Matt's LEGO Roller Coaster

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The roller coaster was featured in Wire Magazine in conjunction with the BrickFest PDX show!

Don't miss the videos of the roller coaster in action!

Everything has been updated since the public showing of the roller coaster at BrickFest PDX February 13-15, 2004 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon, USA. Virtually all photos are new, and show the current roller coaster with all of the latest improvements. You can still view the Old Verstion if you want.

I have thought about doing a Lego roller coaster for a long time, probably since around 1994 when the discussion came up on Eileen Keeney was my greatest inspiration - I know she attempted a roller coaster with a loop, but I never got a chance to see it or to hear if she was successful or not. Her method was to put 4.5V track on edge so that the tops of the rails face each other. She wasn't the first to try that, and in fact Lego even suggests it for a roller coaster on page 88 of Idea Book 241. But Eileen's use of the idea kept gnawing at me.

Before I began building I decided I was not going to attempt a Lego roller coaster unless I could successfully do a loop, since that was the most important part in my opinion. So I got out a bunch of 4.5V track and began experimenting in the summer of 2000. I got a basic loop to work, and I found that 9V train wheels are able to go around it. Once the loop worked I figured out a car configuration and a hill height by trial and error. Then I figured out how to do level curves and started putting it all together. It turns out I had enough energy left over for a banked curve, a drop and a hump and a spiral too, so I rounded up some more 4.5V track and did that.

I worked on it pretty hard through the rest of 2000, but set it aside for most of 2001. I briefly thought about trying to get it ready for the Pacific Northwest Lego Train Club (PNLTC) show at Legoland in August of 2001, but I decided to concentrate on traditional train stuff for that. Then PNLTC decided to do something different at GATS in Portland in 2002, so it seemd like a good time to finish up that roller coaster! It debuted at GATS on February 16th and 17th, 2002, and was very successful, although a number of needed improvements for safty and reliability were discovered.

There have been a number of revisions since the roller coaster's first public showing at GATS with PNLTC in February 2002. Most notable are the car safety restraint systems and in the chain elevator to the top, plus strengthing of several key structural components. The roller coaster has also show at the Beaverton Mall PNLTC display, and most recently at BrickFest PDX in February 2003 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon.

Most recently the coaster was displayed at NWBrickCon 2005, and before that it was on tour in Canada, where over a million visitors had an opportunity to view it in various venues. Here it is at Science World in Canada:

Here is a history of its display status and major events:

As of this writing (April 28, 2010) the decaying in my barn. It is not yet to the point of no return, but it is getting very close and will likely be moving to the parts bin soon unless someone comes along with a good reason to save it. Do you have a public or semi-public facility in the Pacific Northwest US that would work as a short or long term host for the roller coaster? We can probably work something out - please email me.

The finished roller coaster is pretty cool if I do say so myself. Here are a few interesting facts:

I have a few thanks and credits:

So without further delay, here is a sequence of pictures of the finished project - enjoy, and feel free to ask questions. And don't forget to visit my sponsor site, Matt's Mushroom Bins for the perfect solution to Lego sorting and storage! (Click on any small picture for a big picture. From any big picture you can go forward or back within them if you prefer).

You can also see the video shot by Mark Hafner of the roller coaster in action (early version at GATS). It is about 15 seconds long, and you can download either the small 690KB version or the large 1.8MB version . I can't get those links there to work, but if you use the option to "save target as" and download it before opening it they do work. I have tested viewing it only in Quicktime 5.0 - it is .mov format. Someone has also posted this same video on youtube.

This presentation will show Matt Chilesí Lego Roller Coaster in detail, with a goal of understanding how it was built, how it works and how it is maintained.

As an overview you can follow the train from the station, though the layout and back to the station. No words here - enjoy the show!

Design - The Cars: Now we will look at the design of the roller coaster train cars.

The basic train car design has gone through a number of modifications since the first version of the coaster, but the overall dimensions and functionality remain the same. Low friction, given by high quality 9V train wheels, is key.
The underside was most tricky to design because it needs to have two flanges spaced exactly (to within about 1/10th brick width) to function properly, plus it needs to have a friction device to catch belts and the chain. This most recent version uses 2 new 1x4 thin wall bricks instead of older fence pieces which are slightly thicker.
The each train car seats 4 people. The original seat belt system has long since been replaced with a much safer system. And that has just been upgraded with the development of new click hinge pieces (yellow) so that seat belts now lock in place.
A side view with seat belts open. A 1x2 plate with two extensions (classic spaceship front guns) wraps around each rider to keep him or her securely on the ride. Fatality rates are now very low.
Here you see a rider locked in position by the seat belts. Note that all riders must keep their inside arm up and can have their outside arm up or down. Up is best on roller coasters anyway.
A front view of the secured rider. The cars are attached to each other by classic ball and socket hitches for maximum flexibility in all dimensions. The little foot rests add some extra security and passenger comfort.
Here we have a train of 3 cars hooked together. The two down studs at the rear of each car are caught by rubber belts and by the chain to get the train to the top of the ride.
Up to 4 cars can be hooked together, but the added weight puts so much strain on the ride that the track needs a tune up after every ride. 3 cars works best.

