5 mins

How to turn a subway ride into a record-breaking adventure

Adham Fisher on how he has travelled the world in an attempt to enter the record books simply by taking public transport

Adham Fisher and the sign made especially by the Chicago Transport Authority

Adham Fisher is a young man from Leicester with an unless hobby. He travels the world to ride on other country's urban rail systems. And while he is at it, he attempts to do it faster than anyone else.

In doing so he gets to see a side of other countries most of us miss. And, in Chicago at least, he has become something of a minor celebrity. Here he talks with Peter Moore about life through an underground carriage window.

You describe yourself as a 'recreational' user of public transport. What does that mean?

I am not content with going from A to B. I like exploring public transport routes and trying to travel as far as I can.

What got you started?

I used to ride a lot of buses in Leicester and Leicestershire, and I believe I travelled on the vast majority of the main ones. I went alone at first, then started to invite others along with me. We would catch the first bus of the day far out to the county but make sure we were back in the city in time for the last buses home. I had all the timetables and maps. We documented the journeys, made some videos and went to places we would not have visited otherwise.

The biggest excursion was city-hopping from Leicester to Welshpool, which took the better part of twelve hours. I realised that to take public transport did not have to be a chore – it could be made into something fun. A former school teacher of mine still remembers me telling her and a group of pupils that we were going the wrong way on a tram in Prague and describing the correct way to reach our destination; she reminds me of it occasionally.

What keeps you going?

I like to travel and see new places. And I do love maps. I am likely to buy a city map if I'm there for more than 24 hours.

Which was the first system you attempted to visit each station?

London Underground. I wondered if it were possible to go to every tube station in one day. Then I researched and found out there was a Guinness World Record for doing so as quickly as possible, which to date I have attempted 11 times. I have completed the system but not broken the record.

What other systems have you 'conquered'?

Chicago, Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Lille and Tyne & Wear. Also the Sheffield and Nottingham trams, the Docklands Light Railway and the Glasgow Subway and Midland Metro one-line networks. I have additionally visited each point on the Tube-style bus maps of Leicester and Sheffield. And I tried to take it to a higher level and visit every national rail station in Luxembourg, but was thwarted because I did so on a Saturday and hadn't realised some branches were shut at weekends. After no success in London I started to look at other places.

What are the 'rules' you have to follow?

Guinness World Records have guidelines for the London Underground record, and I apply the core of those to any underground rail system. Unfortunately no other official record is considered for a network apart from New York as there are so many.

For a record attempt, a log must be kept detailing arrival and departure times from each station and the operating number of each train. Pictures of each station must be taken and witnesses should be sought to sign statements saying that you were where you say you were. All this and more is submitted to Guinness for verification. So there is actually quite a lot of work involved.

What's the secret to a successful attempt?

If I knew, perhaps I would have broken the record by now. At the end of the day, anyone doing this relies on the system performing, no matter how good the route. On any given day on the tube, there can be signal failures, line suspensions and delays, which can mess up the schedule completely. To merely come close to the record one needs the system to be largely free of problems. It is 30% planning and 70% luck.

What do the locals make of your attempts? Chicago in particular, seemed to be taken by what you do.

Many Londoners have heard about it and are somewhat used to it. On my recent tube runs people have approached me asking if I'm "doing that record", which is handy for witness statements. There are many fans of rail and other transport in Britain so perhaps it isn't considered too strange. In other cities like Madrid and Paris the reactions can range from bemusement to incredulity.

Chicagoans definitely considered a British person going there chiefly to ride their subway a novelty. It was mentioned on the main transport blog and became probably the most debated topic of last year. Then three students tried to do it having read about me, but were slightly slower. They had some media coverage at the time and my name started to come up in articles as the "record holder". Chicago treats it as if it's an official record.

It has certainly caught the interest of some people, most notably the president of the Transit Authority, Forrest Claypool, who wrote to me personally to express his admiration and also sent me a specially made platform sign in the Chicago style bearing my name. In some ways, that is better than attaining a world record.

Do you think you get a different perspective on cities by doing this than say the average traveller?

Different, yes, but not necessarily better. I do like sightseeing but can do without it. I see a lot from trains and buses, although much of that can be local areas, but they interest me as well. However, it would be a little wasteful for me to ride public transport in a large city and not experience some culture or view landmarks, so I try to make some time for that.

What is the most surprising thing you have come across in your 'travels'?

This didn't happen on the run itself, but three days later I was switching hotels in Chicago and taking the subway there. I struck up a conversation with a couple, who accompanied me to my new hotel and treated me to lunch in the restaurant next door.

How much does a challenge cost? Do you get travel cards?

Always. Cost depends on where it is.The required London Travelcard is currently £19.60, and it has increased quite a bit in recent years. Doing this sort of thing lets me see a fraction of the commuters who rely on public transport and I'm sure there are many who pay much more than £19.60 every day to go to work. The rising cost of public transport in Britain must be addressed.

Do you chat to people while you're on the train?

Often, especially if I'm on the tube and require a witness signature. Most passengers are interested and happy to oblige. Transport staff are nice to talk to as well.

Tell us about the 1,000 Stations project?

It has two sides. I had a charity fundraising idea; visit 1,000 individual metro stations on seven systems across Europe in seven days. It's still in the pipeline and I would want some people to go with me, so if any readers are interested, I'd be glad to hear! But it's also a music venture. When I visited every Paris Metro station in August last year, I recorded a song with my friend Annanem which names each one in alphabetical order. We put it on YouTube the week before I went out and it had some interest. I wanted to expand on it and couldn't think of a new project name, so I chose 1,000 Stations as it had been on my mind for a while. Furthermore, I do like how it sounds when one says it in French.

You posted a song about the Paris Metro on YouTube? Have any other systems inspired you to compose a tune about them?

Not personally, but I was planning to return to Paris to play the Metro song and wanted more material to go with it. I asked other friends and musicians to write pieces about different systems around the world and was sent enough for an album, so I compiled it and we launched it in Paris in November, playing live in an arts centre and giving out a few CDs on the Metro. It's called the Metro EP and we are now a collective under the name 1,000 Stations. We played the first UK gig in Leicester at the weekend and I hope to have a release date very soon.

What's your ultimate goal? To conquer every urban rail system in the world?

That would be far too ambitious. There is no goal, really. I'd just like to travel more, to places I haven't visited yet. Of course, if a transport company wants to sign me up to promote it after reading this, I will consider offers...

Where's next?

I'm not sure. For a while I've wanted to go from John O'Groats to Land's End on local buses; maybe that could happen this year.

Adham Fisher's  recreational interest in public transport has taken him to several large cities, going off the beaten track and exploring the underground scene – literally. He likes music, maps and mohicans, and prefers to use public transport to get around. You can follow his exploits on the 1,000 Stations Twitter page: twitter.com/1000stations. You'll find the Paris Metro song on YouTube here.

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