After the terrible incident which occurred last week on The Smiler and the repercussions which will no doubt ripple throughout the industry over the following months, Alton Towers will be left with a series of difficult decisions that they will have to make in regards to the future of ride.
In a move that is unprecedented in the industry, Alton Towers has now been closed (at the time of writing) for five days. In parks across the World which have had incidents, it is very rare for the whole park to be closed even for one day, let alone five. This has been a very bold decision by both the park and its parent company Merlin Entertainments, which has been mostly well received by fans and customers.
However the day will come very shortly, when the park re-opens its doors; no doubt to a media frenzy which will probably see reporters and news crews lined up outside the park gates eager to interview staff and guests alike.
When Alton Towers roars back into life, what will the park guest encounter when inside the gates? Well, with rumblings of Smiler merchandise leaving the park shops and all references to the Big 6 challenge being removed, I would expect that Alton Towers will have tried to eradicate the Smiler from the park.
With a prohibition notice served by the HSE on the actual ride, I expect the whole of X Sector to be cordoned off for the first few weeks. The park will not want anyone in the vicinity taking pictures of the area. Even the Towers ruins themselves may be out of bounds as there are sections which do give an overview of the area where the incident occurred.
But what will the park do in the long term? Personally I don’t think that the ride will be open to the public again this year. But with some calling for the ride to be removed, is that even a possibility? Would Alton Towers consider mothballing it?
As the Smiler was an £18 million investment only two years ago, in my opinion it is very unlikely that the ride will be removed. Even after all the problems that it has had during its time at the park, I cannot see any scenario that will see its removal.
Because the HSE are involved and have issued the prohibition notice, the park cannot legally open the ride until the HSE say so. This could be anything from a few weeks to a couple of years. Their findings and recommendations would need to be carried out before the HSE would be happy for Alton Towers to allow guests back onto the ride.
So what will happen? Well again, this is just my opinion, but there will probably be modifications done to ensure that this never happens again. Maybe the removal of the two trim brakes will occur, more proximity sensors added, especially in the areas where the stalls have occurred and HSE may force them to build evacuation structures in the batwing element.
But when all of this blows over and the ride does re-open, is the name of the attraction a sticking point? Is the overall theme going to be appropriate for something which has caused such injuries? Can a ride which has had a very serious incident be called the Smiler? Personally, I think that we may even see the ride renamed and even rethemed slightly.
In the short term though, all of these points are unimportant. The most important aspect of this is that all those who were involved in this tragic incident recover quickly. My thoughts are with all those involved in this tragic incident and I wish them all a speedy recovery.