Metro spends nearly $29k for Japan trip

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

Metro spent $28,959.64 to send six people to Japan earlier this year to look at new rail cars being designed for the agency.

The trip in late February cost on average $4,827 per person, including lodging at a luxury hotel and breakfasts costing as much as $75.33 each.

Metro General Manager Richard Sarles, his second-in-command Dave Kubicek, then-Assistant General Manager of Customer Service Barbara Richardson, the agency's chief engineer of vehicles, the program manager and a rail operator stayed for differing lengths of time. Some traveled up to 10 days, with an average stay of six days.

Airline tickets cost an average of $1,685.77, according to the expense reports obtained in a public records request. The average hotel cost was $217.35 per night, while meals averaged $69.07 per person.

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

The agency defended the trip and its cost, saying it was the last opportunity to inspect the mock-ups of the Kawasaki Rail Car Inc. 7000 series car design and make changes before entering into full-scale production in Nebraska.

"At $886 million, the 428 new cars represent the largest equipment investment since the system opened. It's important to get this right," said Metro spokesman Philip Stewart. "Having a small group of key staff, including three engineers and a rail operator, review the car before beginning full-scale production is entirely prudent."

The Metro team stayed at the Hotel Okura Kobe, which describes itself as a "luxury 35-story hotel, overlooking the water on Kobe harborfront."

It is not clear what food they ate because the expense reports do not include meal receipts. However, the menu at the "landmark" Restaurant Emerald on the top floor of the Kobe hotel shows a lunch option of an appetizer, main course and dessert plus coffee, tea and dessert for $41. (Menu choices include

Manchego cheese pasta with Kobe beef, gazpacho Andalous, a tapas platter and a main course of market fish.) Even with the 10 percent extra charged for service and taxes, the cost is far below the average $63.38 cost of the Metro-expensed lunches.

Metro said it followed the U.S. State Department travel allowances, which covered $439 for meals per day in Kobe and $373 in parts of Tokyo at the time of their trip. Metro gives employees the full amount whether the person spends that much or not, just as State Department spokeswoman Katherine Pfaff said the federal government does unless the meal is part of an event.

Metro also covered credit card transaction fees, $228 in immunizations for the train operator and $2,009 in ground transportation costs, including high-speed rail tickets.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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