Angels Flight investigated by National Transportation Safety Board after derailment

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Angels Flight may be the shortest railway in the world, but it is now the subject of investigation by one of the biggest transportation agencies in the country, the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB has launched an official investigation into last week’s derailment.

On Sept. 5,  a car went off the tracks of the funicular; no one was hurt, but six people had to be helped off the train. This isn't the first time the railway has had safety problems.  In 2001, one car rolled down the track and crashed into the lower car, killing an 83-year-old man and injuring seven others.

“Because there was the accident in 2001 in which the NTSB investigated, made numerous safety recommendations, we do notice when there’s another event with the same operator that we’ve seen before," said Peter Knudson, an NTSB spokesman.

The 2001 incident led to a nine-year closure of Angels Flight. The Los Angeles Times reports that investigators concluded the crash was caused by faulty mechanical and brake systems, as well as weak oversight.

After the NTSB finished its investigation of the 2001 accident, it issued seven safety recommendations to multiple organizations involved with the railway, said Knudson in an email. When the NTSB  followed up on these recommendations, it found that five of the seven had been completed, he wrote.

Angels Flight was shut down again for nearly a month in 2011 when inspectors found the train wasn’t safe to ride because the parts that hold the cars on the tracks had been excessively worn down.

Now, the NTSB is working with the California Public Utilities Commission in the investigation into last week's accident.  Knudson said the NTSB's L.A.-based investigator has begun looking at video obtained from the railway. 

The process will also include evaluating the design and maintenance of railway equipment, as well as looking at the operators who run the funicular, and the people who train them, he said. 

Knudson said the NTSB should have a preliminary report within the next few weeks.

Angels Flight was first opened in 1901, a half block north from its current location. It was dismantled in 1969, and reassembled years later in its current location, across from the Grand Central Market on Hill Street. 

The railway has become a kitschy, historical part of downtown L.A.; it takes people on a 298-foot ride for 50 cents. It has been operated by the Angels Flight Railway Foundation since 1996.

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