The New Las Vegas Monorail
Brand new 4-mile route opens today
Thursday, July 15, 2004
by Karl Buiter, contributing writer
Many monorail supporters have been waiting a long time for July 15,
2004. Not a product of a theme park or a world's fair, today, Las Vegas
opens a new four-mile metropolitan monorail system.
A new Bombardier MVI passes over the Hilton Entrance. Photo by Karl Buiter.
Eventually expanding to a network of 15 miles connecting resorts and
businesses from the airport to downtown, this new system will be closely
looked at by transit planners everywhere. It may be the model for Seattle's
14-mile system currently under design and approval processes. And it may
clear the way for other cities to consider monorail as a way to solve
their transit problems.
Following the original MGM-Bally's right of way, the new LV Monorail heads
north toward Bally's/Paris. In the distance, construction cranes work
on the Sands Convention Center expansion. Nearly two miles away, the new
50-story Wynn Resort is topping out construction. The relatively smaller
Stardust hotel is further in the background. Photo by Karl Buiter.
Even to the casual observer, Las Vegas is growing at an unprecedented
rate. A view of the surface roadways on most weekend nights through the
Las Vegas resort corridor reveals a snarl of traffic. With over 100,000
rooms in the area, the population density surpasses Manhattan.
The entrance to the Chamber of Commerce remained open throughout the work.
Photo by Karl Buiter.
And this is just the start. New room towers and resort hotels continue
to be built at a dizzying pace:
- Mandalay Bay has completed a new resort tower
- The Venetian completed a room tower last year and is already working
on additional expansion
- Bellagio and Caesar's Palace have new room towers opening soon
- The $2.5 billion Wynn Resort opens in 2005
- New hotels are expected on the Tropicana and Boardwalk footprints
in the next years.
The 30 million visitor total to Las Vegas in 1998 is expected to grow
to 46 million by 2020.
Looking the other direction, beam construction through the Chamber of
Commerce parking lot had minimal impact on the surface below. Photo by
In 2000, 3 million vehicle miles per day were recorded in Las Vegas,
50 percent of the miles going to and from the resort area. By 2020, the
resident traffic is expected to increase to 9 million vehicle miles per
day, plus another 1 million vehicle miles by visitors. To accommodate
this traffic by roadway alone, 20 east-west and 18 north-south lanes of
traffic would need to be added in the corridor.
To handle this level of traffic by a bus network would require 36 buses
per hour per route. On Las Vegas Boulevard alone, buses would need to
run nose-to-tail every 30 seconds to manage the load, demanding the development
of dedicated bus lanesnot feasible given the already limited capacity
and available width of the roadways.
The MGM Station has been reconfigured to handle two 4-car trains on each
side. From left to right, the Tropicana, Mandalay Bay, Mandalay Bay "The
Hotel" expansion, Luxor pyramid, and a portion of Excalibur are seen in
the background. Photo by Karl Buiter.
For those looking for further reference, the Final Environmental Impact
Statement for the Downtown expansion is available online.
Call this Monorail Super-Yellow. Actually this is the Nextel-sponsored
train at Bally/Paris Station. Photo by Karl Buiter.
The elevated fixed guideway alternative offered many advantages. Limited
ground footprint provided minimal impact on roadways, both during construction
and after. There was no possibility of traffic collisions, an issue that
plagues many surface light rail systems. While monorail is popular in
Japan, Asia and Europe, in the United States monorails were often considered
the product of theme parks or world's fairs. Yet even here, the reliable
history, operating efficiency, and profitability of systems such as Seattle's
Alweg-based monorail is hard for transportation planners to ignore.
Our route goes up through a narrow passage next to Bally's Hotel (distant),
crosses Flamingo Boulevard, then comes to the Flamingo (far) and Harrah's
Hotel (near) stations before bending east in the foreground. The strip
is to the right in this picture looking south from the Venetian. Photo
by Karl Buiter.
In short, an elevated fixed guideway system, augmented by available roadway
widening projects and bus fleet expansion, has become the choice for handling
Las Vegas's growing transportation needs.
After a nearly two-mile route paralleling Sands Avenue and Paradise Boulevard,
the Monorail arrives at the Las Vegas Convention Center station. Portions
of this station remain under construction to support a new pavilion for
Nextel. Photo by Karl Buiter.
A pilot project commenced in 1993 between MGM and Bally's. After some
private study, two proven and retired Bombardier M-series monorails were
purchased from the Walt Disney Company. The two six-car trains purchased
were the youngest of the retired Walt Disney World Mark IV system - Coral
and Lime. Both trains were built in 1977 and certainly had many miles
left in them. Minor cosmetic changes to satisfy Disney concerns and rehabilitation
was performed on the trains, and in June 1995, the near one-mile route
from MGM to Bally's was opened. The system carried 20,000 passengers per
day and has largely been considered a success.
