A Unique Rapid Transit Project for a Unique City

Thomas J. Stone, Ph.D., P.E. (1), Carlos A. Banchik, P.E.(2), and Jeffery B. Kimmel, Esq. (3)

(see below for Graphics pdf file)

(1) Chief Project Officer, LA to Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority; 625 Fair Oaks Ave., Suite 200, So. Pasadena, CA, 91030; PH 626-403-5505; thomasjstone@yahoo.com

(2) Project Engineer, Carter & Burgess, Inc.; 6655 Bermuda Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119; PH 702-938-5400; banchikca@c-b.com

(3) President, Liaise Corporation; 1450 San Juan Hills Dr., Number 203, Las Vegas, Nevada, 89134; PH 702-228-1900; jbkimmel@netvista.net


The Las Vegas Monorail™ system is the nation's first fully automated, line haul, state-of-the-art, urban monorail rapid transit system. It also is the nation's first modern-era urban rapid transit system to be funded without public tax revenues, and it is one of very few rapid transit projects in the world being implemented on a complete design/build/operate/maintain/finance, or, "Super Turnkey™" basis. This paper summarizes how this remarkably unique project is becoming a reality, and briefly describes the project and its advanced technology.

Introduction and Project Overview

In 2000, the nine-year visionary effort to make the Las Vegas Monorail a reality was realized. Under a franchise that was awarded by Clark County to Las Vegas' two largest private resort owners, Park Place Entertainment and MGM-Mirage Resorts, the project was fully funded, without using tax money of any kind, through the issuance (by Salomon Smith Barney) and subsequent sale of over $600 million in non-recourse, project revenue bonds. The bonds provided the capital needed to not only build the system, but also to pay for all finance costs; and no added funds are needed to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance. The cost of financing includes large protections for the bondholders designed to insure the project's success, including:

Over $100 million in interest during project construction and beyond;
Insurance premiums for everything from a County-required "guideway tear-down" guarantee to protection from Force Majeure Acts;
Contingencies for construction unknowns (e.g., unidentified underground utilities and differing site conditions);
Property taxes during construction, management costs for independent oversight engineering and construction services; and,
$75 million in reserves to protect the project from any other unforeseen events (above and beyond the protections provided by the fixed price contract and insurance).

This approach added significant cost to the financing, but was designed to take risk out of the bond issuance by enabling the bulk of the debt to be insured, and thereby achieved a triple "A" rating, making the bonds an attractive investment. To assist the financing, the sponsoring resorts (Park Place, MGM-Mirage, Harrah's, Imperial Palace and Sahara) invested a total of $30 million in capital, and the Las Vegas Monorail Team, led by Bombardier and Granite Construction, invested an additional $18.5 million, for a total private sector cash investment of $48.5 million.

The design-build contract was executed in September 2000, and the monorail is scheduled to be opened to public use in January 2004. Prime Contractor is a joint venture of Bombardier Inc. and Granite Construction Corp. (the "Las Vegas Monorail Team TM"). Liaise Corporation serves as the project coordinator for the Team. Broadbent and Walker served as the project managers for the franchisee, and Transit Management Systems serves as the program manager for the new non-profit corporation established to own and operate the system, Las Vegas Monorail Company. Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott served as the turnkey procurement legal counsel and Jones-Vargas served as the legal counsel for the MBM/Bally's Monorail (see below). Bombardier also signed a long-term operations and maintenance contract that will take effect upon the system's revenue-ready status. All proceeds in excess of operation, maintenance and debt service costs must be used to improve or expand the monorail system or to reduce fares.

Currently under construction, the system will provide direct connecting service to eight major resort properties and the world's largest convention center. These eight properties contain over 24,300 hotel rooms. Within a 450-meter (1,500 foot) walking radius of the stations, there are over 60,000 hotel rooms that will be serviced by the monorail system. Figure 1 shows the alignment and identifies several of the major resorts and attractions along the route. Serving not only visitors, the system will be open to the general public without restriction, and will provide a convenient and safe mobility alternative for the tens of thousands of local residents who work along the route.

