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Safety Concerns Prompt Shut Down Of Downtown’s Angels Flight

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — What goes up did not come down for at least one rider of a storied Los Angeles trolley.

The California Public Utilities Commission ordered Angels Flight, a trolley with a short ride and a long history of problems, to shut down Thursday afternoon because of an unsafe deterioration of its steel wheels that requires repair.

Inspectors “found that the wheel flange, which holds the wheels of the cars on the rails, have deteriorated to the point of being unsafe,” according to a statement from CPUC.

The railway’s own mechanics and consultants were surprised to find that the railway’s steel wheels were wearing down more quickly than expected and the wear “had accelerated in the last month to a point where replacement is required sooner than the normal time period expected for steel wheels,” said Railway Foundation president John Welborne in a statement.

The wheels may take several weeks to replace, as “they are custom items, not available just off-the-shelf,” said Welborne.

Over the last 15 months, the trolley has been operating sixteen hours a day, seven days a week to provide about 800,000 passenger trips, he said.

The Angels Flight is dubbed “the shortest railway in the world” and takes passengers for a 298-foot ride up or down a steep hill in the city’s Bunker Hill area.

Riders have boarded orange and black wooden cars since 1901 to ride the funicular, which means its two passenger cars are connected by a cable and move up and down the tracks simultaneously.

When the railway opened, the ride cost a penny and took residents from the Victorian mansions of Bunker Hill to the shopping district at the bottom of the hill.

An 83-year-old man was killed in February 2001 after a car rolled uncontrollably downhill and hit another car. Seven other people were injured. The 25-cent rides were halted until March 2010 as a result.

An investigation faulted a modern gear that had replaced an original part, causing a cable that raised and lowered the car to come off its spool. The emergency brake was also broken.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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