Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Monorail finally ready

On Tuesday afternoon, with the Las Vegas Monorail less than 24 hours away from a highly orchestrated premiere, the last-minute finishing touches were at times as complex as installing a high-tech music system in the trains and other times as simple as changing a lightbulb.

By this morning it appeared to be "all systems go" as Gov. Kenny Guinn and other dignitaries arrived at the MGM Grand for a VIP ride on Las Vegas' long-awaited new public transportation system.

The monorail is "a substantial move forward for Southern Nevada," Guinn said before he rode the train.

"We're a little late in becoming the city we want to be," Guinn said. "It won't be our salvation but it will be a helping hand."

Guinn said he did not expect the monorail to bring in a substantial increase in tourist dollars but that it should improve air quality and help reduce traffic on the densely traveled Las Vegas Strip.

"It puts us at the cutting edge of public transportation," Guinn said.

Individual trains had been running for several days -- some hotel employees had already been given rides -- but at the stations, workers for the monorail company and the hotels along its 4-mile route scurried about the platforms, cleaning the cars, hanging banners and placing specially published magazines into kiosks outside the monorail.

"Obviously it's all hands on deck," monorail spokesman Todd Walker said. "It's just a matter of the final sweep, but we are ready to carry passengers."

The $650 million system, which was paid for with private funds, opens to the public Thursday morning.

The monorail runs from the MGM Grand to the Sahara hotel and has seven stations along the way. It will cost $3 for a one-way ticket.

The opening is long overdue. The original plan called for it to open in January.

A succession of glitches with mechanical and computer systems pushed back the start back several times as technicians and engineers worked to correct the problems. Standards set by Transit System Management, created to administer contracts related to the projects, required the trains to run trouble-free for 30 days before engineers could deem them fully operational.

At the Sahara hotel station Tedd Snyder, a systems consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, a company contracted to inspect the trains, was busy loading a Calypso-style music program into the cars' sound systems.

The decision to pipe music into the trains came at the last minute, Walker said.

"Our work is done," Walker said. "The system is ready to open but now a lot of it (last-minute preparations) have to do with the interest in this project."

Meanwhile the control center, a 50,000-square-foot windowless warehouse housing four service bays and a locked control room to monitor train security, appeared calm as technicians conducted daily maintenance on the trains, which starting Thursday are expected to shuttle up to 20 million people a year.

Security personnel were almost handed their first real-world test about 1:45 Tuesday afternoon, as the Las Vegas Fire Department bomb squad responded to a suspicious package near a magazine rack on the corner of the Strip and Stardust Lane, just a block from the monorail's final stop and the security headquarters.

The package turned out to be radio equipment but it had prompted authorities to close the heavily traveled section of Las Vegas Boulevard for more than an hour.

Jim Gibson, the Henderson mayor who is also chief executive officer of Transit System Management, said he was informed about the incident and he noted that the monorail company has measures in place in event of future threats.

"If there was an emergency of any kind (on the Strip) it could, in fact, affect the monorail," Gibson said. "It would depend on the size of the event but we have anticipated that something like that could happen at some point in time."

Each station has one private security guard watching the premises, while a security director watches the dozens of cameras feeding to the control room, he said. An international security firm was also contracted to prepare for threats to the high-profile system, which is expected to receive national media coverage in the next several days.

Security is expected to be heightened for this morning's media event and tonight's VIP party, at which state and federal politicians are expected to appear with local celebrities.

Gibson said the private security will work with each hotel's security force, but he would not comment on individual measures taken.

"We've determined internally that in terms of the specifics it's not something we talk about publicly," said Gibson, who is also mayor of Henderson. "Security is really important to us and we intend to ensure to our riders that everything is coordinated."

Daily maintenance for the system includes sweeping the train's security system, checking the emergency phones and a late-night unmanned test, said Cleve Cleveland, operations and maintenance manager for Canada-based Bombardier Transportation, the company contracted to build the system.

Many of the system's vital statistics, including technological glitches and security breeches, are monitored on a specially designed software program allowing technicians to constantly monitor and communicate with the trains, Cleveland said.

"If this train has a problem, we'll know about it," he said, pointing to one of several flat-panel monitors in the control room.

Bombardier and construction partner Granite Construction in May were found liable for fines of $85,000 a day for delays stemming from the project, originally slated to open in January. By early July the companies had amassed more than $12 million in fines, according to the company.

Walker said he expected an overall trouble-free event this morning, but he was prepared for "bumps" in the opening days.

"We haven't tested the system for 15,000 to 20,000 people yet," he said. "We expect there will be things, bumps, to work through but this (the monorail) will be here longer than much of Las Vegas. It may be here longer than most of the hotels."

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