$650M monorail, to open in 2004, will unite Strip

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LAS VEGAS -- The city will be getting a new attraction come mid- to late January, but, for once, it's not a casino.

The Las Vegas Monorail Co. will unveil a $650 million public transportation system composed of nine four-car trains traveling on a single rail an average of 20 feet above the ground. The high point will be located 70 feet above the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"We think the monorail will be the major mass transportation artery in Las Vegas," said John Haycock, the company's CEO.

It will open up Las Vegas to visitors from one end of the Strip to the other, he said.

"At one time, if you stayed at the MGM Grand, you stayed around that area," Haycock said. "This gives you the opportunity to access anywhere on the Strip."

Seven of the trains will be active, Haycock said. The remaining two will be put on standby.

More than the Las Vegas monorail was unveiled in Times Square in New York recently, as Vegas showgirls managed to upstage the rail car for this media presentation. At normal capacity, he said, the seven active trains, whose top speeds can reach 50 mph, can move 3,600 people per hour. In a year's time, Haycock said, "conservatively, 20 million people will pay the fare."

That works out to about $3 per ride, most of which will go back into the operation of the system. And most of the passengers are expected to be visitors.

"Ridership studies almost exclusively assumed that tourists would be the primary users," Haycock said. "The monorail is much more than a means of transportation," he added. "It's a ride. We think it will change the cosmetics of the Las Vegas Strip."

To that end, the monorail, which is tucked behind the casino properties on the west side of Las Vegas Boulevard, will run from the MGM Grand Hotel-Casino at the south end of the Strip to the convention center at 3150 Paradise Blvd.

Stations will be located at the MGM Grand, Paris/Bally's hotels, the Flamingo Hilton, the Imperial Palace/Harrah's hotels, the Sahara, the Las Vegas Hilton and the convention center.

"The average wait at any station for any train is 2.5 minutes," Haycock said.

Travel times between the various stations include 15 minutes for a ride starting at the MGM Grand and ending at the Sahara. Also from MGM Grand, the convention center will be a seven-minute ride away.

"The stations are beautiful, very modern, with swooping rooflines," Haycock said. "They're in keeping with the whole concept of ultra-modern. I'm quite impressed."

The Sahara station is "a big, multilevel structure," he added. "The Hilton [station] is not quite as big."

All of the stations as well as some hotel properties will offer automatic fare collection machines, which, Haycock said, are analogous to ATM-type machines that dispense tickets.

The machines will accept cash and credit cards and, in turn, will dispense a card with smart-card technology that will give passengers the option of purchasing a single ride or a multiride pass, he said.

Operating hours for the monorail system initially will run from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. every day of the year.

There are plans to expand the routes to Fremont Street downtown as well as out to McCarran Airport. "Those negotiations are ongoing and well on their way," Haycock said.

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