Welcome to the utopia of train life, Californians!

My friend David Dayen wrote this week about the launch of California’s high-speed rail line — it’s starting with a short section of the Central Valley — and the inspiring Bizarro Robert Moses story of its triumph over lawsuits and de-funding attempts. If any civic project has a mandate, it’s this one, as last year’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari promised to cancel “the crazy train” and Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown thumped him by 20 points. And if any project was haunted by stupid complaints — this one, again.

I’m a big defender of trains, and I see my 2011 Slate story about why conservatives feel the opposite is now twinned with an Eric Holthaus story about why trains don’t make economic sense. Fair enough. We’re living through a happy little oil glut right now, and transportation systems that save you on gas money make a little less immediate sense. Your car is looking better; so, as California rail skeptics keep saying, does your plane ticket. If it takes 90 minutes to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles but 150 minutes to ride the maglev, why take the maglev?

The people who ask this question can’t have ever compared a rail trip to a flight. “An hour” in the air is not actually an hour. It includes 1) time spent traveling to the airport, which for structural reasons is usually outside the city, 2) time spent lurching through TSA, 3) time spent waiting to board, 4) time spent getting luggage when you land, 5) time spent traveling from the airport to your destination. Because of the externalities I just mentioned, your noon flight from SFO to LAX requires you to leave the house in order to be at least 45 minutes early for the flight.

Compare this with the train. Your arrival for an hour-long trip involves 1) time spent getting to the station, which for structural reasons is in the center of the city, 2) a few minutes flashing your ticket for TSA, 3) a few minutes grabbing luggage, and 4) however long it takes to get from the station in your destination city to your destination. Your noon trip to the SF train station requires that you get to Embarcadero with maybe 15 minutes to spare.

I’m yuppie scum, and I live on the so-called “Acela line” that connects New York to Washington at 150 mph, a trip that ends up bogging down and taking maybe 160 minutes. I don’t know anyone who prefers “the shuttle,” or the planeĀ thatĀ flies from DC’s National airport to New York’s LaGuardia airport in 60 minutes. This is because the train trip is pleasant, with minimal travel times to and from the stations, no time when you’re supposed to put away your laptop, and (though this can be annoying) total freedom to make and receive calls. There are weather delays only in drastic end-of-world circumstances; there is none of the traffic you get when making the drive. (And good luck finishing work on your laptop while driving, though I have, while in traffic, and should not say any more about it.)

Conclusion: You West Coasters don’t know what you’re missing. You’ll find out, and you’ll love it. Keep filing those appeals to junk lawsuits.

Still here!

Oh, I haven’t given up on this blog. But starting Tuesday I’ll be at the Washington Post, which really really means only pop cultury stuff will be here.

I Love This Barr

My exit interview with Libertarian presidential sacrificial lambdidate Bob Barr is up here.

I like Barr, but I’m biased towards good stories of reinvention and redemption. (I said good stories, Mitt.) Six years ago Barr was an unapologetic drug warrior and Iraq War booster. Today he’s an ACLU and Marijuana Policy Project consultant who wants the Libertarian Party to become a coalition of Jeff Flakes. Yes, I’ve heard Libertarians bitch about this, but really, if Barr didn’t believe in this stuff, don’t you think there was a more lucrative path he could have taken? Couldn’t he have built on his book The Meaning of Is and become a full-time Democrat-hater, hero of the Clinton impeachments, trading one-liners with Sean Hannity about how Democrats use the Constitution for rolling paper? Sure. But he got radicalized by the failed Bush presidency and did something about it.

Still tippin’

A sincere thanks to Spencer Ackerman for this. I know a lot of reporters, and I don’t want to put them down, but few of them make me go “damn, how did he get that story” like Spencer.

And another thing. I don’t know what precipitated his compliment, but if he’s pushing the Weigel brand, I appreciate it, because at the start of December I am leaving reason magazine, my journalistic home since April 2006. You could not concoct a better 30 months to be the political reporter for America’s flagship libertarian journal. I was there when the Republican party hit the rocks in 2006 (and I’m afraid I helped cost Jeff Flake his committee seat). I covered the Ron Paul r3VOLution from start to… well, is it finished yet? I was there when Bob Barr joined the Libertarian Party, there when he became its presidential candidate, and there when he ended his campaign by blowing out the candles on a birthday cake.

It’s an amicable parting. Starting last week, I’ve been writing at The Economist‘s Democracy in America blog. There are three Word files with freelance stories open in front of me, and there are e-mails about additional reporting gigs in my mailbox. And I get to keep living in and covering D.C., a much more pleasant place than it has the right to be thanks to people like Spencer.