RESEARCH QUESTION: After years of construction, the much-ballyhooed $650 million, 4.4-mile Las Vegas Monorail -- which rolls above the ground along the Strip's eastern edge -- opened July 15. We wondered: Can visitors use the train to get around town efficiently, or are rental cars, cabs and other forms of mass transit still the best bet?

METHODOLOGY: On a searingly hot (108 degrees) afternoon, we bought a one-day pass ($10) and disembarked at five of the monorail's seven stations. To measure the distance from each stop to the adjoining casinos, we used a pedometer to track our steps from the train doors to the moment we could touch a slot machine and order a cocktail.

RESULTS: We've had our doubts about the monorail for some time, having monitored its development since the project was announced. The stations seemed too far from the casinos they supposedly serve, the length of the line too limited. While our doubts were somewhat unfounded, we're still not completely sold on the system.

The monorail's endpoints are the MGM Grand hotel in the south and the Sahara in the north. In between, the sleek trains stop behind Bally's, the Flamingo and Harrah's, and in front of the Convention Center and the Las Vegas Hilton. The ultramodern, un-air-conditioned stations are linked to the resorts by raised walkways or street-level paths; access to the Convention Center is via a largely uncovered trail, so wear a hat.

Though we anticipated long, sweaty marches from the monorail to the gaming tables, that wasn't the case. At the Hilton, it was a mere 218 steps (a three-minute stroll) till we could start wasting money -- and we were met by sequin-soaked showgirls, an Elvis impersonator and a Klingon from its "Star Trek" attraction. The Flamingo -- at 429 steps -- was the longest commute, but the covered walkway wove through the resort's gorgeous, diverting pool. The slots at Bally's, Sahara and the MGM Grand were about 370 steps away, or a five-minute walk.

Not bad. But if you want to check out other casinos not linked to the system, beware. Free monorail guides show the casinos allegedly served by each stop, but it took us a half-hour by foot to get from the MGM station to Mandalay Bay, and we know from experience that walking from the Hilton to Circus Circus is an arduous journey.

For the most part, casino signage guiding patrons to stations is decent, except at the MGM Grand, which apparently doesn't want you to leave. There, monorailers are on their own -- we couldn't spot a single sign in the casino. Instead, we bumbled around with a half-dozen other passengers until we found the entrance in a pedestrian mall.

The trains themselves are spiffy, although the ride -- about 15 minutes from endpoint to endpoint -- was bumpier than expected. On a similar note, we were surprised at the small number of hand bars to grab onto; the trains became progressively more crowded as the day wore on, and we ended up bracing ourself against a door.

CONCLUSION: We like it, sort of. It's a fun way to get around and it's quick, but there's a lot of legwork involved if you stray from the casinos to which it's attached. The heat-intolerant may find the stations unbearable (we felt like a Perdue roaster in a convection oven). Party animals will be stranded if they stay out too late, as the monorail now runs only from 8 a.m. to midnight (plans are to extend the hours in mid-September). And it's fairly expensive: A family of four will pay $22 if they ride round trip from the Flamingo to the Hilton.

If you're going to cling to the Strip or need easy transport to the Convention Center, buy a one- or multi-day pass and use it until it frays. But you'll need a rental car or other forms of transportation (cabs, public buses, etc.) if you want to head downtown, go on a day trip to Hoover Dam or visit off-Strip casinos like the Palms or the Hard Rock Hotel.

-- John Deiner

A single ride is $3; two rides are $5.50. A one-day pass is $10, three days is $25. Details: 702-699-8299,