The Guinness Book of World Records tells tales of extremes and accomplishments. Just because a record isn’t inked along the pages, doesn’t mean it’s not noteworthy. An example of this is the world’s shortest railway, Angels Flight.
Angels Flight is a funicular railway located across the street from Grand Central Market in the Bunker Hill District of Downtown Los Angeles. In the early 1900s, Bunker Hill was a vibrant neighborhood sprinkled with victorian mansions and prominent businesses. This railway dates back to 1901 when its original purpose was carting Angelenos up and down the steep slope in Bunker Hill. The two cars, Olivet and Sinai, ran in opposite directions along the 298-foot (two block) railway.
The Flight’s safe and successful run came to an end in 1969 when the surrounding neighborhood began redeveloping. Angels Flight’s cars were dismantled, placed in storage and remained unseen for almost thirty years until the railway reopened at a new location about a block over near the California Plaza. The new location connects Hill Street and California Plaza.
When the railway reopened in the mid-90s, there were constant technical difficulties causing it to close multiple times for maintenance. These difficulties ranged from part malfunctions to car derailment, which resulted in the death and serious injuries of passengers. After the hazardous incident, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that in order to successfully run the flight, major renovations needed to occur.
According to the Los Angeles Times, private contributions funded Angels Flight’s renovation and safety upgrades. Although historians petitioned for the reopening of the historic railway, the movie La La Land, featuring scenes on the railway, provided the greatest inspiration. The multimillion dollar project was headwayed by ACS Infrastructure Development through an agreement with Angels Flight Railway Foundation, the current owner of the railway.
Before the most recent opening this August, ACS Infrastructure conducted over 2,000 flawless test runs. The renovated railway ferries passengers up and down Bunker Hill, just as it did more than 100 years ago in the same iconic fashion.
The Railway is open daily from 6:45 in the morning until 10:00 at night, and the one-way fare is $1.00. Angels Flight’s backdrop may have changed from victorian mansions to high rises, and it may not serve the same logistical use that it once served Angelenos a century ago. However, it does serve one very important purpose; it is a window into the history and evolution of Downtown Los Angeles.