The Rise and Fall of the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee
Copyright © 1980, Peter R. Samson
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“A Flushing youth, who wanted his money’s worth, rode all lines of the subway on a single token. With doubling back as needed, the trip totaled over 400 miles — more than the train journey from New York to Pittsburgh. It took him 25 hours and 36 minutes.”

Things seemed a little dull at M.I.T. during the spring break, 1966, when my eye fell upon the above squib from the back of a New York subway map. Oh boy! What a hack! Well, I thought, maybe we can work the computer at the Artificial Intelligence lab into it somehow as well. It all seemed natural, since four of us at AI were partners in a rent-controlled flat on the lower east side. So I wrote up a bunch of LISP functions based on (ahem) Samson’s Rule of the New York subway: travel takes one minute per station, plus one-half minute per stop, plus five minutes to cross the East River, plus one minute to change platforms, plus five minutes (in the daytime) for a train to come. There was also a function to find a minimum-transfer path from any station to any other. At the same time I worked out (by hand) a route based on all the subway lines shown on the map. The LISP was used to simulate following the route through the system, so I came up with a rough estimate: 25 hours and a half.

The major complication in planning the route was that certain lines only ran at certain hours: the M (Nassau Loop) in particular had only two trains northbound in the a.m. rush hour and three southbound in the p.m. For another example, there is a section of line used by the Rockaway Shuttle (HH train) only between midnight and 4 a.m. To get the details of all of these, including first and last train times, required some visits to the Transit Authority headquarters. These visits aroused the interest of the TA’s public relations people, who the day before our run started spreading the word to newspapers and television stations.

After an incomplete night’s sleep and a 6:30 a.m. rendezvous at Hong Fat, we started off to the Pacific Street station in Brooklyn to commence the run. (Why Pacific Street? Well, a guy who lived in that neighborhood said he’d join us there.... He didn’t.) Our party was six in number: myself, George Mitchell, Andy Jennings, Jeff Dwork, Dave Anderson, and Dick Gruen. Gruen kept a log, which started as follows:
start of 1966 log
There were various embarrassments. I got left behind once and everyone else had to wait at the next transfer point since I had the route. Later (after copies of the route were passed around) Mitchell, Anderson, and Jennings got left behind in a men’s room; then they got off at the wrong (dead end) platform of the 145th Street–Lenox Avenue station and had to pay extra fares to come back; finally they caught up. There were gratifying moments too. TA policemen at South Ferry and at Coney Island asked for our schedules, and were seen radioing them in to HQ. A New York Post reporter joined us for a while on the A train to 205th Street, getting our candid responses to questions such as “What do you have against the subways?” and “Have you picked up any girls?” Finally, about half an hour later than the initial prediction, we pulled into a platform at Pelham Bay Park that was jammed full of reporters and cameramen.
end of 1966 log
Then came a dimly-remembered series of photos and interviews. One question, however, stood out: how come we didn’t do as well as Geoffrey Arnold had? Who? we replied. It turned out that a fellow by that name some years before had done a similar run, but in less time. We had no idea, however, what he had meant by “covering the entire subway system,” so the two runs were not strictly comparable (and likewise for the case of the Flushing youth.) There followed a lunch on the TA and a very long nap.

I decided that this sport was being held back by the lack of an organized rule-making body. So I got in touch with Geoffrey Arnold, then a student at Harvard, and with his encouragement Gruen and I developed a set of rules which I then prevailed upon the Transit Authority to take as gospel.

