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Kennywood's new coaster to include parts of the Steel Phantom

Friday, August 11, 2000

By Laura Pace, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Kennywood pulled a Coke Classic.

The Steel Phantom roller coaster at the West Mifflin amusement park isn't going away after all.

  The Steel Phantom at Kennywood Park will be reconstructed and renamed The Phantom's Revenge. The loop shown here will be removed. (Martha Rial, Post-Gazette)

Despite this year's publicity that said the coaster was going to be removed for a new attraction, park officials announced yesterday that they have been planning to keep portions of it ever since the brainstorming began 18 months ago.

Phantom's Revenge, scheduled to open in April, will combine some of the most beloved parts of the original coaster with a new section and improvements to be built this fall. The coaster will keep the first lift, the dramatic first two drops and its entanglement with the tracks of the Thunderbolt.

The coaster chassis and location of the loading station also will remain, said Kennywood president and chief executive officer Harry Henninger.

    More coaster coverage:

Fans disagree over hybrid design


The new design will eliminate the upside-down loops and widen the curves, possibly allowing the designers to change the coaster's restraint system from an overhead truss to a lap bar, he said. The ride on the current design is so jostling that even tiny pierced earrings must be removed to avoid injury.

"We can do this better. It's going to be faster. It's going to be smoother. It's going to be more exciting," Henninger said. He said removing the inversions would broaden the audience because some riders just don't want to go upside down. But he hinted that loops could be part of a new ride in the next three or four years.

Builders D.H. Morgan Manufacturing of La Selva Beach, Calif., will design the new steel track, which will be 200 feet longer than the current 3,000-foot layout. It will have a different configuration that will include a 230-foot-long tunnel and a camelback hump where riders will catch air -- or feel the sensation of weightlessness -- just before they reach the second hill.

The hulking 225-foot drop in which ridersfeel like they are plunging into the Monongahela River will be increased to 230 feet. The extra distance will allow the coaster's speed to jump to 85 mph from the current top speed of 80 mph.

Morgan will design new fiberglass cars and improve the station. The company designed the Steel Dragon 2000, in Nagashima Spaland, Mie, Japan. The amusement park claims its coaster is the world's tallest and fastest, wresting that title away from Millennium Force, which opened this year at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

"I'm impressed," said Bill Linkenheimer of Ross, president of the American Coaster Enthusiasts. Linkenheimer said the smoother ride would allow his group to more easily endure repeat rides.

Although park officials announced in March that the Phantom would close, the staff was mum about the changes until yesterday. Even after the announcement, some of the Phantom staff did not know the new plans. Jen Sterling, 20, of Penn Hills, who works on the Steel Phantom ride, secured the overhead harnesses on an outgoing train before a reporter described the changes.

"I think it sounds good," she said. "Some people can't handle the ride." She said a lot of passengers had ridden the coaster to say goodbye.

The changes were fine with many Phantom riders yesterday.

"If they make it bigger and faster, I'm not nostalgic about it," said Matthew Smith, a college student from Morgantown, W.Va.

A group of 15-year-old boys, red-faced as they came off the coaster, decried the loss of loops, but calmed once they heard the coaster would be faster with a steeper drop.

Katie Bigger, 15, of Charleroi likes the new plan. "I don't like the loops anyway. It hurts my head."

Henninger said injuries and complaints about the rough ride did not prompt the design change. "We needed to put in a new spectacular attraction," he said.

Kennywood officials did not release drawings or the project's cost. Demolition will begin a week after Labor Day, Henninger said. The design is not final.

"We're really excited about it. [But] the dots do not connect yet," Henninger added. "I'm very confident that after this opens, the overwhelming opinion will be 'They did a good thing. They made this better.' "

The Phantom isn't the first Kennywood coaster to be revamped. The Thunderbolt opened in 1968 after Kennywood coaster mechanic Andy Vettel fashioned portions of it from the Pippin, originally completed in 1924.

Riders still have 25 days to experience the original Steel Phantom, built by Arrow Dynamics in 1991. The park's last day this season is Labor Day, although Henninger said the staff might plan a send-off for the coaster.

A kiosk near the coaster's exit is selling the last of the T-shirts, key chains, mugs and shot glasses emblazoned with the soon-to-be-classic Phantom logo.

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