After a cameo in ‘La La Land,’ Angels Flight railway on track to reopen

LOS ANGELES >> The news Wednesday that the historic Los Angeles landmark Angels Flight will reopen took Ron Van Deest back in time.

The 72-year-old Granada Hills resident remembers taking trips downtown just to ride the funicular, which from the early 1900s through much of the 20th century moved millions of passengers on a railway up and down the steep incline on downtown L.A.’s Bunker Hill, one of the toughest hills in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

So did lots of other Valley residents, said Van Deest, president of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society in Mission Hills.

The iconic railway, which had been closed since 2013 when one of its twin cars jumped the tracks, is a link to the past.

“It’s very important for our society,” Van Deest said. “We’re here to preserve and try to teach about the history of the San Fernando Valley. It’s certainly a high point for us.”

Los Angeles officials announced Angels Flight will reopen by Labor Day under a new partnership that will include safety upgrades.

Thanks to a 30-year agreement with the ACS company, the short railway and its cars on Bunker Hill will be upgraded and renovated, and safety improvements will be made, including the installation of an emergency walkway along the short route.

Garcetti and City Councilman Jose Huizar were among those taking part in Wednesday’s announcement, which was made in the shadow of the railway and its twin cars, Sinai and Olivet. The railway had a brief cameo in the Oscar- nominated musical “La La Land,” with stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone seen seated in one of the rail cars, then exiting through the gate at the top of the hill.

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“Angels Flight is a cultural gem that tells an unforgettable story about the history of Los Angeles,” Garcetti said. “Today, we celebrate the rebirth of this iconic attraction, and once the modernization is complete, we will welcome millions of visitors from around the world to experience it with us.”

The Metro Board of Directors approved a motion by Garcetti in 2015 to study ways to reopen Angels Flight.

Angels Flight is a “very important part of our transportation system” and fills “a special place in the hearts of Angelenos,” Garcetti said at the July 23, 2015, meeting when the motion was approved.

Six people were riding the funicular when it had its most recent accident, but none was injured. 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.

The nonprofit Angels Flight Railway owns Angels Flight’s equipment, including its tracks and cars, and has a ground lease that allows it to operate the funicular, according to its president, Hal Bastian. He said federal officials and the California Public Utilities Commission were requiring Angels Flight’s operators to build a walkway next to the tracks before operations can resume.

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. Angels Flight reopened in 2010, in time for the railway’s celebration of its 110th anniversary on New Year’s Eve 2010.

• RELATED STORY: Reopen 114-year-old Angels Flight funicular, says Mayor Eric Garcetti

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 reopened July 5, 2012, after the operator installed all new wheels made of harder steel. When it most recently was in operation, the railway still used its original cars from 1901.

Van Deest rode it several times in the past.

“To me it’s very interesting, ... and it was nice seeing how it was built,” he said. “It’s an engineering feat, and it was certainly something that was important to residents of the area at the time. It’s just something quite different from any transportation (system) you experience today.”

• PHOTOS: The historic Angels Flight railway in downtown Los Angeles

City Councilman Mitchell Englander said the railroad reflects the city’s storied transportation past.

“Not only does it pay homage to our city’s rich history of transportation innovation, but it also provides a functional transportation solution for downtown,” Englander said in a statement. “The Angel’s Flight has carried over 100 million passengers during the past century and, hopefully, (the train cars) Sinai and Olivet will carry 100 million more future generations of Angelenos up Bunker Hill.”

Daily News Staff Writer Greg Wilcox and City News Service contributed to this report.

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