The system is extendable from both ends: at the north from Sahara to downtown Las Vegas and beyond, and at the south from MGM to the airport and/or to the west side of the Resort Corridor.

Setting the Stage: The MGM/Bally's Monorail

In one sense, the Las Vegas Monorail began about nine years ago, when MGM and Bally's began considering building an automated people mover to link their two properties. In 1993, a final decision was made to join forces and implement an upgradeable monorail line between MGM and Bally's. Through an international competition, they selected Bombardier's M-Series Monorail as the base technology for the project, and contracted with VSL Corporation to implement the 1.1 km (0.7-mile) dual-beam, two-station line under a design/build contract. Bombardier provided MGM/Bally's the estimated vehicle loading and dynamic characteristics of their M-Series Monorail vehicles as they had been bid in Houston and Honolulu, and VSL designed the guideway structure to accommodate them. MGM/Bally's selected this technology specifically to enable the initial line to be expanded and upgraded into a regional public transit, line-haul system serving the entire Resort Corridor, and eventually, the airport.

Two mothballed Walt Disney World Mark IV Monorail trains were purchased and renovated, and the system was placed into operation in June 1995. Carrying over five million passengers annually, the MGM/Bally's Monorail served as the initial impetus behind the Las Vegas Monorail. Figure 2 shows one of the existing trains in operation.

The Fixed Facilities

To be completed in 39 to 42 months from notice to proceed, and costing about $350 million to design, construct, manufacture and install, test, and commission, the Las Vegas Monorail line will extend over almost 6.5 km (4 miles) of aerial guideway route, including the existing MGM/Bally's segment, with seven stations and a new vehicle maintenance and storage facility.

The Fixed Facilities portions of the work, headed by Granite, consist of the design and construction of the new aerial guideway structure, five new stations, a new Operations, Maintenance, and Storage Facility (OMSF), and five traction power substations. The project also includes the retrofit of the two existing stations (at MGM Grand and Bally's) and renovation of the existing dual-beam guideway that links them.

The Fixed Facilities design team, headed by Carter & Burgess (C&B), emphasizes the value of standardization in the design and construction process, with special emphasis on the development of common solutions and details throughout the project. The new aerial guideway consists of approximately 36 linked guideway structural frames and the guideway switches: three crossovers, one turnout, and a four-position pivot switch serving the maintenance and storage facility. The typical guideway structural frame consists of five spans of dual, pre-cast, post-tensioned guideway beams, made continuous through cast-in-place closure pours and continuity post-tensioning, with a minimum clearance of 5.5 m (18 feet) over public streets. Figure 3 shows the typical structural frame.

Spans for the guide beams, which both support and guide the monorail vehicles, average approximately 30 meters (100 feet), with the longest span being about 36.6 m (120 feet). The slender 660 mm wide (26 inch) haunched beam section varies between 2.1 m (7 feet) deep at the column supports to 1.5 m (5 feet) at midspan. Guide beam spacing is typically 4.2 m (14 feet) on centers, increasing to 4.5 m (15 feet) when approaching crossover switches, and wider when entering center platform stations.

The crossheads typically are tapered from 1.2 m (4 feet) at the tip to 1.8 m (6 feet) at face of column, and are 5.1 m (17 feet) wide. The typical column has a rectangular section, 1422 mm x 812 mm (56 inches by 32 inches). A series of reveals and colored sealer provide the columns with an attractive architectural look. The typical guideway section is shown in Figure 4. The typical cast-in-place column supports two guideway beams over the 1.2 m (4 feet) deep crossheads. The beam-column connection contains a structural steel support and steel hanger detail, that coupled with external supports, will allow the beams to be positioned properly during construction. The assembly is such that guideway adjustment and super-elevation can be adjusted before pouring.

