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Angels Flight, the "Shortest Railway in the World" 3/28/2010

by Chris Guenzler

I took Pacific Surfliner 565 from Santa Ana north to Los Angeles Union Station and bought a Metro Day Pass for the short trip to the Pershing Square station then rode the long escalator up to ground level and made my way over to the Angels Flight to write a story about it.

The lower station on Hill Street.

One of the two cars used on Angels Flight.

A Brief History

Angels Flight, known as the "Shortest Railway in the World", opened in 1901 and quickly became a city landmark. Colonel James Ward Eddy was the visionary who convinced City Hall to grant him a 30-year franchise to construct and operate an inclined railway. The funicular system of two counterbalanced cars moving up and down parallel tracks was an efficient means of transporting passengers along the steep grade between Third and Hill Streets and fashionable Bunker Hill. The ride lasted one minute and cost one cent.

Over the years, operations were transferred to other powers, tracks were relaid and the station house redesigned. However, the single-trip fare rose only once, in 1914, to five cents. In 1959, Angels Flight was destined for demolition as part of the Bunker Hill Urban Renewal Project, but loyal riders and enthusiastic supporters thwarted those plans, at least temporarily. During the next ten years the community of Bunker Hill changed dramatically as apartment houses were razed and residents dislocated by the redevelopment project. Ever decreasing numbers of commuters and tourists and lack of funding contributed to the inevitable. Even the designation of Historical Cultural Landmark could not save the Angel and she was dismantled in 1969.

Twenty years later, the Community Redevelopment Agency approved final plans for the California Plaza, which incorporated a restored Angels Flight. Although it took another six years and a good supply of bureaucratic activity, restoration and reconstruction started in 1995 and on February 24, 1996, Angels Flight was re-dedicated, now half a block from its original site. Angels Flight was shuttered in 2001 following a brake malfunction that resulted in several injuries and one death when the twin cars Sinai and Olivet careened into Hill Street below. It was finally reopened in March 2010.

Angels Flight in Action

I then waited for the passengers to exit before I took another ride after all these years on Angels Flight.

My Ride Up!

Once you exit at the top, you pay your quarter and then I paid one more and reboarded the car for the trip down.

The Trip Down

It had been a great trip on the Angels Flight Railway. I took the subway back to Union Station and later rode Pacific Surfliner 572 home to Santa Ana.