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Better Luck for Vegas Monorail?

No major public transit system operates in the black in North America or Europe, said Donna Aggazio, spokeswoman for the American Public Transportation Association, a trade group for 1,500 North American transit agencies. New York City's subway system comes closest, recovering 67 percent of its costs through fares and advertising.

Unlike any of the nation's other transit systems, the Las Vegas Monorail is not designed to aid local commuters or even to alleviate roadway congestion. The traffic reduced by this train is in the casino corridor, making visitors its chief beneficiary.


A train pulls into the MGM Grand station. The Las Vegas Monorail opened to much fanfare July 15. (Photos Joe Cavaretta -- AP)

Some critics fear corners may have been cut on safety to open on time. The system is freed from some government regulations because it was built without taxpayer money.

"What I want to know is how the priorities were set, because they may have made decisions to prioritize some things over others that exacerbated the problems," said state Sen. Dina Titus, the Democratic minority leader whose bill requiring a performance audit of the system was defeated in the legislature in 2003. "Was the priority giving high-profile members on the board big salaries instead of spending that money on design? Was it getting through in a hurry?"

Walker, the transit system spokesman, rejected those suggestions, insisting federal standards were followed by Bombardier Inc., the Montreal-based company that built and operates the trains. He noted that such efforts were made because federal and county funds will be used for future legs of the monorail -- including a $450 million, 2.9-mile stretch to the downtown casino center northeast of the Strip, planned to open in 2008 but now pushed back by the closure. The monorail also is slated to be extended to McCarran International Airport to the south by 2012, using taxpayer money.

Walker said that because the system is customized for Las Vegas, the troubles that emerged with the drive shaft putting too much pressure on the track and causing parts to break off could not have been known until the system was operable. Those problems are now fixed, and the system has been deemed safe by Bombardier, county engineers and an outside disaster-analysis firm, Exponent Inc., he said.

Antsy hotel managers hope so.

"We put a lot of money out for this thing, and we'd like to get some of it back in business," said Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino General Manager Ed Crispell, whose company invested millions on a connecting walkway to the monorail at the back of its property and saw about 75 customers an hour enter the casino from the monorail when it was running. "It has been a little embarrassing because a lot of conventions that were told that the monorail would be up and running found it wasn't so."

Titus, too, hopes the system is fixed and becomes productive. The reputation of the destination rides on it, she said.

"Even the mayor made fun of it recently," the state senator said. "Monorails have been around for decades; this isn't the first one ever built. Everything in Vegas is supposed to be so cutting-edge and we can't even make a monorail go? That's kind of discouraging, don't you think?"


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