Metro sends delegation to Japan to see new rail car

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro's general manager missed three public hearings on his proposed fare increases in the last two weeks because he was in Japan, checking out models of the agency's latest rail cars.

Richard Sarles and five other Metro workers traveled to Japan to see mock-ups of the 7000 series cars being built by Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. He showcased the new features of the cars in a new video.

He took along his second-in-command, Dave Kubicek, who oversees the rail system, plus the head of customer service and two members of the equipment engineering team. A train operator also went to provide feedback on the controls in the rail car's cab.

"Now that the 7000-series railcar is in final design, it is important for key members of Metro's leadership team to review the prototype before production begins," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel wrote in an email to The Washington Examiner. "That's what this trip to Japan was all about."

The total cost of the trip was not immediately available because the travel receipts were still being reconciled, Stessel said. The airline ticket for Sarles, though, cost $1,419.10 and lodging was $610.57, he said. Sarles paid for three nights of lodging out of his own pocket for the eight-day trip, from Feb. 25 to March 3. That does not include ground travel or food costs.

Metro has typically followed the guidelines of the U.S. State Department travel allowances, which allow a $522 per diem cost per person in Tokyo. If everyone else had the same flight costs and travel dates, the trip could have topped $33,000.

"All travel expenses associated with this trip are funded out of the capital budget, which is to say, passenger fares are not used," Stessel noted. The capital budget is funded by state, local and federal taxpayer dollars.

Metro previously had to get all international travel approved by its board of directors in public votes, but changed that rule recently.

Kawasaki is designing and building four model rail cars in Japan, which will be delivered to Nebraska, where the rest will be built to meet federal "Buy America" rules.

Metro ordered 428 rail cars for $886 million, with 128 of them slated for the Silver Line now under construction and 300 to replace the system's oldest cars, which have been called unsafe in crashes. The first new cars were slated to arrived in 2013 but now are expected to come five months later because of delays associated with the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan a year ago.

Sarles said last week the delay will not affect the Silver Line, as the agency will use its existing rail car fleet to fill the gap.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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