Downtown Los Angeles is home to what's billed as the world's shortest railroad. Since 1901, millions of people have ridden Angel's Flight, the two car funicular, up and down the steep incline from Hill Street to the top of what used to be known as Bunker Hill. As a kid, I rode those little trolley cars hundreds of times. A ride was only a nickel back then. Cheap thrills, and it sure beat climbing hundreds of steep stairs. For seven decades, almost anyone who spent any time downtown, including tourists, took a ride on Angel's Flight. It was one of L.A.'s main attractions and as a railroad it had a stellar safety record – until a fatal accident 14 years ago this week.
On February 1, 2001, a malfunctioning emergency brake allowed one of the cars to roll downhill and crash into the other, killing one passenger and injuring several others. Ironically, only five years earlier, redevelopment led to Angel's Flight being dismantled, moved a block or so south from its original location and completely rebuilt to modern specifications. In its investigation of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board found that despite the railway's modernization it had severe mechanical deficiencies. The NTSB recommended the whole thing be redesigned.
Nine years after that fatal accident, Angel's Flight reopened, but two years ago one of the cars jumped the track and the railroad was shut down again. No injuries that time, but the railway remains closed and as yet there's no word on when passengers will be allowed back on.
I've included scenes of the 2001 accident, as well as historic footage from the city, showing Angel's Flight from its early years through the 1960s. Then you'll see its relocation and restoration. Finally there's video of the railway after it reopened in 1996.
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