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Rocket Rods: Disneyland California’s Most Disastrous Attraction

Sometimes, good ideas just don’t work out. And, boy, was that the case with Disneyland’s infamous Rocket Rods attraction, which opened in 1998 as part of the park’s much-vaunted New Tomorrowland project, and was quietly shuttered just two years and more than 25 million dollars later.

The idea behind Rocket Rods was simple: Disneyland would take the existing PeopleMover attraction and replace the cars and the propulsion system to create a much faster ride. But there was a problem from which the attraction would never recover: Disney simply didn’t have the money to do it properly. Despite the roaring late-1990s economy, the Walt Disney Company was still reeling from the disastrous launch of Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris). And, in an attempt to save some cash, Disneyland’s Imagineers cut some corners.

Or, rather, they literally didn’t cut the corners. To facilitate the faster trains, the PeopleMover‘s completely flat track should have been modified with banked turns (a la Epcot’s Test Track). But it wasn’t. Instead, Disney kept it exactly as it was. Worse still, having added a set of ride vehicles that were much heavier than their predecessors, the park did nothing to strengthen the overall support structure.

The result was a disaster. The absence of banked turns forced the cars to constantly speed up and slow down, jerking their passengers around and causing repeated damage to their tires and their engines. The unstrengthened support structure swiftly began to show dangerous signs of wear. The computerized control system proved unable to judge when there was a real problem, leading to incessant downtime and extremely long waits. And bemused riders complained that the attraction was neither fast enough to be thrilling nor slow enough to provide pleasing views of the park.

So catastrophic was the grand opening that Rocket Rods ran for just a single month before it was closed for reworking. When, three months later, it re-opened again, it ran for less than two years before being closed once again — ostensibly for another “refurbishment,” but, in fact, to be unceremoniously scrapped at the start of 2001.


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