Monday, Feb. 28, 2000 | midnight
A Maryland company that has pioneered theme park rides propelled by electromagnetic fields is building the fastest roller coaster in Las Vegas at the Sahara hotel-casino.
The new ride, which will open in late March or early April and has been named "Speed-The Ride," was developed by Premier Rides, Millersville, Md.
Two sets of linear induction motors -- electromagnets known as LIMs that create a force that can slingshot a 24-seat train up to 70 mph in two seconds -- will propel passengers on a ride that will last 47 seconds.
Construction is under way on one of the most visible features of the roller coaster, a vertical loop that will invert passengers before some of the 88 LIMs shoot Speed riders up a 224-foot tower that already has joined the skyline near the hotel.
"They just got finished with one of the banked curves that emerges from the building," said Yale Rowe, a spokesman for the 1,720-room, privately held Strip hotel. "When I saw it, I just stood there and said, 'Whoa!"'
High-banked curves are a necessary trademark of LIM-driven roller coasters. A field of the motors will propel the red-trimmed black train at 40 mph out of the station near the soon-to-open NASCAR Cafe. The track dives into a 25-foot tunnel beneath the Strip sidewalk, then will emerge into theloop. After clearing the loop, the train will hit a second electromagnetic wave, taking its speed from 35 mph to 70 mph.
The track runs through the Sahara's 192-foot marquee before climbing the tower, where riders will experience a split second of weightlessness at the end of the 1,350-foot track before gravity pulls the train back through the same course backwards.
A spokeswoman for Premier Rides said Speed will be the first LIM coaster in the West. A ride at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif. -- "Superman, The Escape" -- uses similar but different technology to achieve speeds of 100 mph.
At 70 mph, Speed would become the fastest roller coaster in Las Vegas, edging out New York-New York's Manhattan Express, which hits a maximum speed of about 65 mph on the bottom of that ride's second hill. The Desperado at Primm is the state's fastest coaster, hitting an estimated 80 mph.
Speed's tower is slightly higher than the Desperado's tallest hill, but the Primm coaster drops a greater distance through a tunnel.
Rowe said admission hasn't been decided for the roller coaster, but he said it probably would be between $6 and $8 a ride. The company is considering packaging rides on the roller coaster with a spin on the Las Vegas Cyber Speedway, a virtual reality race course experience formerly known asSahara Speedworld.
Speed will be able to accommodate about 1,000 riders an hour. Hours of operation haven't been announced. Passengers will have to be at least 4 foot 6 inches to ride.
The Sahara plans to open the race car-themed NASCAR Cafe Thursday with the coaster opening about a month later. Typically, roller coasters must go through 1,000 hours of tests with sandbags before passengers can ride them.
Premier Rides has built LIM coasters in eight theme parks in the United States and Japan. The most recent installation, Poltergeist, debuted at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio last June. After introducing the LIM in 1995, the company installed four rides in 1998.
Mr. Freeze, a Premier coaster built in Arlington, Texas, in 1998, had its opening delayed 10 months as technicians perfected the propulsion system. Six Flags' Superman ride had similar delays.
The developer and the Sahara have not disclosed the cost of the coaster, but past projects have had price tags ranging from $6 million to $7 million.