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Metrolink New San Bernardino Downtown Station Trip 12/17/2017

by Chris Guenzler

Sometimes I cannot be in two places at once and this was an example of that. On Saturday, I had to choose between riding and writing about the first Coaster train 631 to use Positive Train Control on a weekend train, or going to San Bernardino on opening day. I choose the Coaster and then called Robin Bowers to see if he wanted to ride out on Sunday and he said "Yes!"

I came up with a plan. On Sunday morning we met at the Santa Ana station and after checking with my fantastic Amtrak agent that the train was on time, I found Robin who told me that Metrolink ticket machine on the station side was not working, 0 for 2 with that machine this weekend. We crossed the pedestrian bridge and found the machine on that side then went down to wait for the train and since we were talking, the train snuck in without me taking a picture of it. We boarded the Pacific Surfliner cab car for a quick trip to Los Angeles but a picture before we arrived.

Santa Fe 4-8-4 3751 was not on her usual storage track this morning. We arrived and detrained for a few pictures.

Pacific Surfliner 1761, the train that brought us to Los Angeles this morning.

The Southwest Chief made a beautiful picture this morning. We went down to the LA Metro subway and tapped our Metrolink Sunday passes and soon were trackside and aboard awaiting North Hollywood subway train which we took two stops to Pershing Sqaure and a visit to the World's Shortest Railroad, Angels Flight, which was back in operation.

We detrained off the subway and I took this picture. We then walked to Angels Flight for a ride up and down.

Angels Flight History

Angels Flight is a landmark 2 foot 6 inch narrow gauge funicular railway in the Bunker Hill district of Downtown Los Angeles, California. It has two funicular cars, Sinai and Olivet, running in opposite directions on a shared cable on the 298 foot long inclined railway.

The funicular has operated on two different sites, using the same cars and station elements. The original Angels Flight location, with tracks connecting Hill Street and Olive Street, operated from 1901 until it was closed in 1969, when its site was cleared for redevelopment.

The second Angels Flight location opened one half block south of the original location in 1996, with tracks connecting Hill Street and California Plaza. It was shut down in 2001, following a fatal accident, and took nine years to commence operations again. The railroad restarted operations on March 15, 2010. It was closed again from June 10 to July 5, 2011, and then again after a minor derailment incident on September 5, 2013. The investigation of this 2013 incident led to the discovery of potentially serious safety problems in both the design and the operation of the funicular. Before the 2013 service suspension, the cost of a one-way ride was 50 cents (25 cents for Metro pass holders). Angels Flight service had been suspended since that time. In March 2017 an announcement was made that the line would be reopened later in the year after safety enhancements are completed; Angel's Flight reopened for public service on August 31, 2017.

Although it was marketed primarily as a tourist novelty, it was frequently used by local workers to travel between the Downtown Historic Core and Bunker Hill. In 2015, the executive director of the nearby REDCAT arts centre described the railroad as an important "economic link", and there was pressure for the city to fund and re-open the railroad.

The original Angels Flight

Built in 1901 with financing from Colonel J.W. Eddy, as the Los Angeles Incline Railway, Angels Flight began at the west corner of Hill Street at Third and ran for two blocks uphill (northwestward) to its Olive Street terminus. Angels Flight consisted of two vermillion "boarding stations" and two cars, named Sinai and Olivet, pulled up the steep incline by metal cables powered by engines at the upper Olive Street station. As one car ascended, the other descended, carried down by gravity. An archway labeled "Angels Flight" greeted passengers on the Hill Street entrance, and this name became the official name of the railway in 1912 when the Funding Company of California purchased the railway from its founders.

The original Angels Flight was a conventional funicular, with both cars connected to the same haulage cable. Unlike more modern funiculars, it did not have track brakes for use in the event of cable breakage, but it did have a separate safety cable which would come into play in case of breakage of the main cable. It operated for 68 years with a good safety record.

During operation in its original location, the railroad was owned and operated by six additional companies following Colonel Eddy. in 1912 Eddy sold the railroad to Funding Company of Los Angeles who in turn sold it to Continental Securities Company in 1914. Robert W. Moore, an engineer for Continental Securities, purchased Angels Flight in 1946. In 1952 Lester B. Moreland and Byron Linville a prominent banker at Security First National Bank purchased it from Moore and the following year Lester B. Moreland's family purchased Byron Linville's interest in the Railway, becoming sole stockholder. In 1962 the city forced Moreland to sell though condemnation and the city's redevelopment agency hired Oliver & Williams Elevator Company to run it until it was shut down on May 18, 1969. The following day the dismantling began and the cars were hauled away to be stored in a warehouse. The railroad's arch, station house, drinking fountain, and other artifacts were taken to an outdoor storage yard in Gardena, California.

