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Regulators are 'very concerned' about Angels Flight safety after two closures

June 11, 2011 |  8:18 am

Angels Flight

Officials at the California Public Utilities Commission said they are "very concerned" about the safety of the Angels Flight rail line in downtown L.A. after shutting it down for the second time in a year.

"Twice within one year we find major problems with it that caused us to take the extraordinary step of closing it down, so, yes, we're very concerned," said Richard Clark, director of the agency's consumer protection and safety division.

The PUC concluded Thursday that the wheels' flanges were worn down to less than a quarter of an inch, one-third of what is deemed safe. The wheels posed a safety hazard and put the rail cars at risk, Clark said.

Angels Flight also was shut down last year because of a faulty door.

John Welborne, president of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation, said the organization takes safety seriously and had already been looking into swapping out the current wheels. Those wheels, he said, were in use when Angels Flight was shut down in 2001 after the brakes failed on one car, causing it to crash into the other. An 83-year-old passenger was killed and seven others were injured in that accident. After a $3.5-million overhaul, the funicular reopened in March 2010.

"We have been watching them and decided to move forward to get new wheels through our own inspection," Welborne said. Instead of shutting down the railway, however, the organization had planned to switch in the new wheels during the railway's off hours. The cars run 16 hours a day, seven days a week; maintenance is usually done late at night or early in the morning.


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-- Corina Knoll

Photo: An Angels Flight's rail car sits idle on the track in downtown Los Angeles. The funicular can't reopen until its wheels are replaced. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times