens when the chain breaks - it can be really nasty depending on how high the train is. See it piled up at the bottom? So it is very important to be sure the chain engages the train properly. There were no casualties this time, but if the cars left the track and hit the floor casualties could be everyone! Probably half of our casualties were the direct result of a broken chain. And the rest were mostly because there were no side restraints. Well, we will get those features fixed if we do this again...

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Last Updated April 28, 2010 - - Copyright Matthew J. Chiles 2004-2010 all rights reserved.
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