Regulations Regarding Amateur New York Subway Riding


  1. This document sets forth the rules of the competition with the name “Amateur New York Subway Riding.”
  2. There are three Classes of Competition:
    1. Class A: Covering all Lines
    2. Class B: Touching all Stations
    3. Class C: Passing all Stations
  3. In general, the object of the competition is to set a record minimum time for a given Class of Competition by
    1. planning a route through the New York City Transit System subject to the qualifications of that Class; and
    2. making a timed run over that route.
  4. These rules, and all records of the competition, are maintained by the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee, referred to herein as the Committee.
  5. Each person who intentionally participates in the run, or who attempts specifically to expedite the run by his actions during the run, or who participates in the selection of lines and stations to be followed during the run, is considered a contestant with regard to that run.
  6. The phrase “Transit Authority” as used herein refers to the New York City Transit Authority and to its successors.
  7. A segment of right-of-way is defined as:
    1. a group of one or more tracks
      1. all used by scheduled passenger revenue traffic, and
      2. all running roughly parallel for the length of the segment, and
      3. no two of which are separated laterally by a distance greater than one hundred feet;
    2. having at each end a station either
      1. where a passenger may transfer free of charge between trains running on any tracks of the segment, or
      2. which is at One Hundred Forty-fifth Street and Lenox Avenue.
  8. A station is defined as that represented by any single station-designating area on the map portion of a current “Official New York Subway Map and Station Guide,” except that Jay–Borough Hall and Bridge–Jay are two distinct stations.
  9. A station is said to be included in a segment of right-of-way if
    1. it is between the end stations of the segment, or is itself either end station, and
    2. scheduled passenger revenue traffic on one or more tracks of the segment stops at the station.
  10. A platform group is defined as a set of platforms at a station such that there is a segment of right-of-way which includes the station, and trains over that segment can be either boarded or departed, or both, at each platform in the platform group.
General Rules

  1. All contestants are expected to display good sportsmanship, and to commit no mischief or criminal act while engaged in this competition.
  2. No contestant may at any time affect, or attempt to affect, the operation during the time of the run of any train, signal, or other part of the Transit Authority system by communicating to any employee of the Transit Authority any statement which the contestant does not know to be true, or by suggesting to any such employee the reason for travel of any person aware of the run.
  3. No present or recent employee of the Transit Authority may be a contestant.
  4. Each contestant making the run must pay one token fare upon entering the Transit Authority system prior to the run, and until the completion of the run must pay no further fare nor reenter premises of the Transit Authority by fraudulent means, or be means of any sort of pass.
  5. During the run, no contestant may enter upon any property of the Transit Authority, nor travel on any Transit Authority vehicle, which is not open to ordinary passengers at that time.
  6. During the run, a log must be kept, containing unambiguously the following information describing the run:
    1. each station where the contestants making the run changed trains, and the stations at the beginning and end of the run;
    2. the number of some car, preferably the first, in each train taken in the run, and the name and destination of the train;
    3. each location where a train being taken in the run reversed direction, or turned around a loop; and
    4. the times, measured to the nearest half-minute, of the following events at the beginning and end of the run, and at each change of trains during the run:
      1. the first opening, subsequent to arrival, of the doors of the train being departed;
      2. the last closing, prior to departure, of the doors of the train being boarded.
    5. Such information must be essentially in the order of occurrence of the events described.
  7. Subsequent to the run, if a contestant wishes the run to be considered for a record, he should submit to the Committee a document containing the following:
    1. a copy of the log;
    2. the Class of Competition for which entry is desired;
    3. a list of all contestants in the run, distinguishing those who made the run from those who did not, and giving their names and home addresses;
    4. a description of the timekeeping equipment used on the run, and of the means used of determining its accuracy;
    5. the statement “I certify that to the best of my knowledge and belief the information described herein is correct, and the run described herein was accomplished in accordance with all rules applicable to Class (A or B or C) of Competition,” signed and dated by each of the contestants.
Qualifications for Class A

  1. During the run, the contestants making the run must traverse completely at least once each segment of right-of-way of the Transit Authority system. Each segment may be traversed either in one continuous transit or in any number of partial transits between stations on the segment.
Qualifications for Class B

  1. During the run, the contestants making the run must, for each platform group in the Transit Authority system, at least once either
    1. board a train from a platform in that platform group, or
    2. depart from a train at a platform in that platform group, or
    3. pass through that station on a train which stops to load or discharge passengers at a platform in that platform group.
Qualifications for Class C

