Of All the ambitious city-spanning rail projects in the works across Los Angeles, it’s oddly the return of Angels Flight, the self-proclaimed “shortest railway in the world,” that has the city abuzz this summer.
On Thursday, August 31, after a four-year closure, Olivet and Sinai—as the two railcars are affectionately known—will resume their 298-foot route up and down Bunker Hill under a new operational deal that will keep the tiny train running for at least 30 years. The price of a one-way ride will increase to $1, double what it was when it was last open according to the Downtown News.
Angels Flight, a technological novelty when it was built in 1901, saved Angelenos a hike up one of the area’s steepest hills. The science behind the funicular is the same as it was 116 years ago: Two cars use a single inclined track—save a doubled midsection so they can pass each other—via a shared cable that pulls one car up as gravity guides the other down; don’t worry, a proper braking system was added in the aughts.
Other than a brief hush-hush revival for its La La Land cameo, the Downtown railway has sat stationary since a slew of issues halted its service in 2013, when operators at the station were using a tree branch to permanently hold down a run button that overrode the two trains’ safety systems.
The Angels Flight we know today is in fact the train’s second iteration; it sat on the slope above Third Street until 1969, when it was dismantled to make room for what’s now a high-rise senior community. Olivet and Sinai were supposed to nap for just a two-year closure, but due to bureaucratic and budgetary holdups, they didn’t resurface until 1996, when the railway was reconstructed a half block south, in its current location.
When it was first constructed, Angels Flight provided a carefree link between the Victorian mansions atop Bunker Hill and the bustling flats of Downtown. These days you’re more likely to find postlunch food-coma–ridden office workers making their way from Grand Central Market back up to California Plaza, but the train’s history still shines through.
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