Design - The Track: Now we will look at the design of the track and how it meshes with the train.

This is the basic track design. When curved 4.5V track is placed on edge you can have hills and valleys. These straight pieces illustrate the concept. Exact clearance is critical so that the train canít fall between the tracks or jump the tracks or rub the edges of the tracks.
The bottom of each section of side mounted track also has two other pieces of track attached between studs (pony ear fashion) and strengthened with the red 2x6 plates underneath. This adds strength, so that each section of coaster track uses the track from 2 sections of 4.5V track.
And end view of the track so you can see exactly how it goes together at each tie junction. This type of track was used for all hills and most straight shots on the roller coaster.
This is a typical flat curved section of track. All level curves and some level flats were built like this. The lower track level is standard 4.5V track rigidly attached to ties. The upper level of track is attached on edge between the studs (pony ear style) to a plate that is similarly attached to the lower rigid track.
From this end view you can see that there is a 1 stud gap between rails. The less gape there is the less the rails will spread as the train goes by. The 1x2 blue sloped pieces you see also prevent spreading in the middle of each rail.
I use the yellow 2x6 plates in this picture of the bottom of the track to push out slightly on the black 2x4 plates which pushes in slightly on the top rails to keep them from spreading. Any brick or plate will work fine as a rail spacer between the track layers and I use build differently in various spots.
An end view of the rails now properly spaced for flat curves. The wheels of the train ride on the top rails and the flanges under the train ride just under the edges of the bottom of the top rails. The bottom rails are just there for strength and shaping.

Design - Around the Layout: This is a more detailed look at the track setup of this ride and the various mechanisms to make it happen.

There is the layout, looking from the short end with the banked curve in the foreground.
There is the layout, looking from the side with the elevator to the top.
An overview of the station and waiting platforms which are usually full of people except for this presentation. The three sets of 6 wheels under the track are powered by a single motor which is individually controlled to move the train forward or backwards in the station.
Just outside the station is the switching yard which has two working sets of tracks, each powered by 8 wheels on 4 axles to move the train backwards and forwards. This whole platform moves front to back to move a train off of the track for maintenance. The switches on the left control this platform and the wheels here and in the station area.
This first small hill is powered by one motor and has two modern Technic rubber belts chain linked together to haul the train up for a coast around to the other side of the layout where the big elevator to the top is. This and the big elevator are controlled by the switch to the left. All motors are powered by a 9V train power supply kept at full power.
The top of the first hill. Note 9V power supply in the foreground. Here is the first transition between sideways aligned track and normal aligned track. Each of these transitions must be aligned very carefully so the bottom of the train does not snag on the track.
A view around the first curve heading down towards the big elevator.
There is a short straightaway before the second curve.
The second curve has been extra reinforced here because the train seems to put extra wear on this part of the track. It comes though fairly fast to the brake wheels just past the red support columns.
The set of 12 brake wheels on 6 axles here are designed to slow down a train that is going to fast and to catch a train and move it up to the next rubber belt. The motor here controls only those wheels. The switch in the foreground is an emergency kill switch for all the motors on the elevator.
The second motor here, to the left, controls the rubber belt which pushes the train up the two sections of concave curved track. Note that there are 3 sections of convex curved track at the top.
From the rubber belt the train is pushed on to the chain. The chain is 9 standard Technic links followed by one bulldozer chain link which stands up enough to catch the two studs on the underside of each train car. The chain is about 10 feet long and powered by a motor at the top.
A riders view up the elevator. The electric cord to the top goes up the right side. The bulldozer links on the chain stay level on the bottom side of red 1x8 plates Under the chain is a brake mechanism that is designed to only allow forward motion and keep a train from sliding backwards there is a chain break.
A side view of the elevator. You can see the returning chain behind the yellow braces. The pillars for the elevator are simple block stacks of blue brick.
Here is the top of the chain part of the elevator. You can see the motor that powers the chain next to that large gear wheel. This is the start of the trickiest transition of the whole ride as the train will be pulled over 3 sections of convex track.
A view of the transition between chain and the first of 2 rubber belts. This was the trickiest part of the ride to build and has been rebuilt numerous times. The belt needs to stay at exactly the right height over the whole arc so that it can continue to grip the train. Chain and belt move at approximately the same speed.
This is the final motor on the ride and it powers the two belts and the top of the elevator. They are linked by double Technic chains.
A view of the far side of the top area, which is quite different from the near side.
Here is the top of the belt area, the end of the elevator. There is a tricky transition here to flat laid track of the top curve. Plus the whole mechanism needs to be attached in a movable way to the top curve and another vertical support.
A view of the side of the top curve, looking back to the elevator. This curve needs to drop in elevation by about one brick per track length to keep momentum up, plus be supported in only 3 points about 4 feet above table height.
A view of the curve and the center support in the middle of it. This is a 180 degree curve. Sorry there isnít a better view of the top, but even on a chair I couldnít get up that high. That is the ceiling light fixture of my basement at the same height behind in the upper right.
Now we are around the top curve and looking towards the big drop off. This is the point where you get ready to scream.
This is just after the transition to track on edge and you are looking down into oblivion.
Is that the bottom down there???
The bottom of the loop viewed from outside of the roller coaster.
Going up the side of the loop.
That is the ceiling fixture up (or down) there. You are now almost upside down!
Still upside down now coming down. That is the station where we down in the upper left. Are you sick yet?
And though the loop we now shoot up though another very tricky high speed transition into the banked curve.
A look back through the loop from outside of the banked curve.
Here we are just going into the curve which is rigidly attached only at the ends. The rest is suspended over space. Those plates holding the rails together need to be tightened up from time to time.
Here is looking back from the other end of the banked curve, at the transition back to side mounted track.
And from that curve we head down to a dip at ground level again. The elevator to the top is just to the left.
Looking back just above the dip. The first curves come in just below here before getting on the elevator.
Looking back again, now at the hump just after the dip. Next to it is the large support column for the elevator to the top.
After the hump the track heads into a 430 degree spiral.
This part of the spiral has double decked track.
The spiral heads right through the support for the big drop.
And here is it is coming out of that support, continuing around the support columns for the high curve 4 feet above.
Here the track goes under itself though a tunnel of columns which are supporting the track above.
Looking back, it comes out of the tunnel and angles across to reach the platform again. The yellow on the ground are paths for entering and leaving (in disrepair at photo time).
And back safely into the station again!

