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For the Automated Guideway Transport Industry                                                                           September 2003  
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TRANSIT TESTS: Nearly ready to roll

Monorail from MGM Grand to Sahara Avenue is 70 percent complete


Maybe three decades of talk with little action made the whole idea seem like a pipe dream.

Or perhaps it's that some Las Vegans rarely visit the resort corridor where the rails and stations have quickly risen above Paradise Road and Twain Avenue.

Whatever the reason, Cam Walker says some people are having a hard time wrapping their minds around the fact the Las Vegas monorail is quickly becoming a reality.

"That mentality is still out there, that it's all a lot of talk," said Walker, president of Transit Systems Management, the company overseeing construction and operation of the monorail. "A lot of people haven't been down there to see we're making a lot of progress."

The $650 million project, which got under way in August 2001, is about 70 percent complete. A few short stretches of rail and the stations' interiors are all that remain unfinished.

While work continues, engineers have started testing computer, communication and security systems, and the trains themselves.

A sleek white and blue, four-car train, one of two that arrived earlier this year, can occasionally be seen edging cautiously along a short stretch of rail near Sahara Avenue and Paradise. A temporary stop sign has been erected alongside the track, about 500 feet from the storage and maintenance facility, as a reminder to engineers to proceed no farther.

Gradually the testing will expand to encompass the three miles of track between the MGM Grand and Sahara Avenue.

"We start with small portions of the system and test them," said Reg Brockway, manager of testing for Bombardier Inc., the Canadian company which manufactured the system and is under contract to operate it for five years. "Once we're comfortable with each system individually, we can begin integrating them and conducting systemwide testing."

The tests will continue for the next nine months, wrapping up in time for the monorail to begin carrying riders in late January.

When service begins, trains will run at four-minute intervals, 20 hours a day. The hours between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. will be used to clean and maintain the system's nine trains.

The trains, which will operate without drivers, will travel up to 45 mph. A one-way trip from the MGM to Sahara, including stops at seven stations, will take about 15 minutes.

"It will be the most modern transit system in the world when it opens," said Todd Walker, spokesman for Transit Systems.

Also distinguishing the system from other public transportation systems is that it was paid for with private funds. To repay the $650 million in bonds, the system will need to attract 19.5 million riders a year.

The Regional Transportation Commission plans to lure even more riders to the system with a downtown extension, linking to the privately funded system at Sahara and running to Fremont Street. The extension would be funded with a grant and a loan from the federal government and $150 million in private bonds.

A one-way trip will cost $3. Discounted day, three-day, weekly or monthly passes will be sold, though the exact cost has not been set.

Even though he's eager to see the system begin operating, Todd Walker said it is important the various systems are tested to make sure they're going to function properly under the desert conditions in Las Vegas.

"We were most concerned with the air conditioning," he said. "We don't want it to be like riding on a hot bus."