Fun With Roller Coaster Data

We’re still in the off-season here in the Midwestern United States (though spring is thankfully right around the corner) and I have to keep myself entertained somehow. I wrote a post awhile ago on Coaster101 about how I had created my own track record using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet complete with stats from the Roller Coaster Database. Well, I used those stats and compared the height, speed, and length differences between thirty wood and steel roller coasters that I’ve rode. I’ve excluded any rides with launches, multiple lifts, or elevators.

The first graph shows speed (in miles per hour) versus height (in feet). Wood and steel coasters are pretty similar which is expected because gravity acts the same on each. However, when we look at the graph for length versus height we see a bit of separation between wood and steel. Generally, the steel coasters are taller but their overall length is shorter than their wooden brethren.

Why is this?

A couple of possible explanations:
· Steel coasters hit the final brakes with more speed and unused energy
· Higher friction coefficients in steel coasters so they slow down and lose energy faster (possibly due to the type of wheel material, bearings, etc.)
· Or maybe it’s just because steel are more expensive to build

A 20 million dollar 200 foot tall wooden coaster will get you 7000 feet of track while a 20 million dollar 200 foot tall steel coaster will only get you 6000 feet of track. Of course, there are other variables that could be looked at to get the full picture: old versus new rides, manufacturer, operator, etc. The steel ride list’s consist of all train types thrown in together (flyer, standup, etc.) – maybe one type in particular has much heavier trains and is skewing the data. 

Just for fun, I included a graph where I added a couple of extreme roller coasters which I had originally excluded from the other charts, such as launched coasters and ones I’ve never ridden. Some outliers I’d like to point out: El Toro, Formula Rossa, and Top Thrill Dragster. Can you name any of the other outliers just by looking at the graphs?