The only fatality that involved the original Angels Flight occurred in the autumn of 1943, when a sailor attempting to walk up the track itself was crushed beneath one of the cars.

In November 1952, the Beverly Hills Parlor of the Native Daughters of the Golden West erected a plaque to commemorate fifty years of service by the railway.

The plaque reads: Built in 1901 by Colonel J.W. Eddy, lawyer, engineer and friend of President Abraham Lincoln, Angels Flight is said to be the world's shortest incorporated railway. The counterbalanced cars, controlled by cables, travel a 33 percent grade for 315 feet. It is estimated that Angels Flight has carried more passengers per mile than any other railway in the world, over a hundred million in its first fifty years. This incline railway is a public utility operating under a franchise granted by the City of Los Angeles.

In 1962, at its first meeting, the city's new Cultural Heritage Board designated Angels Flight a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (No. 4), along with four other locations. Los Angeles was early in enacting preservation laws, and the first sites chosen each were "considered threatened to some extent," according to the history of the board, now the Cultural Heritage Commission.


The railway was closed on May 18, 1969 when the Bunker Hill area underwent a controversial total redevelopment which destroyed and displaced a community of almost 22,000 working-class families renting rooms in architecturally significant but run-down buildings, to a modern mixed-use district of high-rise commercial buildings and modern apartment and condominium complexes. Both of the Angels Flight Cars, Sinai and Olivet were then placed in storage at 1200 S. Olive Street, Los Angeles. This was the location of Sid and Linda Kastner's United Business Interiors. At this location the Kastners maintained a private museum "The Bandstand". The Bandstand featured antique coin-operated musical instruments where one of the cars (Sinai) was on display in the museum. Olivet was stored in the garage of the building. They were stored at this location for 27 years at no charge in anticipation of the railway's restoration and reopening, which according to the city's Redevelopment Agency, was originally slated to take place within two years.

Sid Kastner standing on Sinai in front of "The Bandstand" where the two funicular cars would be stored in 1969.


After being stored for 27 years, the funicular was rebuilt and reopened by the newly formed Angels Flight Railway Foundation on February 24, 1996, half a block south of the original site. Although the original cars, Sinai and Olivet, were used, a new track and haulage system was designed and built, a redesign which had unfortunate consequences five years later. As rebuilt, the funicular was 91 meters long on an approximately 33-percent grade.

Car movement was controlled by an operator inside the upper station house, who was responsible for visually determining that the track and vehicles were clear for movement, closing the platform gates, starting the cars moving, monitoring the operation of the funicular cars, observing car stops at both stations, and collecting fares from passengers. The cars themselves did not carry any staff members. Angels Flight was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 13, 2000.

2001 accident

On February 1, 2001, Angels Flight had a serious accident that killed a passenger, Leon Praport and injured seven others, including Praport's wife, Lola. The accident occurred when car Sinai, approaching the upper station, reversed direction and accelerated downhill in an uncontrolled fashion to strike car Olivet near the lower terminus.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) conducted an investigation into the accident and determined that the probable cause was the improper design and construction of the Angels Flight funicular drive and the failure of the various regulatory bodies to ensure that the railway system conformed to initial safety design specifications and known funicular safety standards. The NTSB further remarked that the company that designed and built the drive, control, braking, and haul systems, Lift Engineering/Yantrak, is no longer in business and that the whereabouts of the company's principal is unknown.

Unlike the original, the new funicular used two separate haulage systems (one for each car), with the two systems connected to each other, the drive motor, and the service brake by a gear train; it was the failure of this gear train that was the immediate cause of the accident since it effectively disconnected Sinai both from Olivet's balancing load and from the service brake. There were emergency brakes that acted on the rim of each haulage drum, but due to inadequate maintenance, the emergency brakes for both cars were inoperative, which left Sinai without any brakes once its physical connection to the service brake was lost. Contrary to what might be expected, the new funicular was constructed with neither safety cable nor track brakes, either of which would have prevented the accident; the NTSB was unable to identify another funicular worldwide that operated without either of these safety features.

Records indicate that the emergency brake had been inoperative for 17 to 26 months due to the fact that a normally closed hydraulic solenoid valve had been placed in a location where the design called for a normally open valve and that its ill fitted solenoid was burned out.