Fully compliant with applicable National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines, the system contains an emergency evacuation walkway (which contains the cable tray) throughout the alignment; located between the two guide beams, see Figure 5. Unless subjected to non-standard physical constraints, the guideway columns are centered between the two guide beams, with some adjustments required in areas where the beams are super-elevated. In locations with physical constraints, eccentric columns, single columns and straddle bents will be utilized. The typical cast-in-place column heights vary between the typical 7.6 m to 9.1 m (25 to 30 feet) columns to more than 18.2 m (60 feet) where the alignment spans over an existing pedestrian bridge at the Las Vegas Convention Center. A drawing showing this section of the guideway is shown in Figure 6.

The steepest grades (6.5 %) occur at the Bally's Hotel and Casino, where the alignment traverses through the second floor of the existing Hotel. The next steepest slopes occur at the Convention Center, due to the presence of a large, newly constructed elevated pedestrian walkway that links the Las Vegas Convention Center to a parking lot, west of Paradise Road. Elsewhere else along the route, grades are typically in the range of one percent or less.

Guideway foundations typically consist of concrete cast-in-drilled-hole (CIDH) piles in the range of 1.2 to 1.8 meters (4 to 6 feet) in diameter. At those locations where the monorail alignment traverses through existing buildings, micro-piles have been selected to minimize the disruption to existing hotel operations.


The five new stations, as well as the retrofits to the two existing (MGM and Bally's) stations, are being designed under a subcontract to C&B by Gensler of Nevada, who also designed the two original stations. There are three typical new stations, with platform lengths of 74 meters (243 feet). Center platforms are 10.6 meters (35 feet) wide, and side platforms are 6.1 meters (20 feet) wide.

Two new stations (Las Vegas Hilton and Convention Center) have center platforms and only two levels, similar to the existing MGM and Bally's stations. They do not require separate mezzanines because their plaza and ticketing areas at ground level provide direct access to the platform level. A cross sectional sketch of these two stations is shown in Figure 7.

Two new stations have single center platforms and upper mezzanines. These three-level stations are located over public thoroughfares at the Flamingo Hilton and at Harrah's/Imperial Palace. The only access to ground level is through emergency evacuation stairs located outside the station area. A sketch of the Flamingo Hilton and Harrah's/Imperial Palace Stations is shown in Figure 8.

Finally, the new station at the Sahara Hotel is a three level, side platform station that cantilevers over Paradise Road. It has a third level mezzanine that connects to the second level platforms, with no direct access from the platform to the ground level. At all three of the stations with mezzanines, the connectors between the mezzanine and the hotels are the responsibility of the hotel operators. At the Sahara, this connector is being designed and constructed under a separate contract by the Las Vegas Monorail Team. A sketch of the Sahara Station is shown in Figure 9.

All stations will have an open-air configuration with automatic platform door systems, elevators, mechanical escalators, stairs, ticket vending machines in the mezzanine/lower plaza areas, closed circuit television monitoring equipment, and a public address system. Architectural treatments of stations can be "customized" by station sponsors or the connecting properties to match their unique themes, if desired. Advertising treatments will be integrated into the design of the stations, because the advertising revenues are an important component of the revenue stream for the project.

Operations, Maintenance and Storage Facility

The operations, maintenance and storage facility (OMSF) is being constructed at a 0.35 hectare (0.86 acre) site located east of the Sahara Station. It is connected to the revenue line through a single guideway spur track, which branches into four separate maintenance bays through the use of a simple beam pivot switch. The three-level OMSF consists of approximately 4830 square meters (52,000 square feet) of finished space, including vehicle maintenance, control rooms, store rooms, electrical and mechanical repair shops, and administrative offices. The OMSF also will contain one of the five traction power substations. An early architectural rendering of the OMSF is shown in Figure 10.

Guideway Switches

There are three types of switches in the project: turnouts, crossovers and pivot switches. Turnout and crossover switches are beam replacement switches, i.e., they exchange a transitional curved steel beam and a steel tangent beam, allowing the train to be routed in the desired direction. Bombardier has installed similar monorail switches in Jacksonville.

