A brake is a device on any roller coaster track used to slow down or stop the train. There are a number of different types of brakes that can be located anywhere on the roller coasters' circuit. Contrary to some belief, almost all coasters have brakes on the track, rather than the underside of the train.
Brakes are often used to create block sections.
Types of Brakes
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Any modern roller coaster with more than one train has block brakes. They act as virtual barriers between the trains running on the ride, preventing collisions should one train fail to make it round the course for any reason. Block brakes allow more than one train to run on the circuit, and to completely stop trains in case of a ride stop. Block brakes appear at the end of block sections, which is what a rollercoaster is virtually broken up into. Only one train may be in a block section at once, with a few small exceptions, such as Multimove in stations. As a rule of thumb, there should be one less train than block section, to give space for trains to change between blocks while still accommodating for the ‘one train per block’ rule.
A brake run is a series of brakes which slow down a train usually to a slow speed. Almost every roller coaster has a brake run of some type at the end, just before the station, and longer rides often have a mid-course brake run, which also acts as a block brake.
Trim brakes are meant to "trim" the train to a certain speed. They are not meant to fully stop the train. These brakes can be used everywhere in the track.
Different roller coasters use various methods of braking to slow down their trains.
Friction brakes use friction to slow down the train, hence their name. There are two main types of friction brake, clamp and skid brakes.
Clamp brakes utilise two friction pads parallel to each other and to the track. There is usually a fin underneath (or above, on inverts) each car on the train, most notably except for rollercoasters manufacturered by Bolliger & Mabillard, which instead use a pair of bars, a few inches apart. This also means the pads are much further apart as well. The fin would run in between the two pads when the train passes by them. The pads usually have two positions, open and closed. If they are opened, the pads are moved apart, and if they are closed, they are pulled together. Most clamp brakes are set to a default position of closed, in case of a power failure. When the pads are closed, they would squeeze against the fin underneath the train. If the brakes are open, there is a small gap between the pads and the fin. Clamp brakes were used by most manufacturers, especially on steel coasters, as a primary method to slow down trains, until around the turn of the millennium, when magnetic brakes were introduced.
Skid Brakes are basically a long piece of material, often ceramic covered, situated in the middle of the track, parallel to the rails. When engaged, the skid rises and friction against the underside of the train causes it to slow down and eventually stop. Skid brakes were one of the first advancements in roller coaster braking and are rarely used in modern coasters with the exception of Twister at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, USA, and the Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, USA.
Magnetic brakes work by having a very powerful pair of magnets under the car, with either one or two fins on the track, or a pair of magnets on the track and the fin on the car. Most notably, Millennium Force was one of the first coasters to use this technology. Magnets on their own can’t stop trains, so if they are used on a block, they are usually paired with a device that can stop the train, such as friction brakes, or on Millennium Force and in fact most modern Intamin rollercoasters, friction wheels. Magnetic brakes can come in two forms, adjustable or fixed. If they are adjustable, the pair of magnets or fin(s) on the track could be lowered, either by being pulled down, or rotated down (for example, Flying Aces at Ferrari World), or if it is magnets on the track, one of the magnets could be pulled forwards or backwards, with the other one in the same position.
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