A federal safety agency wants Angels Flight, the tiny rail line in downtown Los Angeles, to add an emergency exit staircase for the entire length of the block-long track.
But the operator of "he world's shortest railroad" says he can prove the staircase would make the transit line less safe.
John Welborne, president of the Angels Flight Railway, told the Los Angeles Times that safety experts as well as the California Public Utilities Commission told him that the addition of a walkway would tempt passengers, in emergency, to cross the steep rails between Hill and Olive streets.
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Instead, Welborne told The Times, his company has installed safety features including five levels of braking systems to prevent the line's two tiny coaches from running away, such as the 2001 catastrophe when Holocaust survivor Leon Praport was killed after the brakes on one of the system's rail cars failed.
After that accident, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the city's redevelopment agency had failed to property oversee Angels Flight's reconstruction, when it reopened in 1996 after a $4.1-million restoration.
The NTSB first called for a walkway in 2003, two years after Praport died and seven others were injured. In separate letters, reported The Times, one in April and the other in May, board Chairwoman Deborah A.P. Hersman told the state and city agencies that the lack of a walkway was "unacceptable."
Although the Los Angeles Fire Department "signed off on the Angels Flight emergency preparedness and evacuation plans in September 2009, the NTSB believes the existing walkway does not meet the requirements for ensuring egress and ingress of passengers and emergency responders and therefore, we are not satisfied that the existing means for evacuation are adequate," wrote Hersman.
The tiny rail line opened in 1901, operating alongside the Third Street tunnel until 1969, when it was shut down because of lack of ridership. It reopened in 1996 in a different location, after the $4.1-million restoration.
PUC spokesperson Susan Crothers told The Times that the NTSB's letter and the agency's decision to designate the lack of a walkway as "unacceptable," disappointed her. The PUC plans to send a letter responding to the federal government next week.