Ride Cascade Stop (RCS)
The simple history of rollercoasters was most all of them started with one or two vehicles on the track. While one loaded with guests the second was running around the track by itself. As soon as it returned and stopped behind the one loading in the station (hold zone), the one in the station would now leave (be dispatched). This method did not require any places to stop on the track itself and the logic to run this type of rollercoaster was very simple.
Disney was really the first one to start putting large number of vehicles on a track and now required zones be created out on the track. The terminology used came from passenger and freight train control. So terms like dispatch and block zone. On train tracks the zones are delineated by traffic lights while on a rollercoaster they are delineated by track mounted brakes. The rollercoasters have no motors or brakes onboard and they are all offboard mounted to the track.
So the Ride Cascade Stop was born. Take the earlier scenario with one vehicle in the station and one behind. Now yet a third vehicle is headed to the station with nowhere to go. It will stop out on the track in a zone behind the station. With no one moving the next one cascades behind that one and stops even further from the station. Soon all vehicles are stopped all along the track. That is a ride stop that cascades backwards and called a Ride Cascade Stop.
Unlike stopping in the station, a vehicle that stops out on the track somewhere cannot just restart on its own without adult supervision. The ride "breaks down" and that dreaded "breakdown spiel" comes over the speakers tells everyone to stay seated.
The ride needs to be reset, and Ride Operators are sent out to each stoppage point (each block zone) where there is a vehicle. They verify that everyone is OK and still in their seat. They say that the ride will restart momentarily. This process starts in the station and works backwards. The station vehicle is taken off the track, the one behind the station moves to the station, the guests are unloaded and that vehicle is taken off the track. Then the operator in that zone behind the station tells everyone they are about to finish the ride and presses a button and off they go. This process continues until all the vehicle have been released from their zones and guests unloaded in the station. At this point the ride is ready to resume operation.
Different companies have different rules and each ride is slightly different so depending on the particular ride the amount of time that guests are allowed to sit in a vehicle varies. So if this ever happens to you, you may be restarted as described here or you may be asked to get out of the vehicle and be walked out of the attraction.
Additional Information: Rides like Big Thunder do not have a hold zone but have two stations. Rides like Space Mountain have multiple hold zones because they have more than twice as many vehicles as Big Thunder.
Rides that are powered like the Fantasyland "dark rides" can cascade but for many reasons, they are allowed to restart with only an operator in a central place monitoring all the vehicles and pressing a resume button.
There are powered rollercoasters where the motors are onboard the vehicles and they can operate more like a "dark ride" but to a purist, if it is not using gravity, it isn't a rollercoaster! By the way rides like Splash Mountain operate like rollercoasters.
I have a lot of respect for all ride operators but especially those that operate these rollercoasters that if you can't get the guest in or out quickly enough the ride stops. They have to be constantly efficient and polite to all guests while moving it all along.
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