Sayonara, Do-Dodonpa.

Any theme park operating within day-trip distance of Tokyo Disneyland has a tough task in carving out an identity for itself, but Fuji-Q Highland has pulled it off. Located in the town of Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, about an hour and a half west of downtown Tokyo, Fuji-Q attracts thrill ride fans with its collection of roller coasters, but soon it’s going to have one less.

When it opened in 2001, Fuji-Q’s Do-Dodonpa was the fastest roller coaster in the world, and even today, the ride’s maximum speed of 180 kilometers (111.8 miles) per hour has it tied for third-fastest. What’s really amazing, is how, and how quickly, it reaches that speed. Do-Dodonpa doesn’t hit it by being slowly pulled to the ride’s high point and then dropped down a slope. Instead, right at the very start of the ride, a compressed air launch system rockets the coaster’s cars to 180 kilometers per hour in just 1.56 seconds, which Fuji-Q says makes it the fastest-accelerating roller coaster on the planet.

▼ The Do-Dodonpa launch sequence (and accompanying screams of terror)

Unfortunately, its acceleration numbers aren’t Do-Dodonpa only notable statistic. Between December of 2020 and August of 2021, no fewer than five Fuji-Q visitors suffered broken bones from riding the coaster. They weren’t from sticking their hands outside the car and hitting a trackside tree or pole, either. They were neck/spine compression fractures. The injured individuals ranged in age from at least 21 to 59, too, so this wasn’t a case of very old or very young riders with low bone-density getting banged up, either.

Rather than impact, the problem appears to have been the intense G-forces riders experience at the ride’s begging. The Do-Dodonpa launch sequence is said to subject the body to about 3.75 Gs. That’s not far off from the 4 Gs that fighter pilots have to endure when doing catapult lunches from the deck of an aircraft carrier, and considering that Do-Dodonpa riders aren’t going through any special physical conditioning or acclimation training before riding the coaster, in hindsight maybe it’s not so surprising that injuries began to happen.

▼ More footage of Do-Dodonpa

Do-Dodonpa’s current configuration and 180-kilometer-per-hour launch speed date back to 2017, so it’s unclear whether the first few years were truly injury free or if injuries did occur but just weren’t traced back to the ride. In any case, as the incidents came to light in 2021, and with theme parks in general already in a dicey situation as pandemic protocols limited their operations, Fuji-Q Highland’s management suspended operation of Do-Dodonpa while they searched for a safety solution. Sadly, after two and a half years of investigation and deliberation, the park has decided that Do-Dodonpa can’t be saved, and so they’re shutting the ride down permanently.

“After extended discussions with the manufacturer, we have arrived at the conclusion that it would be [prohibitively] difficult to ensure safe operation that that completely eliminates the risk of rider injury,” said Fuji-G Highland in a statement. “In order to fulfil our societal obligation as a theme park and make safety our top priority, we have made the decision to permanently cease operation of Do-Dodonpa.” The park then went on to apologize for not being able to fulfill the hopes of those who had been waiting for the coaster to reopen, and also to apologize to all those who had suffered injuries.

This won’t be the end of roller coasters at Fuji-Q entirely, as it’s still got a few others, such as the gigantic Fujiyama with its unobstructed views of Mt. Fuji. And while it’s now too late/dangerous to get in one last Do-Dodonpa ride, the coaster itself won’t be dismantled for a while yet, so there is still time to take a commemorative farewell photo of the roller coaster that was too fast for its own good.

Source: TBS News Dig, Response, Tetsudo Channel
Top image: PR Times
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