Nemesis: A modern miracle of engineering

Nemesis, Phalanx closure notice, Alton Towers

Alton Towers’ famous Nemesis rollercoaster will ‘close’ to the public on Sunday night after more than 28 years of operation.

Coming back in 2024, the majority of its track and supports will be completely rebuilt. This is virtually unprecedented for a modern, permanently placed, steel rollercoaster.

While wooden equivalents are partially – or even entirely – rebuilt as a matter of course, this tends not to be the case for steel equivalents.

It is a testament to Nemesis’ ongoing appeal to the public, and in turn its value to Alton Towers, that this costly undertaking has been approved.

The ride has captured the public’s imagination from day one, when visitors were paying about £16 to enter the Staffordshire theme park.

The ride is painted to give an aged, rusted effect

At its opening, and for several years afterwards, riders used to remove their shoes – often Nike Air Max trainers – because they didn’t quite know what would happen when they were on the ride.

Guests also included Princes William and Harry shortly after the ride’s opening in Spring 1994.

Today, Nemesis has thrilled with over 40 million rides – numbers of course partly made up by the enthusiasts who have boarded many, many times over the years.

‘Acrobatic configuration’

Such an aggressive inverted rollercoaster, where your legs would be dangling freely, was a novelty in Europe in the mid-1990s.

A couple of years earlier, the similarly intense Batman ride had opened in the USA, but it lacked the dramatic landscaping of Nemesis.

Speaking to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1997, Alton Towers’ then safety adviser Gordon Severn said there was a demand for greater speed, height and “acrobatic configurations”.

The ride’s seats are modelled on those seen in rally cars, which allow for only limited movement by the rider.

Nemesis’ circa 7,500 bolts allow for expansion and contraction of the track, but it is the 28 years of these forces that will have likely forced Alton Towers into making a decision on renewing or retiring the ride.

Fortunately, the former was decided, and Nemesis now looks set to be with us for more decades to come.

The ride combines extremes of mechanical, electrical and civil engineering

Nemesis has always intimidated even as an observer because of its speed, proximity to rock and distinctive roar.

It has never quite been attempted in the same way anywhere else, and now it will be taken down and re-built, effectively like-for-like.

While the distinctive track sound may now be muffled or lost, almost everything else about this modern miracle of engineering will remain the same.

“There is nothing I would do to change the profile of that ride”, said its original concept designer John Wardley earlier this year.

Indeed, nothing can be changed without the approval of the ride’s manufacturers Bolliger & Mabillard in any case.

Even changing a single bolt type would need to be approved by the Swiss engineers.

While any changes in the experience won’t be known until Nemesis reopens in 2024, we can safely assume that its original wonder will remain intact.