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Gaming Guru

Omar Sofradzija
 

Las Vegas Monorail Opens to Raves

16 July 2004

LAS VEGAS -- The Las Vegas Monorail's Sahara station turnstiles wouldn't open until 8 a.m. Thursday, but Jay Carter couldn't wait that long.

The 44-year-old Henderson man showed up at the station around 7 a.m., buying a ticket from an automated kiosk before taking a seat underneath a pair of elevated tracks.

"I got my pass. I'm ready to go," Carter said. "I didn't know how crowded it would be. I wanted a window seat."

Carter needn't have worried.

There were plenty of seats for Carter and about 40 people who boarded the first train to leave the Sahara stop. Those early birds were followed by a steady stream of curiosity-seekers who generally raved about the high-tech trains.

After a private debut Wednesday, the world's first fully automated monorail mass transit system opened to the public Thursday morning. The 4.4-mile system runs between Sahara and Tropicana avenues on a route east of the Strip.

"We're excited about the number of people," said Todd Walker, a monorail spokesman. An exact count for the day was not immediately available, but was estimated to be in the tens of thousands of riders.

That led officials to put as many as seven 225-passenger trains on line at once by midafternoon, up from four at the start of the day. "It's exceeded our expectations," Walker said.

Morning riders on the $650 million system ranged from rail aficionados from around the country, tourists who stumbled across the inaugural service, toga-clad cast members of a morning radio show and locals looking for a quicker commute.

"I'm going home from work," Jaime Heller, 22, of Las Vegas said after her shift as a cigarette girl at New York-New York. The $3 one-way fare didn't faze her.

"It's a lot faster than the bus," she said. "It should save an hour getting home" via a connecting bus.

Kim Pedersen of Fremont, Calif., led a group of about a dozen members of The Monorail Society, an international fan club of sorts. His peers came from as far away as Florida just for the service launch.

"This one has the potential of becoming more of an urban transit system where we can say it's more than just a theme-park ride," said Pedersen, the group's president. "Let's get this thing all over the Las Vegas Valley."

Ben Mitchell, 68, of Raleigh, N.C., was staying at the Sahara with his wife. He didn't know the monorail would start running until just before the line opened.

"I said, `Let's ride it,' " he said. "It's a pretty day. And we didn't have to deal with all that traffic. It's cheaper than the taxis."

So what did he think? "So far, it's nice," he said. "It's a whole lot quicker" than going down the Strip by foot or car.

That's what Joaquin Castruita, 49, of San Bernardino, Calif., and his son, 7-year-old J.C., found out on their way from the center Strip area.

"We were going to Excalibur. We figured, let's hop on the monorail," the elder Castruita said. "I like it."

In the first hour of operations, the only things that appeared to keep turnstiles from moving were customers themselves. A few were at a loss at how to use the automated gates or computerized ticket-dispensing kiosks.

As many as eight monorail workers were assigned to each of seven stations to help point customers to kiosks to get a ticket, then assist in inserting electronic-stripped tickets into the turnstiles.

"There's learning that takes place for people who haven't used mass transit, sometimes," Walker said. "After they've done it once, they've mastered the system."

Other hiccups were minimal, such as a report of a balky train door. "Those are normal types of things with any transit system," Walker said, adding that riders seemed to like the system.

"I've not heard one negative response," he said.

The backside view of the Strip from the monorail's elevated track revealed a sweeping skyline at times, and a mix of barren walls and transmission towers at others. But the sightline caught Rocco Fortunato's eye.

"It's a different view than (from) a car or a bus," said the 55-year-old man from West Aliquippa, Pa. "It was nice, comfortable, smooth. A nice panoramic view of things you can't see from ground level."

Jean Schoonveld, 48, of Lincoln, Neb., said the monorail will let her get more out of her Las Vegas trips that would usually be limited to whatever end of the Strip she was staying on.

"I'm getting old and I don't like to walk," she said. "I'd stay on one end of the Strip and I wouldn't see the other end. Now, I can."

Agreed, said Terri Dehning, 39, of Winona Lake, Ind. "You could be staying at one end of the Strip and easily get to the other end," she said.

The monorail ride was better than dealing with cars on the Strip, said John Steele, 53, of Tucson, Ariz., who said he scheduled his trip in hopes of riding the monorail. "How else can you get around a big city?" he asked. "You've been on Las Vegas Boulevard. We're going over the cars."

John Smart, 40, of Las Vegas took a ride Thursday simply because he wanted to check out the monorail. "So far, so good," he said.

Will he ride the monorail often? "Probably not," he said. "(For) a few events, probably. Or when I have out-of-town guests. I can park at the MGM Grand and not have to deal with the traffic" while touring the Strip.

Eventually, as many as 50,000 daily riders are expected to use the system, which runs end-to-end in about 15 minutes.

The line is open from 8 a.m. to midnight each day.