The Metro Board of Directors agreed today to study
of ways to re-open Angels Flight, a historic railway that travels a short
distance along Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles.
The board approved a motion by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who sits on the
board, instructing Metro CEO Phil Washington to return to the board in 60 days
with recommendations for resuming operations.
The motion also asks for information about the railway’s history and “a
summary of state and federal safety findings pertaining to Angels Flight.”
Garcetti’s motion came on the heels of a petition circulated by local
historians and fans of the 114-year-old funicular to get the rail running again
after a mishap caused it to shut down nearly two years ago.
Tour company owners Kim Cooper and Richard Schave, who started the
petition, have gathered more than 1,700 signatures since last week.
The funicular has been closed since one of the two rail cars came off
the tracks in September 2013.
The six people riding the funicular at the time were not injured, but a
National Transportation Safety Board report released a month later indicated
that railway operators had been using a tree branch for months to bypass a
safety feature on the railcar.
Garcetti said today Angels Flight fills “a special place in the hearts
of Angelenos,” and called it a “very important part of our transportation
system … ”
The funicular has traditionally been operated by a nonprofit, not Metro.
“I want to be very clear … I don’t think that MTA (Metropolitan
Transportation Authority) should take over operation of Angels Flight but MTA
and this board should support the restoration of service on this historic gem
that’s right now caught up in a lot of bureaucratic hurdles between federal and
state agencies,” Garcetti said.
Schave, one of the petitioners, told City News Service last week that
the funicular has been vandalized since its closure and it will continue to
fall into disrepair if nothing is done.
“It is the last vestige of Victorian Los Angeles,” he said. “It is
just an incredibly important structure and much beloved.”
Hal Bastian, president of Angels Flight Railway, a nonprofit that has
traditionally operated the railway, said last week that efforts to re-open
Angels Flight have been stymied by a lack of response from federal regulators.
Bastian said federal officials and the California Public Utilities
Commission are requiring Angels Flight’s operators to build a walkway next to
the tracks before operations can resume.
Bastian said the nonprofit is trying to comply with regulators.
“We’re in the process of engineering and pricing” the project, Bastian
said last week, but it is not a fast process. He added that he disagrees the
evacuation staircase is the best solution.
Bastian said he wants to propose some alternative ways of meeting safety
requirements, but NTSB officials have not returned his phone calls and
emails, while CPUC officials “won’t budge” and are deferring to the federal
This has created a “bureaucratic stalemate,” Bastian said.
Bastian said he was recently elected head of the Angels Flight Railway
group, which is run by volunteers, taking over for former long-time president
John Welborne, a “faithful steward” of the railway for 20 years.
Bastian said he had hoped that by taking up the baton, he could bring
new energy to re-opening Angels Flight. He feels it might be better for Metro,
the regional transportation agency, to take over Angels Flight’s operation, he
Bastian argued that the railway is not a tourist attraction, but a
“critical transportation linkage between the base of Bunker Hill to the top of
Bunker Hill” and that climbing a stairway, which has about 150 steps, up the
hill is akin to crossing an entire football field.
Col. J.W. Eddy first opened a funicular rail up Bunker Hill on Dec. 31,
1901, when rides cost a penny. It was dismantled and put into storage in 1969
because of the Bunker Hill urban renewal project, then rebuilt and reopened in
1996, a half-block south of the original site.
In 2001, an accident that killed one person and seriously injured seven
others prompted another closure that lasted nine years. It reopened in 2010, in
time for the railway’s celebration of its 110th anniversary on New Year’s Eve
The CPUC shut it down for almost a month in June 2012 when inspectors
found that a wheel part that holds the cars on the track, the flange, had been
worn down to a thickness that was unsafe on three of eight wheels.
The funicular re-opened July 5, 2012, after the operator installed all
new wheels made of harder steel.
The railway still uses its original cars from 1901, named Olivet and Sinai.
-City News Service