Following years of consistent breakdowns and maintenance headaches, the Lightning Rod roller coaster at Dollywood is losing its launch system.
When it opened in 2016, Lightning Road was the first wooden coaster with a linear synchronous motor (LSM) launch, as well as the first launched coaster built by Idaho coaster firm Rocky Mountain Construction. However, the ride’s operations have been frequently interrupted from the beginning, including months-long closures in 2018 and 2020.
Approximately 57 percent of the ride’s wooden track was replaced by RMC’s steel IBox track during the 2020-21 offseason. Now, the ride is losing its launch system to increase reliability, the park explained in a video posted to Facebook Tuesday.
“We were very aggressive when we built the ride, putting a launch system on a wood coaster — which nobody had ever done before,” Pete Owens, Dollywood’s vice president of marketing and public relations, said in the video. “I think we kind of found out why.”
The ride will close at the end of October 30 to allow the launch system to be replaced with what the park is calling a “high-speed” chain lift when it reopens in spring 2024.
“The great part this change to a lift, one, it will uptime, and two, when you pop over that hill at 13 miles per hour, it will be almost the speed, chain versus launch, and the ride home is going to be exactly the same,” said Dollywood Company president Eugene Naughton.
Lightning Rod’s operational mishaps are one of the few blemishes among RMC’s coaster installations. The company is widely regarded among coaster enthusiasts for its intense, airtime-focused coasters, such as Iron Gwazi at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Wildcat’s Revenge at Hersheypark.