Sunday, November 4, 2007

Waiting For The Angels...

It has been six years, nine months and three days since the fateful February day in 2001 where the gear system of the Angels Flight funicular railway failed and killed one person while injuring seven.

But while the adjacent pocket park is being renovated, renovation and reconstruction of the Flight itself has yet to happen.

The update remains the same from Angels Flight Railway Foundation president John Welborne: "Angels Flight will reopen in __(insert arbitrary month here, which inevitably passes by)__, once we have our funding." The response, aside from that arbitrary month that inevitably comes and goes, had been uttered by Welborne so many times, it's made scratched records jealous. Welborne's constantly-revised advertisement in the pages of the Los Angeles Downtown News boasting the constantly-revised re-opening date is worth a chuckle in tiself.

The issue has been complicated by a seemingly possessive power-struggle between Welborne and the MTA, which had offered to assume the renovation costs and operation of the funicular. But Welborne, who was informally "knighted" by Mayor Tom Bradley to lead the Flight's pre-1996 rebuilding effort during his suggestion to the mayor at the City's 1981 Bicentennial festivities (hence Welborne's insistent entitlement to the railway), simply would not let "his" baby go without a fight.

The only renovation and repair that was actually completed was that of the railcars themselves, Sinai and Olivet, which are now being stored at the (M) Red Line Yard and Shops along Santa Fe Street in the Arts District (pictured above), waiting for their wings (okay, in their case, wheels) to be re-fitted on.

Since Downtown has gone on without the Flight for nearly seven years, should this all be an issue before all those big-ass Grand Avenue developments come to fruition? The flight had already missed out on its own centennial in December 2001. Or should Angelenos wait for another century (with constantly-updated arbitrary opening dates which inevitably come and go) before all this happens again?

Enough of this childish possessiveness, says the Militant. Welborne's initial resurrection of the Flight after nearly three decades was commendable, but it's time to let go and give in for the greater good of the City.

MILITANT UPDATE: Is the Militant psychic or what? The Los Angeles Downtown News has just reported that the Angels Flight Railway Foundation has already raised 88% of the $3.3 million required to reopen, with the latest arbitrary changeable date set to "December 31, 2007," pending the raising of the remaining 12% of the funds.

The Militant will believe it when he finally sees a crane lowering Sinai and Olivet onto the tracks.

Angels Flight (in exile) photo by Tim Quinn.


Miles said...

Here, here. Let Angel's Flight soar again (but more safely).

The Hollywood Jedi said...

I don't get it. Funiculars are in heavy use in Chile so my counterpart says and the ones that have been decommissioned are now being refurbished and put back into service. These things are beautiful and fun to ride. How does a developing nation with an economy smaller than that of southern california have the money to do this and los angeles wont do it. It preposterous.

Ed Padgett said...

Militant, you bring back such fond memories of years gone by. As a child, my grandparents would take me to Angel’s Flight for a ride up and down the hill.

When the railway was removed, it seems as if over twenty years went by before it was restored, wonder if it will take this long again? Would like my grandchildren to experience this treasure one day soon.

John H. Welborne said...

Sir: We'll try to remember to contact you and your blog, by non-psychic means, before the crane begins to lower Olivet and Sinai back on their tracks.

Ever since the recent posting of photos of the two cars near the Fourth Street Bridge, there has been increased interest in the progress that is being made in the restoration and the fund-raising paying for the restoration. Here is some news:

Olivet and Sinai have been generously stored by our friends at Metro for several years. Olivet and Sinai actually have been in that same outdoor location below the Fourth Street Bridge for most of 2007, having previously been inside the big, adjacent Metro building.

Usually-astute observers probably did not notice the cars because they were wrapped in blue tarps. For the past several weeks, the tarps have been removed while the wheels were reattached to the cars and the new track brakes and cable attachments were added to the undercarriages.

Metro has NO interest in taking over the always-privately-operated (since 1901) Angels Flight Railway. The issue WAS studied, but that approach was rejected.

In fact, the fund-raising for the Angels Flight restoration has been highly successful because of our supporters’ generosity. With the Los Angeles Downtown News kindly spreading the news of our efforts to close out the Campaign for Angels Flight, perhaps we’ll see some checks from that paper’s readers!

Of the unexpected $3.3 million that the directors and supporters of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation suddenly had to raise after the tragic 2001 accident (a dollar figure that could not even be properly quantified until 2003), all but the last 10% (about $315,000) has been raised. (As you can see, we’ve received quite a few checks since the Downtown News went to press for this week’s issue.) You and your readers, militant and non-, are encouraged to please send YOUR contributions to help close out the Campaign to:

Angels Flight Railway Foundation
Bunker Hill Post Office Box 712345
Los Angeles, California 90071

Your contributions are tax-deductible and will be acknowledged. Donor benefits are available, and you may e-mail the Foundation, in care of me, John H. Welborne, President, at, with additional questions or offers to help in this community undertaking.

Please be understanding if we are a bit slow in responding because we are very busy at the moment with the following:

1. Angels Flight is being restored with a traditional (like its original) funicular cable system. The new Drive has been manufactured and will be installed shortly.

2. Fixing something that is not broken and that had such a good safety record is not the best approach. That is why the private Angels Flight Railway’s designers are utilizing a tried and proven funicular design. Unfortunately, the public rebuilders of 1994-1996 used a new system, and that’s what broke, tragically.

3. The completed new Drive, like the pre-1969 Angels Flight operating equipment, has a second, safety cable. Unlike the original, and unlike the 1995-1996 rebuilt version, each of the two cars now has a rail brake. Use of such a brake should not be necessary, however, because the new Drive also has working emergency brakes on each of the two bullwheels.

Yes, the Drive being shipped to us has bullwheels and a cable with one end connected to each car — just like traditional funiculars always have had. In fact, if you look inside the window of the Station House at California Plaza, you will see the pre-1969 Drive. The completed new Drive — that will sit in the Machine Room below the Station House — looks very much the same, just a lot bigger.

Furthermore, in the unlikely case that the main motor fails, the new Drive has a completely separate and independent evacuation motor. Such evacuation motors are not unusual in traditional funiculars. (There was no such evacuation motor in the circa 1995-1996 rebuilt Angels Flight, however.)

Further information, including drawings and photographs, will be forthcoming in December. Our Foundation’s directors share the frustration of our neighbors and visitors who wish to see the Railway back in operation. However, we said we would not reopen the Railway until it is completely safe to do so.

As readers may (or may not) know, the litigation concerning the tragic 2001 accident was not finally ended until September 22, 2006 (just a bit over one year ago). As announced at our press conference in January of 2007, adequate funds to proceed had been secured, and designers and the manufacturer were under contract in January. Those vendors have been busy doing their jobs for the past ten months!

The reason there has been so much progress this year is because generous donors have made the progress possible. Hundreds of people who care, through individual, foundation, endowment, and corporate donations, are the people who are getting Angels Flight back on track. Join them! My fellow directors and I and all those working on the design, manufacture, and installation appreciate enthusiasts’ generous support!

Although funicular technology from the nineteenth century is simple, rebuilding an historic funicular in the middle of an urban area in the twenty-first century is quite complicated. Please trust me on that.

By the way, finishing the restoration and reopening the Railway are NOT dependent upon closing out the Campaign for Angels Flight because we have an unusually favorable line of credit that allows us to complete the work. However, it would be nice to reopen without having to use the credit line. And so we, once again, solicit your readers’ assistance in helping provide the final 10% of the funding. Donate to the cause! Join others and be an Angel! Thank you.

– John

Raven said...

I think i went to High School with John