Originally created 07/18/04

Monorail opens in Las Vegas after months of delays and glitches



LAS VEGAS -- After months of delays, Las Vegas launched a $650 million monorail Thursday that shuttles gamblers to casinos on the Strip while easing traffic along the stretch of glittering resorts.

Moments after the monorail opened to the public, a trickle of curious tourists paid the fare and boarded the sleek trains not knowing what to expect.

Their answer came quickly as the fully automated, four-car trains zoomed around the 3.9-mile, Z-shaped track, depositing them at various hotel-casino stations without any major problems.

"It wasn't bad. I'd take it over a cab any day," said Blair Wiggins of Cocoa Beach, Fla., who was attending a fishing convention.

Tourism officials are betting as many as 20 million visitors a year will use the monorail, paying $3 one-way fares and $5.50 for a roundtrip. An extension to downtown Las Vegas and a connection to the airport are being considered.

Monorail officials also are counting on about $25 million in annual advertising revenue from selling companies the rights to brand the seven stations and the individual trains. Ads already line the inside of the trains, including one that invites riders to "Play a few hands. Pull a few handles. Make your own luck."

Thursday's public opening was smooth, but the system is not without kinks. The ride, though quiet, is somewhat jerky. Hand rails are lacking inside the cars, especially when they fill up and riders are forced to stand.

The trains can travel from one end to the other in 14 minutes, reaching top speeds of 50 mph. The Las Vegas system is one of 10 multi-station monorails in the United States, according to the Monorail Society, a nonprofit organization that promotes the high-tech trains as an efficient and clean form of transportation.

The route's eastern view offers disappointing glimpses of low-rent apartments, parking lots and construction sites. To the west, the scenery improves. When travelers near the hub station at the convention center, there's a sweeping view of casino developer Steve Wynn's new megaresort.

The monorail was supposed to start running Jan. 20 but a series of problems derailed the project's timeline. Once a drive shaft problem was solved, software glitches caused the trains to stop between stations, train doors were not opening properly and the trains were not maintaining the proper distance between one another.

K.C. Dehning, 44, a pastor from Warsaw, Ind., said the $10 he paid to use the monorail all day was a deal compared the money he would have spent on cabs.

"If you want to get from one place to another, it's going to be a whole lot easier," he said.

On the Net:

Las Vegas Monorail: http://www.lvmonorail.com