Switchback Railway

Coordinates: 40°34′26″N 73°58′41″W / 40.574°N 73.978°W / 40.574; -73.978
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Switchback Railway
The original Switchback Railway at Coney Island
Coney Island
LocationConey Island
Park sectionConey Island Cyclone Site
Coordinates40°34′26″N 73°58′41″W / 40.574°N 73.978°W / 40.574; -73.978
Opening dateJune 16, 1884 (1884-06-16)
General statistics
ManufacturerLaMarcus Adna Thompson
DesignerLaMarcus Adna Thompson
ModelLift Packed
Track layoutGravity pulled coaster
Lift/launch systemgravity
Height50 ft (15 m)
Drop43 ft (13 m)
Length600 ft (180 m)
Speed6 mph (9.7 km/h)
Max vertical angle30°
Capacity1600 riders per hour
Switchback Railway at RCDB

The original Switchback Railway was the first roller coaster at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York City, and one of the earliest designed for amusement in the United States. The 1885 patent states the invention relates to the gravity double track switchback railway, which had predicated the inclined plane railway, patented in 1878 by Richard Knudsen. [1][2][3] Coney Island's version was designed by LaMarcus Adna Thompson in 1881 and constructed in 1884.[4] It appears Thompson based his design, at least in part, on the Mauch Chunk Switchback Railway which was a coal-mining train that had started carrying passengers as a thrill ride in 1827.[5]

For five cents, riders would climb a tower to board the large bench-like car and were pushed off to coast 600 ft (183 m) down the track to another tower.[5] The car went just over 6 mph (9.7 km/h).[5] At the top of the other tower the vehicle was switched to a return track or "switched back" (hence the name).

This track design was soon replaced with an oval complete-circuit ride designed by Charles Alcoke and called the Serpentine Railway.[5] In 1885 Phillip Hinkle developed a lift system which appeared in his ride called Gravity Pleasure.[4] The Gravity Pleasure also featured cars in which the passengers could face forward instead of in the awkward bench-like seats of the first two roller coasters.[5] The next year, Thompson patented his design of coasters that included dark tunnels with painted scenery.[4] Thompson built many more roller coasters under the name "The L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway" across the United States.[5] Some of these operated until 1954.[citation needed]

Other rides[edit]

There was also a switchback railway at the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition in 1888.[6]


  1. ^ "US Patent No. 332,762 Patented". Google Patents. December 22, 1885. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  2. ^ "Improvements in inclined-plane railways". Google Patents. January 1, 1878. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  3. ^ "History of Roller Coasters: The Switchback Railway, America's First Roller Coaster". Entertainment Designer. October 16, 2011. Retrieved June 16, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Urbanowicz, Steven J. (2002) The Roller Coaster Lover's Companion, Citadel Press Kensington, New York. ISBN 0806523093. pg 4.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Rutherford, Scott (2000) The American Roller Coaster, MBI Publishing Company, Wisconsin. ISBN 0760306893.
  6. ^ "The Argus. PUBLISHED DAILY". The Argus. Melbourne. 21 July 1888. p. 11. Retrieved 14 February 2013 – via National Library of Australia.