Tuesday, March 2, 2004 | 10:43 a.m.
The opening of the Las Vegas Monorail appears to be headed for yet another postponement.
The futuristic transit option is supposed to open no later than the end of this month. But the Clark County building division, which has responsibility for ensuring that the system and its eight stations are safe for the public, was still testing aspects of the system Monday. Following "scenario testing," or testing to see how the system operates in extreme situations such as a disaster, the system needs to run continuously through a 30-day demonstration test, Clark County Building Official Ron Lynn said Monday.
"Scenario testing has been 99 percent completed," he said. Lynn said that the testing delays did not appear to be due to any fundamental problem and that the 30-day test run could begin sometime this week. If successful, that would allow the monorail to open early next month.
The Las Vegas Monorail Co., the nonprofit company that owns the system, has not been able to meet several of the opening dates it had set for the system. In August 2003, the opening was to be Jan. 20. But in December, the company said it wouldn't begin taking paying passengers until March 1. As recently as Feb. 20 representatives for the system said they planned to open the monorail by March 31.
Todd Walker, Las Vegas Monorail Co. said the company's contract with Bombardier Transportation, the Canadian-based company building the system, and Bombardier's partner, California-based Granite Construction, called for construction completion by the first quarter.
The construction contractors potentially faces penalties because of the construction delays, but Walker said he does not know how large they would be. The contract between Las Vegas Monorail Co. and Bombardier is private and confidential, he said.
Terry Murphy, a Las Vegas Monorail Co. board member, said her company and the contractors will meet this morning, and the delay in opening the system is likely to be a primary topic of the conversation.
"For a $650 million project that is scheduled to open in the first quarter of '04, we're not quite late yet, and if we are a little bit late, that is not surprising for a project of this size," Murphy said. "When it does open we're going to make sure that it is fully operational and safe. We have to make sure the testing is done properly."
Among those that hope the system will begin operating soon are representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters convention, the largest scheduled this year. The NAB convention could bring 130,000 people to Las Vegas April 17-22, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.
An NAB spokesman said it will be a disappointment but not a calamity if the monorail isn't open by the time the convention begins.
"We had plans in place in case the monorail didn't open to have just as many buses ready to go to aid in the transport of the crowds," NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said. "We had hoped that it would be open, but we'll be OK either way."
Rob Powers, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman, said his agency has always let potential convention visitors know that the monorail might not be ready for service.
"We didn't have any firm date that we have told our customers," Powers said. "This is a very complicated system and they need to make absolutely sure that everything is up and running perfectly when it opens. We're certainly not rushing it."
Walker said his company cannot announce a firm starting date for the system's operation in part because the testing of the monorail is up to the company building it. Walker said they receive periodic updates from Bombardier Transportation on construction, and should get an update today.
"It would be premature to put an exact date on the opening of the system without all the necessary information," Walker said. "We recognize the importance of this system to the resort community and overall community, and no one wants the system open more than we do, but we want it done right."
Lynn, with Clark County, said a handful of relatively minor problems have cropped up in the last month. On Feb. 18, high winds tore sheet metal roofing panels from a structure and hit the monorail line, shorting out the electrical system. A day earlier, mechanical problems surfaced on one of the "decks" where the monorail train starts and ends its 4-mile journey along the Strip.
The monorail company reported in early January that a drive shaft fell off cars being tested on the track, but said at the time that no one was hurt and that the accident did not affect the opening date.
Lynn said the monorail can operate, "but not in a public manner." He said a problem with communications gear surfaced during the scenario tests, which involve ensuring that the public can clearly hear warnings and move freely out of stations in an emergency. While the communications problem was corrected, the tests need to be re-run.
"That is the bottleneck at this point," he said. "The corrected gear now has to be tested in the scenario." We have to make sure the testing is done properly."