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Video Vault: Ambitions for Las Vegas monorail more than 50 years old

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The Las Vegas Monorail we know today opened in 2004 as a 4-mile system with seven stations, and is looking at a possible expansion to Mandalay Bay.

Long-timers might remember it as a much more modest 1-mile route connecting just the MGM and Bally’s, though developers touted the benefits for neighboring properties.

“If you have someone at Luxor who wants to see the fantastic Mirage, this provides a way for them to travel that mile in a very expedient manner,” said MGM Chief Executive Officer Bob Maxey in May 1993. “So we think there's something in it for the Strip at large.”

“It's an exciting connection as a first step for Las Vegas as far as getting into the real future of moving masses of people from one major critical mass in the city to another,” added Hap May, Bally’s vice president of operations.

Early plans disappear

The idea of some sort of elevated transit had been kicking around since the mid-1960s. Channel 3 ran a special report on the subject in 1974. All these ideas fell by the wayside, until two competitors cooperated on a modest start, with potential for expansion.

“The hope is, the monorail will do a lot more than just connect the MGM down on this end of Audrie with Bally’s down on this end,” News 3’s David Riggleman told viewers in August 1994. “The dream is that someday the monorail will run all over the valley, connecting the airport, UNLV and hotels along the Strip.”

The guideway — or rail — was brand new, while the cars were hand-me-downs, previously used at Disneyland. The cars were smaller than what we know today, with attendants on the platforms when it finally opened.

“Oh, I thought it was a thrill,” said a passenger after riding the first train, which debuted on June 15, 1995. “Because this monorail's going to be here for a while and they're gonna keep enlarging it. So I thought it would be interesting to be the first one through the gate.”

“By mid-afternoon, both trains were running just about half full,” reported News 3’s John Overall. “But down the road, the MGM and Bally’s hope is to transport some 10,000 people every day. And they are hoping and betting those same people will pay back the $25 million this project cost.”

“I think it's putting Las Vegas into the 21st century,” enthused another passenger. “This is something I think they needed. You know, this is great.”

Today's system breaks ground

By January 2003, construction had broken ground on the system we know today.

“These people are enjoying one of the last rides on the MGM Bally’s Monorail,” Ann Lim told News 3 viewers in January 2003. “The trains are closing its doors to make room for new trains. The Bombardier M-VI. It will run 4 miles from the MGM Grand to the Sahara Hotel.

“Well I think that's great. I mean to go from one end of the Strip to the other,” began one rider, considering as he spoke. “But to shut it down for a year? C'mon!”

The old MGM-Bally’s monorail cars have been stored in a few different locations over the years, and were last seen in poor condition on a lot at Sam Boyd Stadium, where they've been used as obstacles to jump in the Monster Jam competitions.

The current Las Vegas monorail is studying a possible future expansion to the Mandalay Bay events center, which would also put it just across Interstate 15 from the planned stadium for the NFL’s Raiders. No funding or timeline are yet in place.

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