The turnout switch allows a vehicle to enter or exit the revenue line. There is one located north of the Sahara Station connecting to the Operations and Maintenance Facility, see Figure 11. Crossover switches allow the trains to switch between northbound and southbound guideway beams, see Figure 12. There are three crossover switches, one at each terminus of the system, and one in the middle for operational reasons. The pivot switch is located next to the OMSF building. Due to the low speeds in the yard area, it is a switch of simple design that allows a steel guideway beam to pivot about one end and move in a horizontal plane to allow the free end of the beam to be placed in line with the four beams leading to the OMSF building. Figure 13 shows a similar pivot switch that links one line to three beams.

All switches contain four major elements:

A movable steel switch beam
Beam supporting rollers and roller plates
The drive assembly (typically one drive moves the curved and tangent beams together).
The locking assembly (ensures that the switch beam free ends are aligned with their respective fixed end, prior to a train crossing over the switch).

Switch verification is performed through a fail-safe interlock with the automatic train control system.

Monorail Operations

Ridership forecasts for the initial year of operation indicated that at opening day the system will require a fleet of nine, 4-section monorail vehicles: seven active plus two spares for special events and vehicle maintenance purposes. This initial vehicle fleet will achieve a normal peak hourly capacity of 3,200 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd). An increase in line capacity of up to 5,000 pphpd can be achieved with additions to the vehicle fleet and expansion of the OMSF. With only additional fleet and modular expansion of the train control system (without lengthy service interruption), the system is capable of further expansion to 8,000 pphpd, which exceeds the forecasted peak line demand after 20 years of operation. The technology is designed for an ultimate line capacity of 20,000 pphpd, but this level is not projected to be reached for the foreseeable future. This would require modular lengthening of the station platforms and additional traction power system capacity.

The initial peak period line capacity of 3,200 pphpd is reached at the normal peak standee level of 4 passengers per sq. meter (2.7 sq. ft. per standee). During special events, it is anticipated that the standee level will increase significantly, to the point where the initial vehicle fleet could provide a special event line capacity greater than 6,000 pphpd.

The hourly variation in ridership demand for the Las Vegas Monorail is expected to be similar to that on the existing MGM/Bally's system, such that an extremely broad and flat ridership demand curve will result. Thus, over the planned 20-plus hour per day operation, the majority of the hours will be operated at peak capacity. This translates into initial peak hour headways (scheduled time between successive trains) of about 4.2 minutes over much of the typical 24-hour day. The end-to-end scheduled travel time is about 12.1 minutes, including all intermediate station stops. The maximum vehicle operating speed is 80 km/hr. (50 mph).

Monorail Vehicles

Bombardier's M VI straddle-type monorail vehicles incorporate all of the features required for rigorous urban transit service. Based upon the firm's highly reliable Mark VI trains that serve the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, the vehicle suspension system provides extremely long primary load tire tread life and excellent ride quality. Both the load tires and the lateral guidance tires are nitrogen-filled.

The vehicles are 42 m (138 feet) long, and consist of four semi-permanently linked sections. Center sections are 9.2 m (30 feet) long, and end sections are 11.8 m (38 ft. 9 in.) long. The vehicles are 2.64 m (8 ft. 8 in.) wide and stand 2.4 m (7 ft. 10 in.) above the guideway beam, with an overall height of 3.4 meters (11 ft. 1 in.). Figure 14 shows the seating configuration that was selected, which provides a vehicle passenger capacity of 224 passengers: 72 seated plus 152 standing at 2.7 square feet per passenger (4 standees per square meter). During special events, vehicle capacity can reach as much as 376 passengers, at a standee loading of 8 passengers per square meter (1.35 sq. ft. per passenger). Figure 15 is a rendering of the vehicle interior.

