How Much Does it Cost to Build a Roller Coaster?
The white-knuckle adrenaline rush of getting strapped into a roller coaster is unlike any other. While the thrill isn’t for everyone, coaster junkies are always on the lookout for the next great ride. Everyone knows that building a roller coaster isn’t cheap, but just how much do these steel giants cost to build?
The average cost to build a roller coaster is $8 million. However, the actual costs vary quite a bit based on the coaster’s design, features, and materials.
Individual coasters may cost anywhere from $3 million to $30 million to build, with elaborate, themed coasters being the most expensive.
How Much do Roller Coasters Cost to Build?
The price to build a roller coaster depends on its size, features, materials, and design. Individual coasters can vary significantly in cost. The coaster’s location also plays a role in both the cost of land to build the coaster and the cost of materials and labor.
Big, themed coasters that you can find in amusement parks like Walt Disney World or Universal Studios are among the most expensive, priced in the $20 to $30 million dollars (and up) range.
However, smaller roller coasters in small theme parks, shopping malls, or other attractions are typically on the lower end of the price scale. You can build these types for $1 to $3 million.
To get a better idea of how much a roller coaster can vary in features, functionality, and price, let’s take a look at some of the most expensive coasters out there.
|Top Thrill Dragster||Cedar Point, Ohio, USA||$25 million|
|Leviathan||Canada’s Wonderland, Ontario, Canada||$28 million|
|The Smiler||Alton Towers, United Kingdom||$30 million|
|Thunder Dolphin||Tokyo Dome City Attractions, Japan||$37 million|
|Steel Dragon||Nagashima Spa Land, Japan||$52 million|
|Expedition Everest||Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Florida, USA||$100 million|
There are other types of roller coasters that are less expensive than these massive theme park rides. For example, a mountain coaster typically costs about $1.5 million to build.
These rides use the environment’s natural architecture and gravity to power the coaster downward. Some mountain coasters give the rider control over the experience by including a brake handle that can be used to speed up or slow down the cart.
Cost Factors for Building a Roller Coaster
The main factors to consider when building a roller coaster are the coaster’s size, design, features, and materials. The high cost for building these thrill rides begins well before people start laying down the track.
Roller coaster design firms employ teams of engineers, designers, architects, and environmental engineers to plan the coaster from start to finish.
These specialized teams don’t come cheap! These engineers typically make a minimum of $38 per hour. When you multiply that times the ten to fifteen engineers on the design team, the salaries add up fast.
The materials impact the cost and the final product. For example, there are certain design features that you can do with a steel coaster that aren’t appropriate for a wooden coaster.
The materials also impact how long the project takes to complete. The longer the timeline, the more billable hours you’ll have to pay for.
On average, wooden roller coasters take about 8 months to complete. On the other hand, steel coasters take 1.5 years or more to build.
If the coaster is themed, like what you see at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios theme parks, the coaster could take much longer. These elaborate attractions usually take three to five years to complete.
Most roller coasters are made of steel. Only about 7% of the coasters in the world are made of wood. Steel is more expensive on the front end, but it gives designers more versatility and it requires less maintenance over time.
|Material||Cost per Square Foot|
|Plywood||$25 – $45|
|Lumbar||$1 – $5|
|Steel||$2 – $6|
|PVC Pipe||$2 – $10|
|Concrete||$4 – $8|
|Reinforced Concrete||$9 – $10|
In addition to these raw materials, you’ll need to consider the costs for lift chains, casters, electronics, wiring, welding, nuts, bolts, foundation, and land preparation.
How Much Does it Cost to Build a Wooden Roller Coaster?
Wooden roller coasters typically cost less than steel roller coasters, but that’s usually because they’re not as long and don’t have as many features as steel coasters. However, they’re still expensive to build.
Most modern wooden roller coasters cost $5 million to $10 million to build. Some wooden coasters integrate steel elements to make a more versatile and smooth “hybrid” coaster, which can add to the price tag.
The preferred material for wooden coasters is southern yellow pine, which is typically more expensive than other wood types.
The main factor in the total cost for a wooden coaster is the size. More track length and a taller coaster mean more materials and more labor. These costs can add up quickly on these massive wooden roller coasters.
For example, at Dollywood in Tennessee, the park opened a new wooden roller coaster called “Lightning” several years ago. The coaster is over 20 stories high and has a thrilling 165-foot drop.
The coaster has 3,800 feet of track and came with a $22 million price tag. Updates to the coaster of the last couple of years have included steel track systems that will put Lightning into this hybrid category.
A true wooden coaster is the classic Coney Island Cyclone. It was built in 1926 for $100,000 which translates to well over $1.35 million today.
Cost to Build a Backyard Roller Coaster
Every kid dreams of having an amusement park in their backyard. For some people, this dream is a reality. You can build a simple roller coaster in your backyard for $3,000 to $10,000, depending on how elaborate the coaster is and what it’s made of.
Of course, the price tag can go much higher depending on the coaster’s design and features.
Alternatively, you can purchase a backyard roller coaster rather than building it from scratch. These typically range from $15,000 to $40,000 and up.
For small children, there are rollercoaster-like options for indoor or outdoor fun, like this Step2 up & down roller coaster rider (available on Amazon).
If building an actual roller coaster in your backyard is a bit out of your price range and/or skill level, an alternative would be trying your hand at a simulator game like Rollercoaster Tycoon or building with a model roller coaster kit (available on Amazon).
How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Roller Coaster?
If you’re not an engineer and you don’t want to hire one, you could consider purchasing an already designed and manufactured roller coaster. However, these ready-made rides are not cheap. There are several retailers that sell roller coasters and other amusement rides.
The retail price for a roller coaster varies depending mainly on the size. The track’s length and the coaster car’s size are the determining factors for most retailers.
They range from “kiddie” coasters that are small and intended for use in a fair or small amusement park to large coasters for full-sized amusement parks.
|Sample Coaster Size||Sample Price|
|Kiddie||$70,000 – $200,000|
|Small (3-loop)||$250,000 – $650,000|
|Large (4-loop)||$700,000 – $1.5 million|
|6-Loop Amusement Coaster||$1.3 million – $1.6 million|
How Much Does it Cost to Maintain a Roller Coaster?
Once you have the roller coaster in place, you’ll need to think about the costs to maintain it over time. In addition, if the coaster is open to the public, there will be daily and periodic safety inspections and maintenance required, which will also add to the budget.
The true cost to maintain a roller coaster depends on many factors including the coaster’s age, what it’s made of, how it’s used, and what kinds of repair work it may need over time. The repair and maintenance budget for a coaster should be between $10,000 and $50,000, annually.
The Bottom Line
In most cases, building a roller coaster is a big, extensive project that involves a team of skilled professionals.
There are some exceptions, as in those brave souls that take on the endeavor of building a backyard roller coaster. Building a “real” roller coaster costs millions of dollars, with a lot of variation in pricing.
Still, the average price to build a roller coaster in the U.S. is $8 million. However, there are many smaller coasters that are in the $1 to $3 million range, and there are others that are in the $30 to $60 million range.
Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom cost a jaw-dropping $100 million to build! It’s the most expensive roller coaster in the world.
The materials and coaster’s size are major factors in determining the cost. The bigger and taller the coaster, the more time it will take to design and build and the more materials you’ll need.
Despite the big upfront cost, a roller coaster can last a very long time and provide a fun experience for generations. Engineering and roller coaster design is only going to become more exciting in the future as more technologies are implemented and these classic attractions continue to evolve.