Design - Support Structures: Now for a look at some of the supporting work that holds everything together and up.

Most support structures are basic and utilitarian such as this. Simple stacked bricks work quite well for anything not too tall or large.
The support tower for the top curve is the most unusual on the layout. It is built of monorail track on end with a tensor rod at the top to keep it together. You are looking down.
Here you can see how the top of the main support tower flowers out with two single arms and a double arm for a total of 3 support points. There is a little wobble in this when the train goes around.
These supports help stiffen up the whole complex. They are made of 4.5V straight track rails and 2x12 plates, held on with standard 2x2-2x2 brackets.
The bottom of the main tower is monorail switch track which adds a little more stability.
Here you can see the end of a monorail support arch, attached to some brick support work. Note the two visible Technic pins which help hold things together. The whole creation breaks into chunks for transport. The base table is 3 smaller tables.
The supports for the main drop are 12V straight track pieces. I had lots and they are pretty sturdy. Two panels of the pieces are tied together using pony ear techniques. The whole thing is very stabile.
Here is a close up of the pony ear method used to bind the two sides together. Note also the Technic pin that can be removed to take the hill of track off of the support for transport.
Here you can see the support structure for the far side of the loop. This point gets a lot of force against it every time the train comes though. Things have to be tight or the train looses energy and wonít make it.
Since we are talking about the loop anyway, take a look at how the 1x4 thin wall bricks slide on the bottom of the track at the top of the loop to keep the train on the track.
Here you can see a couple of the pins which attach the banked curve to its supports. Simple bricks and hinges provide all the support needed.
The banked curve gets support from the red Technic lattice, which is hinged at the center of each track section that it binds to.
Here is the underside of the banked curve. You can see how it ties in with the ties on the support track layer of the track.
And the banked curve again, with its red support columns. The lower track is directly under the curve. You can see the monorail track support stand in the background.
Here it all is packed in the back of my truck for moving. Two long tables go on the top and one short table goes underneath, with all the various parts stacked here and there. The long elevator has to fit on the side. The 3 large wooden support legs I use go in next, and are not shown.

Design - Some Details: A look at details of how the elevator works, another look at the switch yard and some wear warning.

Here one rail of the elevator has been removed for clarity. You can see how the bottom of the train car catches the Technic bulldozer track link so it is pulled up.
This is the trickiest part of the elevator. The lead car tends to rise in front when kicked off of the first belt. That causes the second car to nose dive and then it wonít grip the belt And the third car hasnít yet reached the belt, so everything stalls...
Here is another look at the switch, now with the train pulled off of the main track. Another train could now pass by while the first one gets a tune-up (necessary every 5-10 runs).
See the black on the inside edges of these track pieces? That is from the black 1x4 fence pieces on the bottom of an older version of the train (now replaced with yellow 1x4 thin wall pieces). The buildup occurs in high friction areas and needs to be cleaned from time to time or the whole ride slips out of tolerance!
Here is a shot taken at BrickFest PDX 2004 to help get a sense of the scale of the roller coaster.
Here is another shot for scale from BrickFest PDX. I took this standing on a chair looking down to the crowd during the public day.
That is me there behind the loop at the Coasterís first public show at GATS in February 2002 in Portland, OR with PNLTC.

Any Questions? Please feel free to follow up by email:

So what now? Maybe it is time to work on the Lego Mag-Lev Train project again... And don't forget to visit Matt's Mushroom Bins on your way out!

Other roller coasters on line (if you know of ones I have missed, please let me know!):

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Last Updated April 28, 2010 - - Copyright Matthew J. Chiles 2004-2010 all rights reserved.
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