Beloved railroad seen in 'La La Land' chugging back to life

LOS ANGELES: 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.

"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.

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.

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.