Dana Harris was about to cross Hill Street when she heard the Angels Flight rail car behind her shake and grind louder than normal. When she turned around, the lower train had twisted off its track, leaving its sole passenger stranded in a derailed car.
Harris called out to the passenger, Melanie Sherrin -- a tourist from Melbourne, Australia, who arrived in L.A. Wednesday night -- to hold on as she called 911.
“I told my boyfriend it was making a weird noise,” said Harris, who lives in downtown L.A. and regularly rides the car. “For this to happen is bizarre.”
Witnesses on the ground were more shaken than she was, Sherrin said, joking that the Burning Man festival she recently attended was more dangerous.
“I wanted to get off, but they told me to wait,” she said.
Sherrin was the only passenger on the train at the lower end of the funicular railway when it came off the tracks. She’d ride the car again, but added: “I’d like my 50 cents back.”
Five passengers on the other car near the top of the line were also assisted off.
None of the passengers were injured, said Katherine Main of the Los Angeles Fire Department. The car derailed at 11:33 a.m.
Officials aren’t sure how the train came off its track, said Los Angeles Fire Battalion Chief Greg Gibson.
The historic railway, which first opened in 1901 in a different location, was shut down in 2001 after the brakes failed on one car, which sent it crashing into the other car, killing an 83-year-old passenger and injuring seven others. It reopened in March 2010.
Federal investigators concluded that faulty mechanical and brake systems, combined with weak oversight, led to the crash.
After the accident, the railway was redesigned, Gibson said. The rail car is secured on concrete, though the new system would likely have prevented it from moving, he said.
The funicular could be back up within a short period, he said, but it’s unclear how long inspections will take.
The stairs adjacent to the line and the 300 block of South Hill Street were blocked off as firefighters responded to the incident and waited for the rail’s operator to arrive.
Angels Flight also had to temporarily stop operating in 2011 because of deterioration to the wheels of the funicular railway.
Inspectors for the California Public Utilities Commission discovered damage to the wheel flange -- which hold the cars’ wheels on the rails -- during a routine inspection of the Los Angeles landmark.