During the 17 to 26 months that the emergency braking system was not operating, the braking system was tested daily, but since the service brake and emergency brake were tested simultaneously, there was no way to tell if the emergency brake was functioning without looking at the brake pads or hydraulic pressure gauges during the test. The test was always performed with the Sinai car traveling uphill, which meant that when the power was cut and the brakes applied (as part of the test), Sinai's momentum caused the car to continue moving uphill a short distance (slackening the cable) and then to roll back from gravity, jerking the cable tight.

If the emergency brakes had been functional, they would have caught Sinai when the cable snapped tight, but without the emergency brakes, the force of the jerk caused by the daily test was directed through the spline (the part that failed) and to the service brake. In addition, it was found that the original design called for the spline to be made of AISI 1018 steel on one drawing and of AISI 8822 steel on a different drawing, but it is unlikely that this ambiguity in the design contributed to the accident. However, regular analysis of gear box oil-samples was discontinued in May 1998, despite the fact that the company performing the tests recommending that the rising particulate level in the oil samples warranted the test occurring more frequently. The continued rising particulate level may have been in part caused by unusual wear of the splines. Continued testing could have resulted in an inspection to locate the cause of the unusual wear.

Besides the design failures in the haulage system, the system was also criticised by the NTSB for the lack of gates on the cars and the absence of a parallel walkway for emergency evacuation. The funicular suffered serious damage in the accident.


The death and injuries could have been avoided if any one of the following had taken place:

The 1996 renovation had included installing track brakes or safety cables.
The biannual oil analysis tests had not been discontinued in May 1998 (which would have shown rising levels of particulate material in the oil and may have caused a full inspection of the system to take place).
A single haulage system, similar to the first Angels Flight, had been used rather than the system that had separate cables for each car.
The emergency brake hydraulic solenoid valve had been installed according to the design (as normally open).
But if the brake fluid had been changed as instructed in the maintenance manual, this would not have happened.
The technician installing the solenoid had obtained a properly fitting part when discovering the solenoid did not properly fit the valve, instead of forcing it in with a tool (the installed valve was a newer design, for which the older solenoid was dimensionally incompatible, and tool marks on the solenoid show that it was forced in).The daily brake test had included testing the service brake and emergency brake separately instead of testing them simultaneously (which made it impossible to confirm that they were both working).
The daily brake test procedure had included looking at the brake pads and the hydraulic pressure in the emergency brake system to confirm it was operating.
The pressure gauges for the hydraulic brake systems had been placed on the operator's control panel instead of in the equipment cabinet.The daily brake test had involved applying the brakes more gradually so that the up-hill-bound car would not have the momentum to produce slack in the cable and roll backwards, jerking the cable tight.
The splines (the part that failed) had been designed to be extraordinarily strong to withstand the excessive force that occurred when the brake test was performed and the emergency brake was inoperative (which resulted in the force of the cable being pulled tight to be directed to the service brake through the splines, rather than to the emergency brake which was before the splines).


On November 1, 2008, both of the repaired and restored Angels Flight cars, Sinai and Olivet, were put back on their tracks and, on January 16, 2009, testing began on the railway. On November 20, 2009, another step in the approval process was achieved. On March 10, 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission approved the safety certificate for the railroad to begin operating again.

The new drive and safety system completely replaced the system which was the cause of the fatal 2001 accident. Like the original Angels Flight design and most traditional funicular systems, the new drive system incorporates a single main haulage cable, with one car attached to each end. Also like the original design, a second safety cable is utilized. To further enhance safety, unlike the original design, each car now has a rail brake system, as a backup to the main backup emergency brakes on each bull-wheel. Another added safety feature is an independent evacuation motor to move the cars should the main motor fail for any reason.

Reopening and temporary closing

Angels Flight reopened to the public for riding on March 15, 2010. The local media covered the event with positive interest. Only a month after re-opening, Angels Flight had had over 59,000 riders. It connected the Historic Core and Broadway commercial district with the hilltop Bunker Hill California Plaza urban park and the Museum of Contemporary Art - MOCA. The cost of a one-way ride at that time was 50 cents, 25 cents with TAP card.

On June 10, 2011, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered Angels Flight to immediately cease operations due to wear on the steel wheels on the two cars. Inspectors determined that their fifteen-year-old wheels needed replacing. It reopened on July 5, 2011, after eight new custom-made steel wheels were installed on the two cars.

