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Transit fans are racing to visit every Metro station in the Washington area

by Staff

To the average Metro rider, the opening of the Potomac Yard station in May might have meant a quicker commute or an easier trip to Virginia. But to a niche group of transit fans it meant something else: The race was on.

Still in its infancy in the Washington region, a small but growing group of competitors has been vying for the fastest time in a contest to visit every Metro stop along every line, and the opening of the system’s 98th station reset the record.

The current person to beat appears to be college student Zach Lincoln, 19, who made a run late in the year. He arrived in Ashburn 7 hours, 40 minutes and 5 seconds after leaving Franconia-Springfield — a 23-minute, 55-second edge over a group of University of Chicago students who claimed the record over the summer.

“My secret was just running and hoping you make it on time and hoping there’s no delays,” said Lincoln, who has lived in the area his whole life and figured a speed run was something to do when he had nothing else on the calendar. “I’m still kind of surprised I did it.”

Speed-running subway systems has long been popular in some cities, with records dating back as far as 1960 in London. But, at least as far as recorded efforts go, the idea is still relatively new to the Washington area. Guinness World Records recognizes a time of 7 hours, 59 minutes set in 2019, but with the opening of the Silver Line extension in 2022 and then the new station this year that record is out of date. So, with the terrain wide open and Metro service once again back to pre-pandemic levels, this year has seen a surge in the number of attempts.

While the runs are mostly good fun, a growing community of speed runners also see themselves as advocates for the Metro system as it faces a potentially crippling budget shortfall. Claire Aguayo, 16, has made a couple of attempts and launched a server on the chat platform Discord this fall for racers to swap notes and track their runs.

“There is a disaster looming above Metro and the other transit systems in the area where someone might not be able to beat this record again if we get these service cuts,” Aguayo said. “It is doing our part to spread awareness for the issue.”

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Plotting a run at the record takes careful planning.

Rules used by Guinness, which tracks times in at least a dozen cities, say trains have to stop at each station on the route. That means there are only so many weeks in the year when maintenance work won’t interfere with a record attempt.

Then, of course, there is the question of the route itself. Generally, the strategy is to start at one of the suburban ends of the system and go from there. But would-be record setters pore over timetables looking for the fastest connections. The Guinness rules allow for running between stations or bus transfers, but riding in a cab or an Uber is prohibited.

Hugh Barringer, 21, a student at the University of Chicago, learned about speed runs from watching YouTube videos and decided to try it, recruiting his friends Benjamin Kreiswirth, 20, and Benjamin Jaffer, 21, to join him. They plotted a run in Chicago first before making an attempt in Washington this summer, in a short window between major shutdowns.

They set a record time of 8 hours, 4 minutes, after what seemed like an almost flawless day.

“Basically every train we got on was exactly the train we expected to get on,” Kreiswirth said.

The trio carefully documented their run, recording video of the entire effort and gathering signatures from witnesses. They have submitted their evidence to Guinness, hoping to officially claim the record. A Guinness spokeswoman said the submission is still under review.

The runs have attracted the notice of Metro General Manager Randy Clarke, who says he sometimes follows them on social media.

“It’s heartening to see people use the system in this way, not just as a means to get to a destination, but making the journey part of the fun,” Clarke said in a statement. “I enjoy following along on social media, and we’re working hard to provide frequent service that will help someone set a new record.”

The current Guinness record holder is Scott Bennett, 32, who launched his attempt after moving to Washington in 2019 and realizing that there was no time for Metro in the Guinness archives.

“I knew I’d probably be getting it because I’d be the first one to do it officially, but I wanted to do it properly and really set the bar,” said Bennett, a federal employee who didn’t think of himself as a transit nerd at the time but does now.

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He designed a route and went to the stations where he would need to transfer, studying how the escalators lined up with Metro car doors to assess the most efficient places to board. Bennett made his attempt on Dec. 16, 2019, and estimates he lost about 25 minutes in wintry weather. After a lengthy review, the certificate from Guinness came in the mail in March 2021.

Since then, Bennett said, he’s kept an eye on challengers and said he’d consider trying to defend his record. He had found a route that he thought might shave a few minutes off the time set by the Chicago students.

“Half of me is ‘pass the torch to the youth’; the other half of me is ‘God bless it, I have to be the best,’” he said. “Is there away to beat this; is there a way to do it faster?”

Then Lincoln came along, answering that question with a resounding yes.

He took a bite out of the record, seemingly boosted by more frequent Metro service that began in the fall. There were moments during the run, he said, when contingencies upended his careful planning and shook his faith. But then a delay he didn’t want lined him up perfectly with a train he needed.

“That saved me,” Lincoln said.

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