Crowds flocked to downtown Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend, braving triple-digit heat to ride the iconic rail. But officials abruptly shut the ride down Monday morning after crews found a damaged part in the system that guides the twin cars along the steep track on Bunker Hill.
The part, known as a roller, was “cracked and falling apart,” said Steve DeWitt, a senior vice president at ACS Infrastructure, the majority stakeholder in the group of companies that operates Angels Flight.
Before Angels Flight reopened Thursday, railway officials tested the cars more than 2,000 times without any sign of damage, DeWitt said. An initial inspection suggests the damage occurred Sunday night.
“We have great confidence in the system,” DeWitt said. “Mechanical things just have problems from time to time.”
The line likely will reopen Wednesday afternoon or Thursday. State regulators with the Public Utilities Commission will inspect the work before service resumes, spokeswoman Constance Gordon said.
Angels Flight, like other historic funiculars, is propelled by a single cable that pulls one car up the steep incline as the other car descends. Rollers are cylindrical parts that rest on the tracks and turn as the cable runs over them, smoothing the car’s journey upward.
The rollers are made of Teflon and were not replaced during the six-month restoration process that concluded last week, DeWitt said. The broken roller may have developed a “microscopic crack” during four years of dormancy, he said.
The funicular’s twin cars, Sinai and Olivet, were weighed down with more passengers than usual this weekend, DeWitt said. One of the cars likely struck the cracked roller, which had swelled in the weekend’s heat, he said.
Previous parts in the same location also have cracked, he said, suggesting a pattern. ACS plans to install a smaller roller, which should prevent a car from striking the part, even in extreme temperatures, he said.
For a system known as the world’s shortest railway, Angels Flight has a long list of woes.
The funicular opened in 1901 to carry wealthy Bunker Hill residents to downtown jobs. The iconic orange cars transported more than 100 million people by the 1950s, but closed in 1969, when the homes on Bunker Hill were razed for skyscrapers.
Sinai and Olivet sat neglected in a warehouse for decades, until redevelopment authorities included funding for the funicular in the California Plaza project.
The line reopened in 1996, half a block south of its original location. Since its reopening, 21 years ago, Angels Flight has been shut down more than half the time.
In 2001, Sinai broke loose near the top of the incline and plummeted down the track, striking Olivet. The impact killed one person and injured seven others. The railway was closed for nine years following the crash.
Operations were halted again briefly in 2011, and Angels Flight was shut down completely after Sinai derailed again in 2013. Federal investigators later discovered that operators had been using a tree branch to override the funicular’s safety system, which had been causing unexpected stops.
In March, the nonprofit that owns Angels Flight signed a deal with a group of firms, including ACS, to maintain, operate and advertise the railway, in exchange for a share of the profits.
Officials have said the cost of the work and the contract’s total value are confidential. The repairs include raising the height of the train’s doors to prevent passengers from being flung out during a sudden stop and installing a walkway connected to the track that riders could use if they had to evacuate.