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Los Angeles’ Beloved Railroad Seen in movie ‘La La Land’ Chugging Back to Life

It was shut down after a catastrophic system failure sent one car crashing into the other in 2001, killing a passenger

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Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at news conference standing in front of the Angels Flight railway in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Angels Flight, LA's beloved little railroad, had its cameo in the hit musical "La La Land" and now it's almost ready for its close-up. The tiny funicular that hauled people 298 feet up and down the city's steep Bunker Hill was shut down in 2013 after a series of safety problems. Garcetti said those issues are being resolved and the railroad's antique wooden cars should be back in service by Labor Day. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) VOA

Angels Flight, LA’s beloved little railroad, had its cameo in the hit musical “La La Land” and now it’s almost ready for its close-up.

The narrow-gauge railroad that for more than a century hauled people 298 feet up and down the city’s steep Bunker Hill was shut down in 2013 after a series of mishaps, including a crash that killed a rider.

At a news conference Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said those issues are being resolved and the railroad’s antique wooden cars, named Sinai and Olivet, should be back in service by Labor Day. They’ll be operated by a public-private partnership between the nonprofit Angels Flight Foundation and the private company ACS Infrastructure Development.

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“As anyone who has seen ‘La La Land’ can tell you, dreams do still come true here in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said exuberantly as dozens of cheering Angels Flight fans crowded together with reporters to hear his announcement just outside the railway’s bottom-of-the-hill station.

The railroad’s resurrection has been planned for months, but it may have gotten an unexpected boost when moviegoers saw Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling riding happily in one of the cars in “La La Land.” Many took to social media to ask why they couldn’t ride too.

That scene was just one of several film shoots the funicular has appeared in, said John Wellborne, past chairman of the Angels Flight Railway Foundation. But, he added with a chuckle, “It got a lot more attention than we anticipated.”

Meanwhile, some work still needs to be done before the cars can move again under an agreement reached with the state Public Utilities Commission.

That includes upgrading its funicular system in which the two cars’ counterbalancing weights allow one to be pulled up safely while the other is lowered. An emergency ramp must also be installed next to the railroad tracks so that if the cars break down in mid-run, as they did in 2013, firefighters won’t have to rescue the passengers this time.

Angels Flight railway is seen in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, California, March 1, 2017.

Angels Flight railway is seen in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, California, March 1, 2017.

Despite its recent woes, Angels Flight, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, holds a special place in the hearts of LA residents of all ages who will tell you countless stories of coming downtown to ride it during their childhood.

“I was 5 years old,” said Ron Lozano, who still vividly recalls the short trip as being his first thrill ride. “I didn’t get to Disneyland until I was 17.”

“It was heartbreaking when it shut down,” said the engineer who for years worked in a downtown skyscraper overlooking the tracks.

Angels Flight opened on New Year’s Eve 1901, hauling residents from Bunker Hill’s stately Victorian mansions down to one of the city’s best shopping districts. Rides cost a penny.

It operated until 1969 when it was shut down as the neighborhood, having fallen on hard times, underwent redevelopment.

FILE - Visitors walk past Angels Flight Railway in Los Angeles, Jan. 17, 2017.

FILE – Visitors walk past Angels Flight Railway in Los Angeles, Jan. 17, 2017.

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It reopened in 1996, just as the area was beginning to undergo a renaissance. For the next few years it carried thousands of tourists and office workers from the skyscrapers, museums and fashionable hotels that sprung up on Bunker Hill to the Grand Central Market below.

It was shut down after a catastrophic system failure sent one car crashing into the other in 2001, killing a passenger.

Reopened in 2010, it was closed three years later after a derailment stranded riders.(VOA)

Next Story

Los Angeles Showcases Earthquake Warning Application ‘ShakeAlertLA’

The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States.

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ShakeAlertLA, los angeles, earthquake
The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States. VOA

California is earthquake country, and residents of Los Angeles can now get some critical warning, when conditions are right, after a quake has started and seismic waves are heading their way.

