National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C. - In a report adopted today, the National Transportation Safety Board determined that improper design and construction of the drive system caused the collision of two cars on the Angels Flight Funicular Railway. The collision occurred on February 1, 2001 in downtown Los Angeles, California. The probable cause statement also cited the failure of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that the railway system conformed to safety design specifications and known funicular safety standards.
The Angels Flight funicular was a historic reconstruction of the original funicular built in 1901 and operated until 1969. The accident occurred when the ascending car reversed direction and began accelerating down the incline. The operator in the station at the top of the hill pressed the emergency stop button but the car did not slow or stop and continued gaining speed until it collided with the car at the bottom. The runaway car derailed in the collision. One person was killed and 7 others were injured. Damage to the railway was estimated at $1.7 million.
"This is an example of safety taking second place to aesthetics," said NTSB Chairman Engleman, "The greatest priority in any transportation system must always be the safety of its riders."
The Board's investigation outlined a series of safety issue debates that took place during the re-design phase among The Community Redevelopment Agency; Harris and Associates, the construction managers; Yantrak, the construction company; Angels Flight Operating Company; Pueblo Contracting Services, the general contactor; and Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas Engineering, the reconstruction advisors. The original re-design of the railway submitted by Parsons called for emergency track brakes, end gates on the cars to contain passengers, and an elevated walkway to assist in emergency evacuations. Disagreements based on historical accuracy and feasibility of the safety features resulted in their elimination from the final design.
The Board's investigation concluded that had the emergency brakes been functional at the time of the accident they would likely have stopped the runaway train. The Board noted that the brake system as designed was inadequate because emergency brakes could not be activated or tested independently. Additionally track brakes or a safety cable would have stopped the runaway car and prevented the collision even without working emergency brakes.
The Board's report also concluded that the absence of an emergency walkway hampered access by emergency responders, made evacuation of the injured passengers difficult, and increased the risk to both passengers and emergency responders.
As a result of the investigation the Board issued recommendations to the California Public Utilities Commission urging them to adopt funicular regulations that include provisions for emergency stopping in all foreseeable failure modes, containment of passengers in the event of a collision, and emergency egress and ingress for passengers and emergency responders.
The Board recommended that the City of Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, before recommencing Angels Flight service, ensure that the drive system meets accepted industry standards; require a redesign of the braking system to allow for independent testing of the system; require that system operators and maintenance personnel follow detailed operating, inspection, and maintenance procedures; and direct a redesign of Angels Flight to include safety provisions for emergency stopping, containment of passengers in the event of a collision, and emergency egress and ingress.
A synopsis of the Angels Flight accident investigation report, including the findings, probable cause, and safety recommendations, can be found on the Publications page of the Board's web site, http://www.ntsb.gov. The complete report will be available in about six weeks.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.