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In Decades Past, Angels Flight Ran Like Clockwork

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, June 13, 2011, at 07:46AM
Angels Flight 1907 California Historical Society / USC Digital Library

Photo of Angels Flight from approximately 1907 showing the line before its Hill Street station arch was constructed.

Downtown's beloved Angels Flight Railway has had a tough run of late, getting shut down by state inspectors twice since its 2010 reopening. The current closure came last week, when inspectors found dangerously worn wheel flanges on the line's historic cars.

It's been more than 40 years since the rail line last ran regularly, but its recent troubles got us curious: what was Angels Flight's operational record like back in its heyday?

Turns out, it was pretty impressive.

A mechanical breakdown left Angels Flight out of service on June 21, 1963. That warranted a story in the L.A. Times. Day operator Tom Olmstead told the paper that he believed it was the first time in five years that the line had broken down.

The Community Redevelopment Agency had purchased the line the year previous, planning to move it to Griffith Park's Travel Town or the Hollywood Bowl.

A 1948 story on the line noted that its safety record was so good that its owner passed up casualty insurance in favor of just paying out the occasional claim when it happened.

The line's one fatality had come five years earlier, but the 1943 death wasn't even a passenger. A sailor was killed on August 31 when he attempted to walk up the tracks while the line was in operation. He was struck by one car and then crushed by the other.

Today, twin Angels Flight cars Olivet and Sinai continued to tweet about their current closure:

Sinai Asks: Olivet, are we there yet?

Olivet Observes: Patience required. Stay tuned for news when there is any (which won’t be in the next six or seven days, unfortunately).

When the cars do come back, they may soon be followed by a hike in the line's $0.25 fare. A statement put out by railway president John Welborne on Thursday noted that the line has served approximately 800,000 riders since reopening, but that a fare change might be coming.

"Charging a quarter is something we are not sure is going to be possible for too much longer," Welborne said.


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