Funicular accident in L.A.

There was an accident today (2/1/01) at Los Angeles’ historic Angel’s Flight, a restored funicular railway that goes up L.A.'s Bunker Hill (it also goes down).

Apparently, the car at the top had its cable snap and it plunged down the track and into the car that was getting ready to head up. Eight people were injured and an elderly couple was hospitalized with severe head injuries.

For those unfamiliar with the system, a funicular has two cars which are on a counterweight system so that while one goes up, the other goes down, and they pass each other in the middle. (My apologies to those who already knew that)

Apparently, the system had no fail safe system so that when the cable broke, there was no way to stop the train.

Now if there are any funicular railway experts here (somehow I think there are some on this board), but shouldn’t there have been some sort of emergency brake. Also, isn’t it unusual that a cable would break so soon in to its operation. The Angels Flight reopened after being shut down in the 1960s back in 1996. It was relocated, so all of the equipment, except for the cars which were refurbished, should have been fairly new equipment.

Or are there more accidents with funiculars throughout the world than I realize?

Hmm… Apparently there isn’t anyone here with expertise in funiculars.
I can add that today’s newspapers out here reported that the preliminary determination of the cause of the accident was that the upper train slipped off the cable or that the cable that runs around the drum slipped off the axle and that caused the upper car to roll down the hill (about 250 feet or so) and into the bottom car.

An article here mentions that the emergency brakes did not work (implying that yes, there were emergency brakes). It also said that one person was killed. Not much other info is offered.

Thanks, it’s nice to know that there is someone out there who is an expert on funiculars. It makes sense that it would be someone Swiss.

CNN initially reported that someone was killed, then quickly retracted the report, and then finally had to report that indeed someone had died.

The initial examination of the cable by the NTSB said it didn’t break.

This was the latest report from the AP

Apparently the cable slipped off the spool that ran the funicular causing the train to plummet down the tracks. The emergency brake didn’t slow down the train enough.

Well, this caught my eye since in my hometown (in Switzerland) we have a funicular. Also I live near LA, so I qualify on both counts.

There’s an article in the Los Angeles Times (note: this link will probably only work for a few days) that gives some information. It says that the cable holding the car slipped off the spool. Someone (from the National Transportation Safety Board) interviewed in the article says that there was an emergency brake, that the brake worked, and that this prevented the accident from being worse than it was. A daily inspection made the morning of the accident revealed nothing amiss.

Trivia: the two cars are named Olivet and Sinai. Sinai was going up when the cable slipped off the spool, so Sinai rolled backwards and slammed into Olivet.

As a reference point, the funicular in my hometown has never had an accident as far as I remember, so at least for the past 25 years.

BobT, who is this swiss expert on funiculars to whom you are referring?

The expert was the guy who put together the website frogstein linked to. I think he’s Swiss. His name is Michel Azema. His site is and the articles are in English and French and the English looks to be a little off, so I assume that he is either from the French part of Switerland or the French Alps where there are plenty of funiculars.

Hey BobT I went to read the article posted by frogstein also and didn’t see anything to indicate that the author is swiss. But just now I went to the home page, following your link, and I think you may be right. He has a database of all the funiculars in Switzerland.
Here’s the one in my hometown:
Funicular in Fribourg, Switzerland

My heart is going pit-a-pat and at the same time swelling with patriotic pride. I think I’m going to cry now.

I presume Angel’s Flight was a standard issue funicular where the bottom train was pushed up and the top train was guided down. I believe it uses the 2-4-2 track system described by at

I’m not sure what powers Angel’s Flight.

I had assumed that all funiculars had an automatic, fail-safe system for arresting the cars should the cable break, just like lifts (elevators) have had for a century or so. Now I find that Angel’s Flight does not. I wonder if it had such a sytem in the 1960s. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This happened in California, a state with a history of similar accidents. One that comes to mind is the chair lift at Sun Valley that went out of control in reverse in the 1970s flinging skiers into the air at the bottom.

I think you mean Squaw Valley. Sun Valley, Idaho is a ski resort. Sun Valley, California is a suburb of Los Angeles.

I believe the Squaw Valley accident was a case of a cable that carried a tram up the hill having a problem.