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ON THIS DAY: May 19, 2001, Reworked Steel Phantom debuts as Phantom’s Revenge at Kennywood Park

WEST MIFFLIN, Pa. — Kennywood Park’s Steel Phantom roller coaster debuted in 1991 as a bold leap forward from the park’s signature classic wooden coasters. When the park announced plans in 2000 to replace it, coaster enthusiasts’ outcry convinced Kennywood to rework the coaster. The Phantom’s Revenge opened on May 19, 2001.

The Steel Phantom was the world’s fastest and longest-dropping roller coaster when it was built on the site of the Laser Loop, reusing its station. The modern, steel-tracked coaster reached 82 mph as it plunged through the wooden superstructure of Kennywood’s famous Thunderbolt coaster, bottoming out in a natural ravine after a 225-foot drop.

Climbing back to the station, the coaster went through four high-speed inversions, which were not appreciated for their tendency to bang riders’ heads against the hard, over-the-shoulder harnesses.

Coaster enthusiasts at the annual CoasterBash event were stunned when Kennywood announced the planned closure of the Steel Phantom at the end of the 2000 season. Efforts to lobby for the coaster’s preservation were intense and quickly organized.

Kennywood’s original plans called for a completely new steel or wooden coaster, but the park pivoted to revamp the coaster instead. D.H. Morgan Manufacturing was contracted to improve the coaster.

Kennywood President and CEO Harry Henninger said that, “Since announcing our plan to replace the Steel Phantom with a new coaster, coaster lovers from around the world have expressed dismay at the thought of losing what many believe to be the best, most exciting drop of any roller coaster on earth.”

As soon as the 2000 summer season ended, construction workers dove into eight months of work during the coldest and wettest parts of the year. Large sections of the Steel Phantom’s old track were removed, and new foundations and supports had to be built for the new track layout.

The terrain that made the second plunge so exciting also made it arduous to build. Water, sewer and electric lines had to be moved and a new road had to be built so crews could get equipment in place for digging. The supports were anchored at least 10 feet into rock that was sometimes over 30 feet underground.

The redesign called for the removal of the inversions and a lengthening of the thrilling second drop by three feet. Smoothed out high speed banked curves added another 200 feet to the Steel Phantom’s 3,000-foot circuit. The revised coaster is much smoother and faster, topping out at 85 mph.

A new third drop necessitated the removal and rebuilding of a section of the Thunderbolt’s track. It then took a crew of eight workers nearly a month to paint the all of the remaining original Steel Phantom track to match the newly installed Phantom’s Revenge track. Work was completed on May 8, 2001, and testing began immediately so the reincarnated coaster could open on time.

The hated over-the-shoulder harnesses on the Steel Phantom’s cars were also upgraded to lap bar restraints when the coaster reopened as the Phantom’s Revenge.

Riders, enthusiasts and critics eagerly returned to Kennywood to try the new coaster, and most agreed that the Phantom’s Revenge was very sweet indeed. Amusement Today, a trade publication for the amusement industry, kept Phantom’s Revenge in the top ten of its Golden Ticket Awards for many years after its debut. It currently resides at number 12 on the 2019 list.

Phantom’s Revenge has stood up well against the intervening onslaught of hyper-coasters. USA Today’s 10Best editors gave it third place in the 2018 Reader’s Choice awards for Best Roller Coaster in America. It also has received numerous top rankings from the National Amusement Park Historical Association’s member surveys, where it remained in the number one slot for 2019, and is often ranked among the top ten steel coasters worldwide.

The Steel Phantom’s transformation into the Phantom’s Revenge was not the first reconfiguration of a popular roller coaster at Kennywood. The park’s signature Thunderbolt was originally built as the Pippin.