The operators of Los Angeles' historic Angels Flight said Friday they were in the process of getting replacements for the popular railway's wheels when state safety inspectors ordered a shutdown after finding unsafe deterioration.
"We would have been closed on a Saturday morning or at night to replace the wheels and gradually done that," Angels Flight Railway Foundation President John Welborne said.
The California Public Utilities Commission ordered the downtown hillside funicular to stop running Thursday because of wheel flange deterioration. Flanges are inch-wide lips on the inside of the wheels that hold the cars on the rails.
A beloved relic of downtown's past, the 110-year-old railway reopened in March 2010, nine years after a fatal accident halted the rides and forced an extensive overhaul of its operating and safety systems.
In February 2001, a car rolled uncontrollably downhill and hit another car, killing an 83-year-old man and injuring seven others. 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.
It took years for the foundation to raise the $3.5 million needed to repair and upgrade the railway to reopen it.
Richard Clark, the director of consumer protection and safety for the utilities commission, said inspectors recently found flanges on two of the eight wheels on the railway's two cars were excessively worn, while flanges on two other wheels were more than 50 percent worn.
"There are two major things that concern us: the wheel could fail, shatter or fall apart, and when the cars are negotiating a curve, they could derail," Clark said.
Welborne said the foundation intended to replace all the flanges. He said thousands of one-minute trips up and down "The Shortest Railway in the World" have worn down the parts.
The foundation's mechanics and consultants were surprised that the normal, gradual wearing of the wheels "had accelerated in the last month to a point where replacement is required sooner than the normal time period expected for steel wheels," he said.
Welborne said the wheels may take several weeks to replace because they are custom items. He spent Friday searching for vendors who could make them available sooner.
Clark wrote in a letter that the commission will want to see the foundation identify, address and repair the "underlying root cause(s) and significant contributing factors that have caused this unsafe condition" before allowing operations to resume.
In the 15 months since Angels Flight reopened, downtown workers, residents and tourists have taken some 800,000 passenger trips aboard the orange and black wooden cars.
The rides on the funicular, which means its two passenger cars are attached by a cable and move in tandem, take about a minute and cost just a quarter.