Angels Flight, the historic funicular climbing Bunker Hill in downtown Los Angeles, resumed operations Thursday for the first time since 2013.
Freshly painted orange and black, the railway’s twin cars, Olivet and Sinai, glided smoothly up and down the tracks, coming within inches of each other as they shuttled passengers who were no doubt relieved to avoid the adjacent 153-step stairway as the sun beat down.
At a news conference to mark the occasion, Mayor Eric Garcetti and other officials celebrated the reopened railway as an “innovative public-private partnership,” one more option in the city’s efforts to provide “multi-modal” public transportation and continued progress toward the revitalization of downtown.
“You can ride it up to the Broad,” Garcetti said, referring to the contemporary art museum on Grand Avenue. “You can ride it down to the Grand Central Market, where you can eat any kind of food in the world … and you can explore this historic core that has really come alive.”
At the time, Garcetti vowed to get Angels Flight running by Labor Day. He announced a partnership with the Angels Flight Railway Foundation, the private nonprofit that owns the funicular, and a group of engineering and transportation firms that agreed to pay for needed safety upgrades and the cost of maintaining the railway for three decades in exchange for a share of its revenue.
First opened on New Year’s Eve in 1901 half a block north of its current location, Angels Flight once transported well-to-do Bunker Hill residents to jobs in downtown L.A. for a penny a ride.
By the 1950s, it had carried more than 100 million passengers. But it closed in 1969 as Bunker Hill’s old housing came down to make way for skyscrapers.
The twin rail cars sat neglected in a warehouse for decades until redevelopment authorities included funding for renovations in the California Plaza project. Angels Flight reopened at its new location in 1996.
In 2001, Sinai broke loose near the top of the incline and plummeted down the track, striking Olivet. An 83-year-old tourist from New Jersey on vacation with his wife was killed and seven other people were injured.
Investigators later concluded that faulty mechanical and brake systems, combined with weak oversight, led to the crash.
The railway was closed for nine years. Operations were halted again in 2011 and Angels Flight was shut down altogether after a derailment in 2013.
A crowd of about 50 gathered for the reopening. One person fainted during the event but was later seen sitting up talking, and was taken away in an ambulance.
Mathew Krogen, 22, had brought his friends Bobby Crissy and Kristine Smith to ride the funicular, which costs $1 for a one-way fare, or 50 cents if riders use their Metro TAP card. Krogen, who lives downtown, said he had wanted to ride it since first moving to L.A. four years ago.
“It’s pride,” Krogen said of his emotions Thursday. “A lot of people think Angelenos don’t care about our history, but that’s not true.”
Smith said her 4-year-old son had described the train earlier in the morning as “the train that says, ‘I think I can, I think I can.’ And it really is that train.”
Damien Blackshaw, a native Londoner who has lived in L.A. for 10 years, operates a tour company called the Real Los Angeles Tours, which provides visitors guided tours on foot, by bike and by Metro. He said he plans to incorporate rides on Angels Flight into future tours.
“This is perfect because it’s history and it’s an experience,” Blackshaw said.
He also said the renovation, along with other recent changes downtown, could change how foreigners think of L.A. and expand tourism.
“The brand of L.A. is beaches, Beverly Hills, celebrities,” Blackshaw said. “It’s a real shame because there’s so much more to L.A.”