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Angels Flight reopens 9 years after accident

March 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
One of Los Angeles' most beloved landmarks is back open, nine years after a deadly accident shut it down. The historic Angels Flight railway resumed service on Bunker Hill Monday, with plenty of safety upgrades.The first passengers in line showed up at 6 a.m. to be part of the big reopening. William Daniel rode in from Orange County before sunrise to be among the first to relive an old childhood memory.

"My folks used to come up to L.A. when I was probably 6-7-8 years old and this was the only thing I remember about L.A. This was the fabulous thing to do," said Daniel.

Angels Flight was shut down Feb. 1, 2001, after a rail car broke loose, rolled backward and smashed head on into another car. The accident killed an 83-year-old man visiting from New Jersey, Holocaust survivor Leon Praport, and injured seven other people, including his 80-year-old wife. Federal investigators concluded that faulty mechanical and brake systems were to blame.

"It's tragic that someone was killed. A number of people were injured and we responded to it and had to rescue the people off of this," said L.A. City Fire Battalion Chief Greg Gibson. "And since that day, it has been closed down until they could come up with a much more advanced system so that people would be safe as they rode it."

The newly restored railway features a computerized braking system and other safety features approved last week by regulators.

"The railway now is a traditional funicular. The two cars are attached to opposite ends of the same cable. When one goes up, the other goes down and vice versa. They can't hit each other," said John H. Welborne, president of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation.

The Angels Flight Railway Foundation, whose members include historic preservationists and downtown boosters, spent years raising about $3.5 million to repair and upgrade the railway.

The redesigned mechanism is much like the original, with both cars counterbalancing each other at opposite ends of the same cable. Each car now has a second safety cable, and there are four types of brake systems and collision avoidance technology similar to positive train control. The system relies on sensors on the track to determine the cars' location and when they are allowed to safely move.

With a new safety overhaul in place, the railway offers lifts to pedestrians who would otherwise have to rely on a steep set of stairs to get to the top of Bunker Hill.

The railway will operate from 6:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. The fare for the one-minute ride between Hill Street and Grand Avenue is 25 cents.

Angels Flight opened in 1901 and is billed as the "Shortest Railway in the World."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.