We Can Rope Access That!


Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition

As a Rope Technician, have you ever caught yourself staring up at a structure and wondering if you can Rope Access that? We do! All the time!

Just in case you aren’t in the know, the vast opportunities Rope Access brings to accessing spaces is huge! But it seems like we’re the little kids asking the stern parents if we can climb that, and they say no. The only difference is that most little kids will have no concern for their safety whereas Rope Techs are all about safety first! If you want to know how Rope Access is safe, click here.

Nevertheless, we found our wandering minds drifting towards the very famous, Wooden Roller Coaster at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). It would be neat to Rope Access that! But can we?

Having grown up in the lower mainland, we used to have school field trips to the PNE every year! The Wooden Coaster was the thing to ride each time. As a kid, I couldn’t believe these grown-ups would let us on something that felt so unsafe. Riding the coaster felt like a gamble between life and death. The wooden slates were rickety, the ride was jerky, and you felt like there was high chance that you would either be flung off the tracks, or the whole thing would collapse all at once. So scary, so thrilling, so exhilarating!

Almost 58 years old, the Wooden Coaster is still standing and still giving kids (and adults) a chance to escape and feel free; even if it’s just for 90 seconds. Made completely of specially treated fireproof Douglas fir, the coaster reaches up to 23 meters at its highest point. So how has it lasted this long? Not surprisingly, wooden roller coasters have a very in-depth maintenance and inspection schedule which includes daily, weekly, monthly, and annual inspection duties to ensure all parts of the coaster and their trains are safe for use. Everything from the brakes, the braces, fasteners, bolts, wheels, I beams, steel cables, are looked over meticulously. From what I can gather, the construction of wooden roller coasters allow the inspectors to walk along the track using a Fall Protection system. As we know, this system is much more limited than our Rope Access system, so our question is, how would we Rope Access the wooden roller coaster at the PNE?

Now, we haven’t done an official site visit, nor were we asked to do a visual inspection of this roller coaster, so these solutions are hypothetical. The first option, if the steel tracks are up to engineering specifications, would be a simple set up of a couple of steel anchor slings for each drop. An educated guess would be that we would need to set up three drops on each side. This is just for the first large peak of the roller coaster. With each drop, we can visually inspect about 1.5 m to each side of us. The time it would take to inspect for each drop would depend on the amount of beams, bolts, and steel cables. Another option, if we couldn’t set up our steel sling anchors, would be to set up a solid ground anchor.

Rope Accessing the roller coaster allows the inspector to be up and close with all the wooden beams instead of having to inspect them from the ground with binoculars or see only the beams on the outside if they are using a fall arrest system. As a typical Rope Access team, we would have three people on site and can probably inspect the whole peak anywhere between 1-2 days, depending on how large the workscope is. So can we Rope Access the Wooden Roller Coaster at the PNE? Sure can!!