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Angels Flight, the beloved little railroad that’s almost as much a symbol of Los Angeles as the Hollywood Sign, began pulling people toward the heavens and back down again Thursday after four years of idleness triggered by a 2013 derailment.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and other supporters and admirers of the funky little funicular turned out on a blazingly hot downtown morning to see the train’s two wooden antique cars, Olivet and Sinai, officially return to service.
“This is a railway that always had a little engine that could,” Garcetti said of the 116-year-old railway that stretches only 298 feet (90 meters) up downtown’s stunningly steep Bunker Hill. “It is one of the last relics of Victorian Los Angeles, an iconic LA landmark and it’s right up there with the Griffith Park Observatory and the Hollywood Sign.”
He added that just like those landmarks it’s made frequent cameo appearances in movies, including last year’s Oscar-nominated film La La Land when Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling climbed aboard for a romantic ride.
Later, with a thumb’s up, Garcetti led a small delegation of officials and longtime riders onto the train and up the hill. A few minutes later he returned in the other car.
“It was great,” he said afterward, dismissing concerns of a couple first-time riders that the old railroad cars seemed to shake and shimmy unnervingly, especially as they passed each other. A veteran rider, Garcetti noted the train’s two cars have always done that, particularly when they pass on a three-track section of railway in the middle.
“Those are just a couple of historic bumps,” he added with a grin. “Don’t be alarmed.”
Earlier he’d assured people the railroad, ordered closed by the state after the 2013 derailment, had been restored to the highest safety standards.
A funicular, Angels Flight operates by using the counterbalancing weights of its cars to pull one up while the other descends. When the two cars pass they are no more than an inch or two apart, adding to the excitement of the ride.
Angels Flight was still closed when Gosling and Stone rode it in La La Land last year, to the surprise of the public and state officials.
While it was idled its cars were badly scarred by graffiti in 2015, prompting thousands to petition the mayor to get it back in service but something else happened. They were spruced up and freshly repainted for Thursday’s run.
“I’m thrilled to see it back again,” said 71-year-old Los Angeles periodontist Gordon Pattison, who like countless other Los Angeles natives has countless childhood memories of taking a scenic ride up and down the railway.
“I think the first time I rode it was in my mother’s arms. In 1946,” said Pattison, who rode it again Thursday.
Roundtrips cost a penny when Angels Flight opened in 1901. They cost $1 now with a 50-cent discount for those who pay with a transit card.
It was a must-take ride for tourists and locals alike when it closed in 1969 for a decades-long redevelopment project that saw Bunker Hill’s mansions replaced by high-rise office buildings, hotels, luxury apartments and museums.
Four years after it reopened in 1996 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
It was closed again in 2001, however, after a failure of the counterbalancing system caused a crash that killed one rider and injured several others. The railway finally reopened in 2010, only to be closed three years later after riders had to be rescued.
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