The Monorail rises over 50 feet above the ground as it passes over the
Las Vegas Convention Center walkway and meeting rooms. Turnberry Place
Condos and the Stratosphere are in the background. Photo by Karl Buiter.
In 2000, a franchise was awarded to then MGM (now MGM/Mirage) and Park
Place (now Caesars Entertainment) to expand the system to a nine-monorail,
four-mile route. The non-profit Las Vegas Monorail Company was formed.
The project was funded without using any tax dollars. Instead, $600 million
in non-recourse bonds were issued to cover construction. The operation
would pay for itself, as had other monorail systems. This in itself is
a new way to fund public mass transit projects. Granite Construction would
build the guideway. The monorails would be built and operated by Bombardier.
Project engineering was by Carter and Burgess.
The monorails station is just to the left of the main lobby in front of
the Las Vegas Hilton. Photo by Karl Buiter.
Construction commenced in August 2001 using new guideway construction
techniques. Pile drivers bore anchoring holes, and pylons were constructed
in-place. Once a stretch of pylons were completed, full beams fabricated
in a beam construction yard offsite were trucked in and lifted into place.
An entire stretch of beams could be lifted into place in a single morning.
From my view, it took only six weeks for most sections of guideway to
appear and be ready for final electrical and safety walkway installation.
We arrive at the Sahara, located at the current north end of the four-mile
route. This route will soon expand another 2 1/2 miles to downtown. Photo
by Karl Buiter.
The trains are Bombardier MVI Monorails. Based on the Bombardier Mark
VI series currently operating at the Walt Disney World, these new models
seat 72 with standing room for 152. In special situations such as event
handling, the trains can conceivable handle 376 passengers. This being
Las Vegas, dual redundant air-conditioning systems are installed in each
The Monster Energy Monorail Black train seen in this August
2003 picture. Photo by Karl Buiter.
Since then, the Clark County Regional Transportation Commission has approved
expansion of the system using public funds to downtown Las Vegas and a
spur from the Hilton west to Circus-Circus and the Stardust hotels. Phase
III expansion is planned to build the system south to Las Vegas McCarran
Airport. Further phases may extend the route from the Stardust behind
the casinos along the west side of the strip. In total, 15 miles of monorail
line will be built within the resort corridor.
The Star Trek Experience Monorail Trek on the towering span
in front of the Hilton and Las Vegas Convention Center. Photo by Karl
The opening four-mile system is expected to handle 20 million passengers
per year with the ability to expand way beyond that in years to come.
For regular visitors of Disney parks, corporate sponsorship is nothing
new. In the past many years, the renaming of sports parks and other public
facilities has become a new revenue source. For the Las Vegas Monorail
system, corporate sponsors including Nextel, Hansen's Monster Energy Drink,
the Hilton's Star Trek Experience, and others have decorated several monorails.
Nextel's 12-year sponsorship deal, including a pavilion and theatre at
the Las Vegas Convention Center station, is estimated to be worth $50
Monorail Trek parked next to the green towers of the MGM Hotel and Casino.
Photo by Karl Buiter.
The future of Monorail throughout the United States is bright.
Last year, Seattle voters approved a new $1.75 billion 14-mile system.
And while some interest groups continue to fight, the Seattle City Council
unanimously approved the transit way alignment on July 7. Construction
bids will be unveiled in August with construction not far behind.
Several other Monorail groups in San Diego, central California, Austin,
Houston, Maryland, Milwaukee, and Orlando are promoting efforts to bring
monorail to their regions.
See you on board!
What Happened to the old Las Vegas Monorail?
Delivered in 1977, the last two Mark IV monorails built for Walt Disney
World had an amazing career.
One of the cabs of the Bally's Monorail. Photo by Alex Stroup.
As monorails Coral and Lime, these two six-car monorail trains handled
millions of riders at Walt Disney World. Then in 1995, they became the
first monorails for the Las Vegas system. Handling 5 million passengers
annually until retirement in early 2003, they led the way to the development
of a new mass transit system for the city of Las Vegas.
Underneath all the graffiti is a recently functional monorail car. Photo
by Alex Stroup.
Now sitting on blocks south of the city [Note: though their location was confirmed last weekend, the monorails seem to have been moved since, after more than a year of exposure.], these monorails have had a less-than-proud
retirement. While there is talk of buyers, these monorails remain open
to the elements, fully vandalized, in an open storage yard near railroad
tracks. There are vehicles of far less historic significance that have
been fully restored to sit proudly in museums across the world.
Many of the monorail cars have been tagged. Photo by Alex Stroup.
Some monorail cars remain relatively untouched. Photo by Alex Stroup.
The vandalism is not so bad on the other side. Photo by Alex Stroup.
The MGM Grand monorail does have some vandalism. Photo by Alex Stroup.
Maintenance marks. Photo by Alex Stroup.
The equipment remains largely intact. Photo by Alex Stroup.
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