Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Let Angels Flight Rise Again

August 07, 2003

Look how much downtown Los Angeles has changed for the better lately: The gorgeous Walt Disney Concert Hall is set to open in October. The new cathedral is already a major attraction. Renovated downtown lofts and apartments house an energetic mix of artists, office workers and immigrants. The 35 projects underway to convert historic commercial buildings to housing could draw perhaps 4,000 more residents. Add to all that the pedestrian-friendly street-scapes and plazas in the works around the Civic Center and the long-planned rebirth of St. Vibiana's Cathedral as a funky new arts venue.

Downtown's resurgence doesn't depend on Angels Flight, but the area's convenience, charm and sense of history would be enhanced if the tiny railway resumed operation. The 298-foot funicular, which first chugged up Bunker Hill in 1901, has been mothballed since a crash in February 2001 that killed a man.

Tuesday's final report from the National Transportation Safety Board on the accident's causes should revive, not derail, efforts to restore the line. The NTSB's findings mirrored those from state regulators last year. Faulty mechanical and brake systems caused one of the two cars to break loose and fall backward before smashing into the other. Weak safety oversight from the state Public Utilities Commission was a factor.

These problems are solvable. Most funiculars run two rail cars that balance one another on a heavy cable. They use time-tested "19th century technology," according to historical preservationist John H. Welborne, who headed the Angels Flight Railway Foundation at the time of the crash and is determined to bring it back. He hopes to raise $1.5 million to get the line running again by late 2004.

Such very short railways have run safely for decades on mountainsides far more treacherous than Bunker Hill, says Welborne, who attributes the crash to weaknesses in the one-of-a-kind mechanical system installed when the line resumed operation in 1996. The city had dismantled Angels Flight in 1969 to make way for Bunker Hill high-rises.

Over the years, the 25-cent Angels Flight ride lured millions of tourists and saved weary employees the long, steep hike home after a day's work downtown -- or lately, the walk back to work after lunch. With safer technology at hand and a promise of better oversight, this amusing, treasured landmark should be restored for another generation.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|