The Engineering Behind Roller Coasters


By: Natalie Morgan

When developing a roller coaster, engineers must consider a number of important factors about the ride, including safety and excitement.

The roller coaster consists of 3 main parts. The Car, the track, and the Chain Pulley System. The highest part of the track is towards the beginning of the ride. The Pulley System only assists the car when it is being pulled up the first hill. There are brakes towards the end of the track to slow it down for the passengers to exit the ride.  There are 2 different types of roller coasters, a  wooden and a steel. The first roller coaster was made in 1885 by LaMarcus Adna. It was a wooden coaster built on Coney Island.

One of the main responsibilities of a roller coaster engineer are deciding where the tracks should be placed. You have to pick the right roller coaster for a specific environment and make sure all features of the roller coaster are safe. Below is a chart which includes all the aspects that engineers need in order to make roller coasters.


Education Requirements Bachelor’s degree
Other Requirements Licensure required
Job Growth (2014-24)* 5% for all mechanical engineers
Mean Salary (2015)* $88,190 annually for all mechanical engineers

All roller coasters have some part of pulley system that pulls the coaster up the hill. While the coaster is being pulled up, the potential energy is building. When the coaster reaches the top, the car gets released from the pulley system. Some roller coasters are engineered to slow down enough at the end of the track that the breaks are only needed for stopping the roller coaster. Others rely on the brake system. In roller coasters the brakes are built on the track not on the car. There are a series of clamps on the track at the end of the ride and at other emergency braking points. A hydrolic system powered by a central computer closes these clamps when needed. The friction caused slowly slows down the car eventually stopping completely.  This system keeps evolving into more exciting rides. Inertia is a huge factor in the engineering behind roller coasters. When going on roller coasters, it is said that inertia would keep you in your seat even if you go upside down.

Overall, roller coasters keep evolving into more fun, exciting and interesting rides and continue to thrill the people riding them.