2013 accident

On September 5, 2013, one car derailed near the middle of the guideway. One passenger was on board the derailed car, and five passengers were on board the other car. There were no injuries. Passengers had to be rescued from the cars by firefighters. The brake safety system had been bypassed with a small tree branch.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined the probable cause of the September 5, 2013, accident was the intentional bypass of the funicular safety system with Angels Flight management knowledge; and Angels Flight management continuation of revenue operations despite prolonged, and repeated, unidentified system safety shutdowns.

The NTSB also noted a problem with the basic design: "The car body and the wheel-axle assembly are not articulated." The passing section of the track involves a short turning section which allows the cars to pass each other. The axles do not turn to follow the track, resulting in the wheel flanges grinding against the rail, causing excessive wheel wear. This problem, combined with safety system problems which caused unwanted track brake deployment, resulted in a derailment.

Announced Reopening

On March 1, 2017, it was announced by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that Angels Flight could be working again by Labor Day 2017. The reopening will be made possible after safety upgrades are made to the doors of the cars and an evacuation walkway is added to the track. These enhancements will be made by ACS Infrastructure Development through an agreement with Angels Flight Railway Foundation in exchange for a share of the funicular's revenue over the next three decades. At the time of the announcement, officials said that the cost of the repairs and value of the contract were confidential. Angel's Flight reopened for public service on August 31, 2017.

Art and popular culture

Angel's Flight is the title of a famous 1931 oil painting by Millard Sheets that hangs as part of the permanent collection in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It shows two young women on the funicular's upper platform looking down on the nearby houses of Third Street, but the funicular cars themselves are out of the frame.

Our rides

Robin and I boarded Sinai for our trip both ways on this unique railroad. The gates closed and soon we were headed upwards.

The trip up the grade passing the out-of-service Olivet car this morning. We paid at the top, then waited for the gates to be closed and we would be taken down the grade.

The trip back down the grade. It had been a good time of riding an old friend once again. We returned to the Pershing Square subway station and waited for the first train back.

Five minutes later, a Wilshire and Western subway train took us back to Union Station and Robin went to Subway.

Metrolink train 354 pulled into Union Station to take us out to the newest station of San Bernardino Downtown. The Metrolink conductor let me board the bicycle car before the other passengers. Robin found me at my usual table and the train departed on time with Robin took pictures of the ride to San Bernardino, while I would wait until we got close to the San Bernardino flyover. Our tickets were inspected and the conductor found the usual fare evaders aboard this train.

BNSF power before the flyover.

The San Bernardino Sub heads south into B Yard.

BNSF A Yard in San Bernardino.

The Short Way cutoff.

The new tracks at the San Bernardino Metrolink station.

My new rail mileage would start once we left the San Bernardino station platform.

On my new rail mileage, the old Santa Fe San Bernardino station.

We would pass the east end of the BNSF A Yard before we crossed West 3rd Street

The train then made a turn to the south.

The train then made a turn to the southeast.

The train then made the final turn to the east going under the 215 Freeway.

We crossed Walkinshaw Street then made a straight shot into the new San Bernardino Downtown station.

We passed the control signal at milepost 57.5 and we arrived into the San Bernardino Downtown station and I detrained to start my photography here.

Metrolink 354.

The future route to Redlands for me to ride in a few years.

The other end of Metrolink 354.

Metrolink 359 waiting for a signal. I checked out the Transit Center building and found that there was a restroom inside before walking a block north to a petrol station and picked up a Coca-Cola for the trip home.

Another view of Metrolink 359.

Our train now had a red over yellow signal which meant we would take the other track back to the old San Bernardino station. We left on time and here are a few more pictures.

The famous Arrowhead symbol on the Arrowhead Mountain that was uncovered a few years ago by a major forest fire.

BNSF power in A Yard in San Bernardino.

Union Pacific 4777 West with a work train.

One last view of the BNSF A Yard.

More BNSF motive power at San Bernardino. Our tickets were checked again and Robin and I enjoyed the trip back to Los Angeles. Once there we went to Weztel Pretzels inside the station before Robin went to the information desk and I went up to the platform to wait for our train home.

Metrolink 664 arrived as Metrolink 665. Before we left, the message board said there had been a tresspasser strike but gave no train number nor location. What kind of information are they giving? I called Julie, Amtrak's automated agent to ask about Pacific Surfliner 777 and was told there was a service disruption. We departed on time and got to Anahiem where their sign said Pacific Surfliner 777 would now be arriving at 3:45 PM. We detrained at Santa Ana and the Amtrak agent told us that Pacific Surfliner 768 had hit someone and had tied up the railroad south of Oceanside. It was a good thing that Robin and I had gone out to San Bernardino today. We said our goodbyes and I went home to write this story.