Each section of the vehicle is equipped with high capacity, dual redundant air conditioning units, and 1626 mm wide (5 ft. 4 in.) sliding doors that are 1.93 meters tall (6 ft. 4 in.) at the opening. Interior standing height is 2.1 m (7 ft.). Vehicles are provided with the structure and train lines needed to allow addition of future couplers for two-vehicle (eight sections) train operation. Initially, the vehicles are equipped with mechanical couplers for fleet management purposes (vehicle recovery). Hostler panels are provided in the end cabs for manual operation in the yard and shop.

The lightweight composite material vehicle shells and the vehicle interiors meet or exceed applicable flammability and toxicity codes, including NFPA 130. Each four-section vehicle is powered by four AC induction electric motors, each rated at 110 kw. With a minimum turning radius of only about 45 meters (150 feet) and the ability to climb grades in excess of 6%, the M VI Monorail provides excellent performance. Assembled at Bombardier's facility in Kingston, Ontario, the state-of-the-art M-VI Monorail truly "raises the bar" for transit vehicle design. Figure 16 is a rendering of the M-VI vehicle.

System-wide Elements

Bombardier also provides all of the system-wide elements, as well as system integration, subsystem and integrated system testing, and system commissioning. In addition to the vehicle's aerodynamic styling and the low profile aerial guideway structure, the monorail system will incorporate all of the features required for line haul urban transit application, including:

Full automation using proven train control equipment
Compliance with national and local fire/life/safety criteria, including an emergency evacuation walkway throughout
Remotely controlled, high speed guideway switching for end-of-line and intermediate crossovers
A state-of-the-art communications system
A 750 volt DC traction power system
Automatic Station Platform Doors
A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system
A state-of-the-art automatic fare collection system

Automatic Train Control (ATC) System. The ATC system automatically regulates the movement of all trains, except those in Emergency Manual Mode (EMM), that is, on-board manual control. The ATC system controls train separation, routing, operating speed, maximum speed, precision stopping, travel direction, vehicle and platform door operation, longitudinal acceleration and jerk rates, and safety interlocks. The ATC system also monitors overall system operations. Provided by Alcatel Transport Automation under subcontract to Bombardier, the communications-based, virtual fixed block ATC system uses Alcatel's Low Density Control System technology, similar to that used in the Jacksonville and Newark Airport Monorail systems.

Wayside radios send vehicle-related data through the fiber optic backbone to the central control system. All radio-based communications utilize a frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system that transmits and receives information relayed through antennas located along the gideway structure. These antennas are connected to the fiber optic backbone. The radio link carries bi-directional data, both vital and non-vital, at a dedicated 2.4 Gigahertz frequency.

Vehicle detection is done through transducers located along the guideway, and the information is sent to the central control computer, again, through the fiber optic backbone.

The ATC system includes the following subsystems:
Automatic Train Protection (ATP)
The ATP subsystem maintains safety of operation including safe train separation and safe switch interlocking management. ATP includes both wayside and train-mounted vital safety functions.
Automatic Train Operation (ATO)
The ATO subsystem controls the normal train operating functions, including longitudinal motion control in accordance with station stops, guideway characteristics such as gradient and curvature, and the status of the line ahead.
Automatic Train Supervision (ATS)
The ATS subsystem directs train operations to provide regulated service under normal conditions and the best service possible under abnormal conditions.
Each ATC subsystem provides a link between the Central Control Operator and the system, providing all pertinent information about the system, including management data acquisition and reporting, and a means for the Central Control Operator to control various functions of the System.

Communications System. Using a fiber optic backbone, the communications system includes public address (PA) systems, emergency telephones, centrally connected ticket vending machines, closed circuit television monitoring, and controlled and alarmed access points to the emergency walkways. The PA system also services the vehicles and the OMSF. The on-board system provides for announcements of the next station, door closing warnings, and any service interruptions, as well special announcements about special events, emergencies, and so on.

There also are separate emergency and administrative telephone systems, and two-way radio communications over at least two channels. The video surveillance system includes color monitors as well as the central control monitors at the OMSF. In addition an audio/visual recording system is included.

