ACS Infrastructure, the private company that operates Angels Flight, said a five-year-old Teflon roller cracked due to friction with rail car wheels that had expanded in the recent triple-digit heatwave.
Angels Flight, which originally opened in 1901, has been closed down for more than half of its existence since it was moved and reopened in 1996. At that time, the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency spent about $4 million to build a new rail about half a block south of the original location, and to restore the original 1901 rail cars and ticket houses.
In 2001, one rail car hurtled down the hill, striking the other car and killing one passenger. The National Transportation Safety Board found the crash was due to a faulty drive and braking system.
The nonprofit Angels Flight Railway Foundation funded a $3.5 million overhaul of the drive system in order to reopen the rail nine years later in 2010, but the line continued to experience mechanical issues.
In 2011, state inspectors briefly closed the railway when they found worn-down wheels in need of replacement. In 2013, the rail was closed due to a derailment.
Angels Flight reopened last week Thursday after about $5 million in safety upgrades by ACS Infrastructure, which will now operate the line for a share of the profits. Funds for the upgrades came from private donors.
The California Public Utilities Commission ran extensive test rides on the rail before it certified the line to open again.
Many Angelenos were very excited to take the historic ride up Bunker Hill, like Kenji Arai's 5-year-old son.
"Right away, he was saying we’ve definitely got to ride that and we’ve got to make a video about Angels Flight," Arai said.
The two produce a rail-centered YouTube Channel called All Aboard Fun, but now they’re not sure about the line’s ongoing safety, given its spotty history.
"With it failing in just a few days, that’s really disappointing," Arai said.
ACS Infrastructure senior executive Steve DeWitt insists there are no ongoing safety concerns.
"As the operators of Angels Flight, if we have a slight hint that something could go wrong, such as this roller — which actually is a pretty minor element – we’re going to fix it," he said.
He said the railway won’t operate until the company is 100 percent confident that it's safe.