  1. During the run, the contestants making the run must, for each station in the Transit Authority system, at least once either
    1. board a train at that station, or
    2. depart from a train at that station, or
    3. ride a train over a segment of right-of-way which includes that station.
These rules deserve some comment, especially now, years after their writing in 1966. Rule II: It proved impossible to come up with a single definition of “covering the entire system” that everyone would agree to. Therefore three distinct definitions were chosen, with corresponding Class definitions. Class A was planned to be the most time-consuming, and Class C the least. Rule IV: The work of the Committee was in fact done by me as Secretary. Its other members were Geoffrey Arnold and Mr. Don Harold of the TA. Rule VII: A lot of effort went into this definition in order to make it agree with our intuitive feeling of when two tracks are part of the same right-of-way and when they are different. Nowadays two changes would be in order. The qualification in VII.A.1 would have to read “all used by scheduled non-extra-fare passenger revenue traffic” to avoid complications caused at various times by the JFK express and the Aqueduct special. Paragraph VII.B.2 has become unnecessary since the Lenox Avenue line now extends to a proper terminal at 148th Street. Rule VIII: The name of the map has since changed several times, and Bridge–Jay disappeared with the razing of the Myrtle El. Rules XII and XIII: While these rules were being written, there was a well-publicized record run by a boy scout troop, including its scoutmaster, a TA employee; reliable sources reported that motormen were urged to hurry up, etc. during the run, as a favor to the scoutmaster, to improve their time. Hence rules XII and XIII, and the emphasis on amateur competition. Rule XIV: In perpetual memory of the Flushing youth, who wanted his money’s worth. Rule XVI: The car numbers are required to verify the authenticity of the log; times are measured to the half minute because the TA operating timetables are. Rule XVIII: Here is Class A, Covering all Lines, defined as traversing each and every distinct segment of right-of-way that passengers can travel over, even if one must be there at exactly the right time of day to do it. This is essentially what we had meant to do in our run. There happened to be a fairly straightforward algorithm for computer searching through the various routes that fit this definition. Rule XIX: This is for Class B; it requires stopping at every station, and at every part of a complex station. Times Square station, for example, at that time had four platform groups: BMT Broadway line, IRT Seventh Avenue line, Forty-second Street Shuttle, and the Flushing line. Rule XX: The rule for Class C. This simply requires passing through some part of each station. As a consequence, it is the fastest class, with the result that most groups picked it for their runs.

Work proceeded in earnest on a real computer-directed Class A run.
circular letter quote 1
circular letter quote 2
In fact we were nowhere near ready before September, and the work of coding and checking schedules for the computer continued through the winter and into 1967. At the same time I attacked the logistical problems of getting information to and from the people making the run. A vast array of documents appeared: train lists, station lists, station maps (see following), message delivery forms, telephone logs, and an Operations Manual.
map of 34th St. station
A couple excerpts from the Operations Manual follow: the first is from Section IV — Overview and the second from Section VI — Communications.
operations manual quote 1
operations manual quote 1
At last the big day came: April 19, 1967. (There had been a brief dress rehearsal one week earlier.) A party of two — George Mitchell and Andy Jennings — were to make the run. Three persons, including myself, were at the Data Center. It was arranged that someone would be on hand at the computer at M.I.T. at all times during the run. And to convey information to and from the party were various volunteers; their number fluctuated between four and eight depending on the time of day or night. All was in readiness; the telephones, Teletype, maps, and clocks were in place at the Data Center; messengers were positioned at key nodes ahead of the run; and at 2:43 p.m. the party set off from 168th Street station on the Jamaica El and the run was on.

Things went smoothly at first. Then, at 5:32 p.m., three things happened.
From then on it was clear that our luck was not going to be good, and that the principal effort would be to keep from falling further behind.

Minor triumphs and minor setbacks continued through the night, slightly more of the latter than the former. The logistical aspects worked remarkably well. Brian Harvey, one of the messengers, later expressed his astonishment. He was standing by a pay phone in a random subway station in the middle of the night; he received a call to take certain information to a station where he had never been before, in deepest Bushwick; he was told that the party would come through on a certain train at a certain time; and they did, and he actually met them there. The start and finish of the log, kept by Andy Jennings, read as follows.
start of 1967 log
end of 1967 log
So the run ended, having taken (adjusting for watch error) 25 hours and 50 1/2 minutes. This was only 7 minutes less than our original run, but for the first time a run had been made that covered every segment of right-of-way of the subway system. It was also the first Class A run according to agreed-upon and officially sanctioned rules. (Subsequent contestants usually went for Class C, which promised the shortest overall times.)

Later I boiled the computer route down to one with a fixed set of alternatives which could be chosen by hand on the spot. From time to time that summer when I visited New York I would run that route, more or less, up to the point when some gross mischance would make it hopeless to go on. Once, for instance, the northbound Broadway Express I was on hit a derelict wandering on the subway tracks between Eighth Street and Union Square. Another time I made a fantastically good transfer late at night — and immediately got stuck behind the Sperry Rail Service car.

That route (and all our computerized schedules) became obsolete November 26, 1967, when the Chrystie Street connection went into service, but our adventures then, and a description of the Subway Game, is another story. And what of the Flushing youth? His name is Jerome Moses, and the last I heard he was a bus dispatcher at the Port Authority terminal in New York.