Runaway Mine Train at Six Flags Great Adventure  

Opening on July 4th, 1974, the Runaway Mine Train was the park's first major roller coaster.   It missed the July 1st opening day as the Rootin' Tootin' Rip Roarin' section of the park was still under construction.  
The Runaway Mine Train was Great Adventure's first major roller coaster, and though considered tame by today's standards, it was the state of the art in high thrills when it opened in 1974.

The ride's custom designed layout took it through (what was then) a densely wooded area of the park, and along the scenic lake shore.   The interaction of the coaster with the trees, water, Skyride and Fort structure made the ride more exciting and memorable.   For many children of the 1970's, the Runaway Mine Train will always be remembered as their first "big" roller coaster.
The coaster was custom designed for the park by Arrow Dynamics, one of the most prolific builders of rides for theme and amusement parks during the 1960's, 70's and 80's.   Their revolutionary creation of tubular steel track for the Matterhorn Bobsled ride at Disneyland ushered in the modern steel coaster era, and they were pioneers along with Six Flags corporation in the creation of the log flume ride.

Arrow was commissioned to create the Runaway Mine Train for Great Adventure as well as the Log Flume.   In later years Arrow also designed the park's Hydro Flume, Lightnin' Loops and Great American Scream Machine.
Unlike many other Arrow designed mine train coasters, the Runaway Mine Train utilizes a single lift hill, and ascends to a much higher point, where many of their designs remained low to the ground and featured several stop and start points as trains engaged multiple chain lifts over the course of the ride.

The large single lift hill allows the coaster to spend a good deal of time high up in the trees for the first half of the ride, then swoops low to the ground in the second half, plunging down to the lake level.
The coaster's steel track runs through much of the course on steel columns.   The sections featuring the steel structure were originally out of the view of guests, running through the wooded sections which were inaccessible to guests.

The areas visible along the lake shore and the paths as the track comes around the Fort and into the station were built with wooden supports, adding to the rustic look of the ride.

Early in the testing stages of the Runaway Mine Train, the track was partially re-profiled.   According to a newspaper article:

"The Runaway Train was so wild we had to close it to take some of the bumps out of it.  The velocity goes up so fast you get jerked out of your car and we had a few sprained necks."

The concept of the Runaway Mine Train went back to the earliest conceptual plans for Great Adventure.   Originally planned as part of the park's Enchanted Forest area, the coaster was supposed to have featured elaborate scenery along its course, with a plunge into the mouth of a dragon.   When plans for the park were scaled back, the Runaway Mine Train was incorporated into the Rootin' Tootin' Rip Roarin' section.   Conceptual artwork showed the coaster diving into a tunnel which was to run under the lake before remerging near the station, but those plans were never realized due to time and budget constraints.
Ride Name: Runaway Mine Train
Manufacturer: Arrow Development
Ride Model: Custom Mine Train Coaster
Installation Date: July 1974
Maximum Height of Track: 60 feet
Length of Track: 2429 feet
Number of Trains: Originally 4 with 3 operating at the same time
Now 3 with 2 operating at the same time
Cars per Train: 5
Passengers per Car: 6 (less two in the front engine car)
Passengers per Train: 28
Safety Feature: Common locking lap bars modified 
to individual lap bars for 2006
Height Requirement: 44" tall
Maximum Speed: 38 MPH
Braking: Originally featured skid brakes later
modified to fin brakes
Ride Time: 2 minutes
Theoretical Capacity: 1000 guests/hour
The Runaway Mine Train was designed to operate with three trains, and was originally equipped with four with one serving as a spare.   The trains were all painted in bright colors with two in orange and yellow, and two in orange and blue.   The trains alternated the two colors, with two trains painted orange (one with blue trim, one with yellow) and two trains with orange trim (one blue train and one yellow).   The alternating color schemes have remained the same since the ride opened, though the fourth train (the yellow train with orange trim) has been removed.

The coaster features a mid course brake run which is the flat section of track between before the first drop to ground level into the third helix.   This brake run along with the station brake run both feature rubber drive tires which can advance the train from a stop.   Those drive tires are also activated on cold day when the trains run more slowly to give the trains a slight boost in speed so they are less likely to stall.
Over the years several small modifications have been made to the ride.    The first and probably most important was replacement of the rides original skid brake system with more modern fin brakes.

The skid brakes were very imprecise when it came to stopping the trains at the proper point in the station, with trains frequently over or under shooting the corrals.   Also, skid brakes are more susceptible to slipping in rain or other damp weather, and trains often would have slight bumps when they would overshoot the station brake run, and tap the train loading and unloading at the platform.

To help remedy the skid brake shortcomings, a set to heat lamps was setup inside the station.   the heat lamps were pointed upward at the bottom of the train so when guests were loading and unloading the brakes had a chance to dry off.

Another modification was in the station itself, where the the corrals for waiting guests featured swinging saloon style doors.   These would eventually be replaced with the air gate system.

The ride's original lift motor has also been replaced with a more modern energy saving variable speed motor.   Rather than constantly turning at full speed like the original, the new motor powers down to a low speed until activated by sensors as a train approaches.   Once the train disengages the lift, the motor slows down to waiting mode again. 
Watch Video Of The
Runaway Mine Train
In Action:

The coaster trains have been modified over the years, first with the removal of some of the decorative pieces.   First removed were the trains' headlights, which while never functional, added an extra touch to the theme.   Next was removal of some of the lead cars' decorative cylinders.

The biggest modification happened in the 2005-06 off season, as the trains old dual lapbars which operated as sets in each car were replaced with individual lap bars.   These new lapbars meant that passengers could be secured individually rather than 6 at a time, and offered a more comfortable ride for larger guests who often had difficulty fitting in the older restraints.
One of the most memorable parts of the Runaway Mine Train is its start with an aerial double helix.   The height and banking of the spiral combined with the relatively open train design offer thrills, and the famous head chopper support as the train leaves the helix always makes rider duck.

The trains go into a dip before the mid-course brake run, which has occasionally been a point where the train can saddle.   After an incident where a stuffed animal caused the train to get stuck in the dip, an evacuation platform and stairs were added, as well as a stricter "No stuffed prizes" policy for riders.

One of the more unique aspects of the Runaway Mine Train is the train storage area which sits on both sides of the track.   There is enough storage space for three trains in order to accommodate the original four trains the ride was equipped with.

The photo on the lower right of a single car shows the arrival of the first car and placement on one of the sidings.
Early concept art of the Runaway Mine Train from the original proposal for the park.   This fanciful rendition shows the oversized scenery that was planned, including the plunge into a dragon's mouth.
Rendering of the Runaway Mine Train from the 1974 map.   Notice the rendering features the track emerging from the proposed tunnel under the lake.
Rendering of the Runaway Mine Train from the 1976 poster map which gives a fairly accurate depiction of the coaster along with the Fort.   The earliest poster maps combined cartoon graphics with relatively realistic depictions of the park attractions.