It is the busiest time of the year for Alton Towers, the Halloween Scarefest season is drawing to a close before the park’s season concludes with fireworks next weekend.
But this season has seen some considerable downtime and reliability issues at the theme park, and one of the most curious is that surrounding the Thirteen rollercoaster.
Since mid-September, the Intamin-manufactured rollercoaster has suddenly ceased operation and had its queue line cleared every time it starts to rain.
Having operated since 2010 in virtually all conditions outside of very low temperatures, the ride appears to have suddenly developed an aversion for even the slightest amount of precipitation.
Such a vulnerability would naturally be a concern for any ride operating in the British Isles, but it is particularly problematic for a high-capacity and popular ride in peak season.
As is expected for theme park operators, Alton Towers has provided little detail when discussing a technical issue relating to one of its rides.
So what is known of the decision to change the criteria for when the ride must close, and what has changed this autumn after more than 11 years of apparent trouble-free running in wet conditions?
What we do know is that there was an incident on the ride on 9 September, with unconfirmed claims of its nature.
Twitter user Greg Castle said that the ride “appeared to crash in the station” at around 15:00 that afternoon.
Sam Riley also said he was on the ride when it allegedly “crashed backwards into a train in the station” and as a result sustained a sore back.
He added that Alton Towers had been in touch with him regarding the incident, but that they did not acknowledge that fault which had allegedly occurred.
There were also unconfirmed reports which describe a train stopping on the first tyre-driven lift hill and then falling backwards towards the station, where another train was stood.
Five days later, Alton Towers themselves confirmed that a “soft contact” took place between two trains in the ride’s station, but did not clarified precisely how it occurred.
A spokesperson for the park told the Stoke Sentinel newspaper: “During the routine operation of TH13TEEN on Thursday, September 9, we can confirm that one of the trains made soft contact, at low speed, with another empty carriage in the station.
“All guests were spoken to by our team and left the station as normal. The health and safety of our guests is our top priority and the ride is open as normal after thorough safety checks were successfully completed.”
Those on Thirteen did not require medical assistance and were offered free return tickets, Alton Towers added.
It is following the incident reports, and the subsequent statement by Alton Towers, that Thirteen has not been operating whenever it rains, even if only slightly.
The decision has undoubtedly been made with safety in mind.
But as outlined earlier, the ride has been running since 2010 apparently without incident relating to wet weather or slippage.
The initial lift hill does however now show two types of tyres, as opposed to the original single type visible, but it is not clear when or why they were installed.
The new tyres may be a factor in the apparent incident, or a possibly a response to it.
Regardless of if or how the tyre changes are related, the inability for a popular and queue-absorbing ride to operate in the rain will undoubtedly be a priority for remediation after Alton Towers’ season ends next weekend.