"The Tube Challenge Is Near Impossible Since The Northern Line Extension"

By Londonist Last edited 20 months ago

Last Updated 07 September 2022

"The Tube Challenge Is Near Impossible Since The Northern Line Extension"

Soon after the Northern line extension opened in 2021, Adham Fisher thought he'd won the new record for getting around all 272 stations in the fastest time... but he was thwarted by the rules. Here, he explains his frustration.

A stop watch, camera, Oyster card, pen notebook and tube map on a moquette tube seat
"I believed I had completed the first attempt for the 'fastest time to visit every London Underground station'". Image: Adham Fisher

I had waited 17 years for this moment.

The train pulled into the 272nd station. 20 hours, four minutes, 10 seconds. I believed I had completed the first attempt for the 'fastest time to visit every London Underground station' Guinness Record with the new Battersea branch. I submitted my evidence… and was disqualified for not being quick enough.

You see, Guinness have had a "minimum requirement" for new records since about 2014. This sets an "appropriate" target to be considered a record, though none yet exists. Entry level, if you will. For example, no one holds the 'fastest time to put on 10 socks' record, but if you want to, it must be done in 20 seconds, no longer.

While that relies entirely on human ability, the tube record relies overwhelmingly on luck. As any challenger will say, you can have the best route, but you are at the mercy of the trains. If they don't run as they should, neither does your plan.

Before 2021, if the system gained or lost stations and length, the record would be reset, as subsequent participants would not have the same course, and the first fastest verified time would be the new record. Now, Guinness was telling me the record for 272 stations must be based on the last one for 270 (15 hours, 45 minutes, 38 seconds) and they had imposed a limit of 16 hours — giving only 14 minutes and 22 seconds more for the two new stations.

Still from the Guinness website showing current fasted time, and a new 16 hours record set
Image: Guinness World Records

To go from Kennington to Battersea and back currently takes 17 minutes. Furthermore, Heathrow Terminal 4 has been closed indefinitely. Guinness still allows attempts with this, but it must be visited by other means, so no advantage is gained. This takes extra time.

It is impossible to achieve 16 hours on the tube now, and even when Terminal 4 reopens, to come anywhere near that will be unlikely.

"We would not expect it to take an additional four hours to complete," said records manager Lewis Bell, "[16 hours] is a benchmark to ensure the record is competitive and representative of the skill required. The tube has become easier to navigate over time. [Your time] far exceeds what would be a reasonable time adjustment for two additional stations, based on the efficiency of the network on a day where timetables have minimal disruption."

The silvery insides of an empty NYC subway carriage with pale blue seats
The New York Subway record has suffered a similar fate. Image: Shutterstock

I point out that expectation is out of their hands and ours; that the activity is most competitive when the time is attainable and many people attempt; that "minimal disruption" for average passengers can be disastrous for us; and that only one time has gone under 16 hours since Guinness restructured in 1999.

The New York Subway record has suffered a similar fate.

Matthew Ahn set it in 2015 with 21:49:35. In 2016, one new station opened, invalidating the record. He wanted to try again. He said: "I only got 30 minutes of leeway; I had to do it in less than 22:19. I thought I'd barely be able to, but I was really lucky and managed 21:28:14. I've discussed this 'safety margin' several times in the press, as I understand the new one to have been a huge impediment for other attempts."

In 2017 the NYC subway had another extension, and the minimum time has been 24 hours. That allows 151 minutes for three more stations — which is grossly inconsistent.

Pimlico station with a train at the platform
"'Minimal disruption' for average passengers can be disastrous for us." Image: Shutterstock

Tube Challengers have always struggled to be heard. We were forced to visit Shoreditch by bus despite it closing permanently in 2006. A 2007 claim was rejected because it was done on a Saturday (every station was open) and deemed "easier" to accomplish.

These days Guinness also wants entire journeys filmed — not exactly practical. Anyone under 16 cannot apply for the record despite younger people setting it before. This time restriction could be the last straw.

Of course, you can always beat the record informally and tell the Tube Challenge forum. But we also want a reasonable Guinness record to aim for. There’s a petition for this.

Editor's note: since Adham Fisher approached us with this piece, Guinness World Records told Londonist: "The London Underground record was closed and reopened in September 2021 following the addition of two new stations. In respect to the previous holders of this record, we based the new time to beat on their record of 15 hours 45 minutes and 38 seconds, with some additional time in place to allow travel to the new stations. This was based on a best-case scenario and, in hindsight, was too ambitious. Following a conversation with Mr Fisher where he informed us that traveling through the new stations and back again, with no delays, would take close to 17 minutes we altered the record minimum to 16 hours 15 minutes and 00 seconds. This allowed for a challenging, yet possible, time." Adham Fisher says he hadn't been made aware of this change by Guinness, and that 16 hours 15 minutes is still too restrictive to hit a new record.