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Angels Flight ordered to close due to wheel safety

June 10, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Southern California landmark Angels Flight has been ordered to shut down because of safety concerns.The historic railway is at a standstill, and it will remain closed until further notice.

The device that holds the wheels of the car on the tracks has been deemed unsafe. The California Public Utilities Commission ordered Angels Flight to cease operations immediately after an inspection.

In the routine inspection Thursday, the CPUC found deterioration on the wheel flange. Railway Foundation president John Welborne said the wear on the railway's 15-year-old steel wheels "had accelerated in the last month to a point where replacement is required sooner than the normal time period expected for steel wheels."

Welborne said his mechanics were surprised by CPUC's findings on the wearing of the wheels so soon after the funicular reopened.

Over the last 15 months, the trolley has been operating 16 hours a day, seven days a week to provide about 800,000 passenger trips, he said.

Welborne also said the wheels may take several weeks to replace, as they are custom items that are not available off the shelf.

Railway officials are trying to speed up the acquisition of new wheels. Welborne said track specialists are also looking at how excessive wear can be reduced to keep parts, such as the steel wheels, in safe service for as long as possible.

Many crowded around the trolley station Friday, on time for the last leg of their commute. However, they found out about the closure and had to use their own legs to climb the stairs or walk around the block.

"Sometimes you just want to get on Angels Flight and take the easy way out," said Angels Flight Rider Susan Goelz. "So it is going to be difficult. It's going to make all of us a little healthier by having to take the stairs or taking the long way around."

Randy Reyes, another regular passenger, said he's glad the inspection caught the deteriorating wheels. Reyes added that he felt uneasy after hearing the news but was grateful no one was hurt.

The trolley cars, named Sinai and Olivet, reopened last March after a longtime closure following a tragic accident in February 2001, when a car rolled uncontrollably downhill and hit another car, killing an 83-year-old man and injuring seven others.

An investigation faulted a modern gear that had replaced an original part, causing a cable that raised and lowered the car to come off its spool. The emergency brake was also broken.

The Angels Flight is dubbed "the shortest railway in the world" and takes passengers for a 298-foot ride up or down a steep hill in the city's Bunker Hill area.

The trolley opened in 1901, when passengers paid 1 cent for the short 1-minute uphill trip. The modern-day site was rebuilt about half a block south of the original site.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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