Conversations with a ride structural engineer

Big DipperSteve Buckley has been involved in Structural Engineering since leaving school at the age of 16 and today works on Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s famous rides.

“Time flies”, he says as he recalls that was now 36 years ago and launched a career of which the majority of work is actually away from the theme parks working on buildings, bridges and chemical structures.

“I have also carried out structural inspections on Blackpool’s three piers and carried out design work on Alton Towers’ rides over the years.

“The Theme Park inspections however, for me, are special as I have such a keen interest in rollercoasters, visiting Blackpool since I was a small child – so I have grown up with these structures.”

Indeed, some of Blackpool’s most famous rides, not least the Big Dipper – 90 years old today – are wooden structures of considerable age.

“It’s quite surprising how much timber still remains of the original structures,” Steve explains.

“I cant think of any one section that has been rebuilt en masse – it’s been a gradual replacement of members as and when these are deemed necessary.

“It has to be said that there is quite a large amount of redundancy in the structure due to the way the structures were designed back in the day – there were no computers, so they made sure they put plenty in!”

Steve looks for many things when he conducts inspections of rides:

  • Signs of corrosion/decay in any members
  • Missing members
  • Members in distress
  • Loose bolts/fixings
  • Signs of foundation movement

“Yes you do get those from time to time!”, he says when talking about missing elements of the rides.

“I visit Blackpool, Alton Towers and Thorpe Park regularly with my daughter – a fellow coaster addict – throughout the year as a normal customer and it’s hard walking round not looking at the structures as I do!”

Steve says that a career in structural engineering is a very rewarding one.

“As a ride lover working on rides however is the icing on the cake. Its usually cold and wet but that doesn’t seem to matter when you are walking the dizzy heights of the coasters.

“As regards experience, you need to have experience in all forms of construction, steel, timber, concrete and masonry and have an understanding how the structures work and obviously a head for heights!”