Thorpe Park Resort have launched their new for 2023 attraction, Ghost Train. Attraction Source were invited to the VIP Preview Event to be amongst the first to depart on a one way ticket beyond the veil into darkness…
Ghost Train is of course a reimagining of what was formerly Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, an attraction which originally opened in 2016 and then reworked in 2017, with the addition of the tagline, ‘Rise of the Demon’. Other than the Resort confirming the removal of the virtual reality element, few details were given away about what the third iteration of the experience involved, and so we arrived excited and intrigued to discover what would await inside Thorpe Junction. Ahead of the attraction opening, Neil Poulter, Divisional Director for Thorpe Park Resort, and Kieron Smith, Global Artistic Director for The Dungeons who was the writer and director for Ghost Train, gave some short speeches before declaring Ghost Train open.
The first notable change upon arrival at the attraction is the new entrance signage. The queue line entrance itself features a new backlit sign (which we got to see in action as the sun began to set), with this complemented by a new Thorpe Junction signpost. There is also the standard ride restriction signage, featuring the minimum height restriction of 1.3m – a reduction on Derren Brown’s Ghost Train’s 1.4m restriction. Outside of the attraction were also roaming characters, which included a pair of vloggers as well as Believers, who were spreading word about catching the last train to Chapel Station, handing out leaflets to anyone interested. Hopefully these will remain a feature during normal operation, as seen with the roaming actors outside of The Curse at Alton Manor at Alton Towers.
The exterior appearance of the attraction building remains largely unchanged, although parts feature a new turquoise and white colour scheme, in line with the ‘Thorpe Rail’ branding. Throughout the exterior queue line can be found posters, depicting destinations that can be reached using Thorpe Rail. Each of these provides a nod to Thorpe Park’s past, with many past attractions featured. Some of these posters have been graffitied with Latin phrases and a strange ‘B’ symbol. Additionally, there are signs which note that services to Chapel Station have been suspended. Guests are then batched into one of the two waiting areas, ahead of entering the pre-show.
The pre-show itself is now themed as a waiting room, but otherwise still utilises the same Pepper’s Ghost effect, with a redressed physical set. There are some nice new theming additions in the room, including a split-flap board that conveys some of the restrictions (with no filming or photography allowed, including during the preview event) as well as train departure times. The pre-show starts with an actor addressing guests, before the Station Master, Angelis Mortis, appears (seemingly in a cloud of smoke) to welcome guests and tell the story of a group who called themselves the Believers. After alighting at Chapel Station, this group entered St Giles’ Chapel where they participated in a ritual in the hope of gaining immortality. Unfortunately, they all met their death, with their souls torn from their bodies. Strangely the Station Master notes that he was also there in spirit… Although guests are given the option of leaving, with the windows to the outside world suddenly slamming shut, it seems as though there is little option but to board the last train.
Guests are then directed through what is now the lost property department. While on one of our run-throughs we walked straight through and into the main building, on the other we were required to wait in this area. Whilst waiting a weather report played on screens, although there were moments of interference where we’re sure we spotted Angelis once again… Whilst it provides some filler if required, this was a somewhat strange change of tone from that of the more foreboding pre-show. We were then called through to the station area, where the last train awaited. Gone are the mirrors that provided the floating carriage illusion, with these replaced by brickwork forming a station platform. The carriage itself has also been given an overhaul to reflect the new theme, and there are other theming additions in this area to complete the train station look.
Once on-board the awaiting carriage, guests are directed to their seats and instructed to keep their feet behind a yellow line by two train attendants. There are of course no longer any VR headsets for guests to put on. Upon the train departing, the first actor-led show sequence of the main ride experience plays out. Despite the warnings, this sees the train stop at Chapel Station, with guests led by one of the attendants into the Crypt of St Giles’ Chapel. There, they retell the story of the group of Believers who undertook the ritual in the place in which guests now find themselves. Our second run-through, saw an extended version of this scene, with more detail given about the members of this group. This sequence culminates with the train attendant opening up a tomb, unleashing the spirit of Angelis Mortis on guests, with the Angel of Death swooping overhead as hooded figures appear around the room, chasing guests back out onto the train.
Another actor-led sequence plays out on the return journey on board the carriage, with this combining strobe lighting, UV paint (à la The Curse of Alton Manor’s pre-show) and some surprise scares, as Angelis Mortis takes control and seeks to claim guests’ souls. Unfortunately, the full movement of the motion base no longer seems to be utilised for this scene, presumably because actors now move around the carriage. Guests are left in darkness as a ‘See it. Say it. Sorted.’ announcement plays – something that is sure to be familiar to anyone who has travelled on the London Underground. This leaves guests questioning what they have just experienced, and whether they have managed to successfully escape. However, upon exiting we found ourselves being held at what is now the on-ride photo redemption point due to a spillage on the stairs ahead – this was also a common occurrence during the attraction’s time as Derren Brown’s Ghost Train: Rise of the Demon, with guests discovering that the experience wasn’t quite over! The replacement of the demon with the staff member actor is arguably not as effective for the final scare, which sees a final appearance of Angelis Mortis who reveals it to instead be ‘soul redemption’.
Guests exit into what is actually the attraction’s shop, where there is a range of Ghost Train merchandise on sale. Products include T-shirts, hoodies, pin badges, mugs and lanyards, with these featuring the ride’s logo as well as the runes of the Believers. Although the space was previously entirely used for the retail outlet, with the opening of Ghost Train it has now been partially converted into the Last Call Café. This serves Costa Coffee, along with a selection of cold drinks and other snacks.
In summary, the Resort have delivered what is arguably the strongest iteration of the attraction. It certainly benefits from the removal of virtual reality, which should undoubtedly make the experience more consistent and reliable. There is also a clear narrative, with the story being relatively straightforward to understand, if not a little predictable as a result. Ultimately though, it is the talented cast of actors both inside and outside of Ghost Train that make the experience what it is. Having the same actors lead guests through the main experience and story, certainly helps the flow and coherence of the entire show.
The scariness of the experience will depend on each guest, with us not personally not finding it to be too terrifying or jumpy. However, that is not to say that there aren’t more intense moments and jump scares, which are still well executed. In this respect, the sequences in the train carriage itself would benefit from louder audio and the interior of the train being completely dark in the black-out moments to enhance the scares which follow. We are also mindful that we experienced the attraction knowing what had come before, with the fundamental elements and sequencing of the attraction unchanged. Overall, the experience could be considered comparable to The Dungeons, both in terms of the level of scares and its theatrical nature.
Ghost Train remains a unique attraction, and this latest reimagining will help to extend its lifespan. Nonetheless, with the context of the amount that has ultimately been invested into the attraction from its initial creation to this latest incarnation, this will forever leave the question of what could have been if the budget was invested into a more traditional dark ride…
Thank you to Thorpe Park for inviting us to attend! Are you planning to catch the last train from Thorpe Junction? Let us know via the Attraction Source social media channels.