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Historic Wooden Roller-coaster Restoration

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About the Project

The Scenic railway is a wooden rollercoaster located at the recently renovated Dreamland amusement park in Margate, UK. The wooden structure ride was first opened in 1920 and is the oldest roller-coaster in the UK.  The ride is unique as it requires a brakeman to physically control the speed.

The Scenic railway is one of only eight such rides in the world and in 2002 it was awarded Grade 2 listed status and again upgraded to Grade 2* status in 2011 by the Heritage Trust. This is due to its status as one of the unique roller-coasters of its type in the world.

The Dreamland Park closed to the public in 2003 and the Scenic Railway in 2006. In 2009 the Dreamland Trust was awarded a grant by the Department of Culture, media and sport to restore the Scenic railway and other historic areas of the park to their original condition.

The original wooden train & carriages had been destroyed in an arson attack, with the only part that remained from the original carriages being one of the ornate dragon-heads that were part of the front structure of each carriage.

As part of the restoration project WGH Ltd were contracted to rebuild the train, with three carriages, as close to original specification. WGH Ltd approached Performance Engineered Solutions Ltd to reverse engineer the remaining dragon-head and manufacture six new wooden dragons from the original to become part of the three-carriage train required for the ride.

The Restoration Challenge

The first challenge was to accurately reproduce the Dragons from the original. The original was hand carved, ornate and organic in shape, and the PES team were determined to ensure that the essence and original feel from the hand carved dragon would not be lost in reverse engineering the heads.

To ensure the integrity of the piece we opted to scan the original dragon-head using a GOM non-contact 3D blue light scanning system to capture the original data to a high level of detail and resolutions.

Scanning the Dragon-head

The surviving dragon-head was sourced, and it was discovered that 270mm had been removed from the lower section of the Dragon, plus a 20mm piece from the head. This meant key details and features had been lost as the original dragon stood at 980mm in height.

The team searched through archived information on the original scenic railway and soon discovered that the missing section included ornate carving and key details. Whilst we could have scanned the original part and rebuilt the lost detail in CAD, we knew this would produce a perfect geometrical solution however all the character would have been lost.

Combining traditional skills, modern 3D scanning technology and advanced engineering

We decided that the solution was to commission a sculpture to rebuild the missing section in clay, using original carving techniques and align the original part with the clay sculpted section. Working from photographs and dimensions set by the team the sculpture produced a perfect clay piece, that was a work of art in itself, and we aligned it to the original dragon.

Now we had the full dragon in place we scanned it using the GOM 3D blue light scanner to produce a perfect 3D image. The scan data was then imported into the CAD system and our design engineers cleaned up the data, removing the lines between the two parts and blending them so you would never know the scan was produced from two separate parts; the original wood piece and the new clay sculpture.

By combining modern technology with traditional methods, we created the perfect solution to the challenge. We had recreated the dragon, incorporating the essence of what the original craftsman wanted to produce.

Manufacturing the new pieces

Once the scan data was complete in CAD, it was time to start the manufacturing process.  Manufacturing in wood is a specialist process and we have always partnered with Graham Chapman at GCNC Ltd in all our restoration projects that either require a manufactured solution in wood or stone.

We asked GCNC to manufacture the six-reverse engineered dragon-heads that were required to complete the three carriages being built by WGH Ltd. Graham set up the CNC programme, best cutting paths and tooling to ensure that the detail from the 3D scan data (.stl file) was not lost.

The Solution

Dreamland Margate reopened its doors to the public after an amazing restoration project in June 2015. The scenic railway opening was slightly later in October. The PES team are very proud to have played a small part in this amazing project that has added to our legacy as an engineering solutions team.

Here is footage of the restored roller-coaster in action.