Photo by Rich Alossi via Wiki Commons. Angels Flight in operation in 2008.
Photo by Rich Alossi via Wiki Commons. Angels Flight in operation in 2008.

Mayor Eric Garcetti will ask his colleagues on the Metro Board of Directors Thursday to call for a study of ways to re-open Angels Flight, a historic railway that travels a short distance along Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles.

Garcetti’s motion comes 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.

Schave 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.”

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.

If Garcetti’s motion is approved by the board, Metro CEO Phil Washington will be instructed to return to the board in 60 days with recommendations for resuming operations, along with background on the railway’s history and “a summary of state and federal safety findings pertaining to Angels Flight.”

Hal Bastian, a downtown Los Angeles booster, said last week that efforts to re-open Angels Flight have been stymied by a lack of response from federal regulators.

Bastian, president of Angels Flight Railway, a nonprofit that has traditionally operated the railway, 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 the 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 officials’ requirements.

This has created a “bureaucratic stalemate,” in Bastian’s opinion.

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 said.

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 2010.

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 

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