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Probe, and Preserve, Angels Flight

February 04, 2001

In the case of the tragic crash on the Angels Flight funicular railway Thursday, it will take a while for a 21st century investigation to fully understand what went wrong with the line's 19th century-style technology. But this much is certain: Angels Flight has an importance to the central city-downtown area that belies its short journey from the shops of the flats up to the modern California Plaza and Bunker Hill.

One rider was killed and several others were injured in the lunchtime accident. The cause must be discovered. Reasonable safeguards against further problems must be designed, and clarity must be brought to the line's oversight and inspection process. Angels Flight should also be returned to service as soon as those goals have been reached.

Like too much of the city's past, Angels Flight would be easy to abandon--which did happen once before. But there are several things that make it more important than the 50-cent round-trip theme-park ride it may appear to be. It serves as one of the few obvious historical links to a Los Angeles past when the railway was the most convenient way to travel to and from the stately mansions of Bunker Hill. Angels Flight is also a successful symbol of the arduous effort to revitalize downtown Los Angeles, a link between bustling shops and the city's dramatic high-rise offices.

One big question right now is who might have the public credibility and resources to manage the small railway. Oversight is too diffuse. The funicular, which has no direct city involvement, is operated by a foundation whose expenses have exceeded revenues. It's also unclear whether the state Public Utilities Commission is qualified to monitor a unique property such as Angels Flight.

The issues arising from Thursday's awful accident will remain for a while. However, we expect Angels Flight and what it means to the history of Los Angeles to endure.

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