The long-delayed system, called ShakeAlertLA, is the first of its kind in the United States.

Earthquake alert systems like this save lives, said Jeff Gorell, deputy Los Angeles mayor for public safety, as he demonstrated the application on his smartphone.

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A mobile phone customer looks at an earthquake warning application on their phone in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2019. The app, called ShakeAlertLA, is available for download on Android and Apple phones. VOA

“When an earthquake starts, the first waves that go out are called P-waves,” he said. They serve as a warning and “are not the damaging, destructive waves” that will follow.

The alert system, which relies on data from seismic sensors throughout the region, could offer up to 90 seconds of warning for quakes of magnitude 5 or larger.

Even a few seconds can make a difference, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, as he rolled out the ShakeAlertLA smartphone app in January. Alerts let people know to drop, cover and hold on, as they are instructed to do in earthquakes.

Mexico City system

An alert system is in place in Mexico City that let residents brace for a mild shaker in early February after an earthquake struck Chiapas to the south. The quake was barely felt in the capital, but residents were ready.

The system doesn’t always help, however, and it did not with the magnitude 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19, 2017, that killed hundreds in and around the Mexican capital. The quake’s epicenter was too close to offer warning.

Distance to epicenter crucial

Alert systems work when there’s enough distance between the earthquake’s epicenter and a center of population, said Thomas Heaton, professor of engineering seismology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

“So, if you can recognize that an earthquake has started … you can give some area that’s about to be shaken strongly a heads up that says, ‘There’s an ongoing earthquake, and oh, by the way, it’s headed in your direction.’”

California is riddled with geological fault lines that periodically rupture. The largest, the San Andreas Fault, can give rise to massive temblors, including the San Francisco quake in 1906, which may have killed 3,000, according to later estimates.

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FILE – California State University, Northridge students walk past a parking structure at the Los Angeles campus that collapsed 25 years ago in the Jan. 17, 1994, earthquake. VOA

A section of the same fault shifted in 1989, causing a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that killed more than 60 in Oakland and nearby communities. Smaller fault lines can also cause large temblors, including a previously unknown fault beneath the Northridge section of Los Angeles, where a magnitude 6.7 quake killed more than 60 people in 1994.

The ShakeAlertLA app offers users critical information after a temblor has started, said Deputy Mayor Gorell, “just enough so that they can digest it and then react to it, without overwhelming them with information or frightening them,” he said.

Advanced alert systems are also in place in Japan, and while the systems have limitations, authorities there say they have saved lives.

Los Angeles officials say preparing for earthquakes requires work on many fronts, including encouraging residents to prepare disaster plans and stock emergency supplies.

Preparations also require upgrades to old buildings. Los Angeles now has nearly 13,000 so-called soft-story buildings, with wide windows or doors on lower floors that need bracing. These buildings are vulnerable to damage or collapse if struck by seismic waves of a certain type or intensity.

Nearly 1,700 buildings have been upgraded to modern earthquake standards, and another 3,500 have been issued permits for retrofitting. It’s a race against time, officials say, because massive shakers rock the region periodically. The last big quake in Southern California, in 1857, reached magnitude 7.9, and could have killed thousands in a modern city.

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A mobile phone customer looks at an earthquake warning application on their phone in Los Angeles, Jan. 3, 2019. Los Angeles has released the app that could give county residents precious seconds to drop, cover and hold on in the event of a quake. VOA

The alert app can help, said Heaton, who noted that when the ground “starts to shake, you have no idea whether it’s going to get bigger, or whether it will stay small. Usually it stays small,” he said, “but you don’t know.”

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Heaton said the system will give you an indication of what to expect, and also let emergency workers know where to send help after a quake has struck.

ShakeAlertLA is being rolled out in phases in the U.S. West coast states of California, Oregon and Washington, which are all vulnerable to earthquakes. (VOA)