Traction Power System. The traction power system provides 750v DC power to the monorail vehicles through two power rails, a positive and negative, mounted to the side of the guide beams. The existing 600v DC substations on the MGM/Bally's line, as well as the power rails, are being replaced with the new equipment. The five substations are rated at initial capacities that vary from 700 kw to 1500 kw, depending on the traction power substation location. They will be supplied with 12.47 kV, 3-phase AC by Nevada Power, the local electric supplier. This is sufficient to accommodate an increase in the installed normal peak line capacity to 5,000 pphpd.

Station Platform Doors. The platform doors are being designed, assembled, and installed by Bombardier, and are fully integrated with the train control system. Figure 17 shows a drawing of the door system.

SCADA System. The SCADA system is radio-based, and includes an integrated hardware/software system that monitors and/or alarms on the following:

Power distribution system
Security intrusion alarms
Escalator status
Elevator status
Guideway switch status
Fare Collection intrusion
Fire Alarms

Fare Collection System. The Automatic Fare Collection system includes the following elements:

Central control monitoring and reporting
Local control and passenger assistance equipment
Ticket vending machines
Fare gates
Magnetic strip cards
Smart card issuer and controller

Ridership Projections and Project Financing

The Las Vegas Monorail is projected by URS Greiner to attract ridership of over 52,000 passengers daily (19 million annually) in the first year of operation, based upon a $2.50 fare. URS Greiner's studies have been accepted by the investment community for decades, and their projections have been the basis for over $24 billion worth of transportation infrastructure financing. As an extraordinary measure to provide the State and bondholders additional comfort in the reliability of the revenue projections, the URS Greiner study withstood a separate and independent peer review by the respected firm of Wilbur Smith. As a final check, the three year, multi-million dollar Major Investment Study performed by the region's public transit operator, the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC), projected the Las Vegas Monorail corridor will have considerably more ridership than was projected by the investment-grade URS Greiner study.

The tax-free, non-recourse project revenue bonds, issued by the State of Nevada on behalf of the non-profit corporation established to own and operate the system, are backed by a net pledge (after operations and maintenance costs are covered) of farebox and advertising revenues. No governmental guarantees were sought, nor were any required, to successfully market the bonds. The system is designed to be extendable from both ends of the line, and the region's public transit operator, the RTC, has adopted the monorail system's technology as the basis for future extensions. Plans already are being made to extend the system to downtown Las Vegas, and eventually, to the airport.

A Truly Unique Achievement

The Las Vegas Monorail is one of those extremely rare private/public infrastructure projects where there is a complete convergence of public and private sector interests. All stakeholders will benefit when the Las Vegas Monorail is placed into operation:

Residents of Las Vegas and all of Clark County will benefit from the greatly improved access to jobs and reduced automobile traffic and air pollution in the Resort Corridor, and all without any tax money ever being used.
Visitors will benefit because they will have a high quality, reliable, and attractive mobility alternative.
The Resorts will benefit from the improved access the monorail will create for their properties.
The RTC will benefit because the public receives the initial segment of the regional public transit system without using any tax dollars, and this private investment may be able to attract matching federal funds for future line extensions.
All project participants will benefit by being a part of a job well done.

List of Figures - Las Vegas 2001 Paper - Graphics page (pdf)

Figure 1. The Las Vegas Monorail Route

Figure 2. The MGM/Bally's Monorail

Figure 3. Typical Guideway Frame Elevation

Figure 4. Typical Monorail Cross Section

Figure 5. Typical Emergency Evacuation Walkway

Figure 6. Guideway at Las Vegas Convention Center

Figure 7. Center Platform Station with No Mezzanine

Figure 8. Center Platform Station with Upper Mezzanine

Figure 9. Side Platform Station with Upper Mezzanine

Figure 10. Operations and Maintenance Facility

Figure 11. Turnout Switch

Figure 12. Crossover Switch

Figure 13. Pivot Switch

Figure 14. Rendering of Vehicle Interior

Figure 15. Interior Configuration

Figure 16. M-IV Vehicle at Las Vegas Hilton

Figure 17. Station Platform Doors

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