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Much-Awaited Vegas Rail Set to Glide Into Station

Sat July 10, 2004 - West Edition
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LAS VEGAS (AP) The Las Vegas monorail is back on track for a scheduled July 15 opening after nearly six months of costly delays during which engineers worked out various kinks that threatened the rail system’s reliability.

“This has been a very difficult time for us,’ said James Gibson, chief executive of Transit Systems Management, the private company that will operate the monorail for the nonprofit Las Vegas Monorail Co.

“We needed to ensure the system was reliable and safe,” he said.

Gibson said the $650 million monorail was supposed to begin running Jan. 20 but a drive shaft problem and later software glitches pushed back the starting date.

The four-car trains were stopping unexpectedly between stations, train doors were not opening properly when pulling into the stations and the trains weren’t maintaining the proper distance between one another, he said.

“None of those things suggest we have a lemon,” Gibson said. “It was just a matter of staying after it and figuring out the cause.”

The delays cost Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Inc. and project partner Granite Construction Co. of Watsonville, CA, about $85,000 a day in construction penalties. Bombardier built the monorail cars.

The monorail still needs a certificate of operation before it can begin shuttling people, said Ron Lynn, head of the Clark County Building Division. The certificate could be issued in the next several days, he said.

For the first 60 days, the monorail will operate from 8 a.m. to midnight daily, monorail spokesman Todd Walker said. After that, trains will run each day from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

The monorail will run 3.9 miles on a Z-shaped route that links seven stations, including one at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Walker said it could take a passenger under 14 minutes to travel behind some of city’s largest hotel-casinos from one end of the Las Vegas Strip to the other. Fares are $3 for one-way trips.

The monorail is being built in three phases and is expected to be extended to downtown Las Vegas and later to the airport.

To finance the first phase, $644.3 million in tax-exempt bonds were sold –– to be repaid over 40 years with fare box and advertising revenues.

Las Vegas hosts about 35 million visitors a year, including 5 million convention delegates. Project officials predict an estimated 19 million people will ride the monorail a full year after it opens.

Advertising space has been sold on four of the trains for $1 million each a year, and annual advertising rights at the convention center station sold for $2 million.

John Haycock, chairman of the board of Las Vegas Monorail Company, said the project was under budget.

“Completing a project of this magnitude, entirely with private money and coming in under budget, is a tremendous accomplishment,” he said.