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A History of the Tube Challenge

The folllowing is a brief history of the Tube Challenge since it first appeared in the Guinness Book of Records. It is by no means a complete account since we have no idea just how many people have attempted the Tube Challenge or even when the very first attempt was made.

If you have attempted the Tube Challenge and it does not feature on this site, we would like to hear from you. You can contact us at tubeguru@tubechallenge.com. Similarly, if we have featured you on this website and you would like to give us more information on your attempt or would like to correct any factual errors, just let us know.


1961 to 1980

The first appearance of the tube challenge in the Guinness Book of Records was in the 1961 edition. But the Underground then was very different to how it is now (for a start the trains probably ran on time). Epping to Ongar was still in operation as was the Piccadilly branch to Aldwych. Also, some sections of what are now National Rail track were still serviced by tube trains - Amersham to Aylesbury, Harrow & Wealdstone to Watford Junction and Moorgate to Finsbury Park. On the other hand, however, there were no Victoria or Jubilee Lines whatsoever (the 'Jubilee' from Baker Street to Stanmore was actually the Bakerloo Line back then - confusing huh?). Finally, the southwest part of the Piccadilly Line terminated at Hounslow West and not Heathrow Airport.


Featured Challenger: Bill Hayles

[Bill Hayles]

Bill was a student at Chislehurst and Sidcup Boys' Grammar School when he and 4 friends decided to give the Challenge a go in July 1965. They took the 04.59 from Upminster and finished at Russell Square at 22.13 that evening.

Interestingly, they used an 'unofficial' ruleset which stated that they should stand on the platform of each station (Oxford Circus at rush hour anyone?) which they duly followed, doubtless to the amusement of fellow travellers. As usual, only public transport was allowed for travel between stations but due to some confusion as to what exactly constituted 'public' transport, they took a taxi between Amersham and Chesham and were subsequently disqualified by Guinness.

Back in those days Hammersmith and Paddington counted as 'one station' instead of the current arrangement (see the Rules page). The rules also allowed you to arrive at or depart from a station by alternative means of London Transport. Hence, they arrived at New Cross Gate by National Rail and then ran to New Cross.

Bill himself admits that given a slightly less amateurish approach, they could have set a much faster time (that taxi notwithstanding)!

Featured Challenger: Colin Rosenstiel

[Colin Rosenstiel]

Colin made his attempt in the Spring of 1970 along with 5 friends. They took the same starting train as Bill Hayles (the 04.59 from Upminster) and headed straight for Ongar. They subsequently lost time on a bus journey from Cockfosters to High Barnet. Colin admits that they were let down by a lack of knowledge of the timetables and in particular the South Harrow departure times.

They missed out the Richmond branch altogether and finished up at Hounslow West in the days before the extension to Heathrow was started. For this attempt the Victoria Line was almost complete (they had to do the already finished section from Walthamstow to Victoria) and they still had to do the old Northern Line section between Moorgate and Finsbury Park although time was running out for this increasingly pointless part of the Underground.

Despite working out a solution for the South Harrow fiasco, Colin and co. never attempted the challenge again - a case of what might have been. His companions that day were Andrew Ellis, Andrew Gore, John Haynes, Tim Jones and John Watton with Neil Gray doing the planning.


On the 23rd of July, 1971 the Victoria to Brixton section of the Victoria Line was opened with Pimlico station coming into operation in September 1972. From this point on, every attempt had to include the entire line.


Featured Challenger: Colm Mulvaney

Although it was Robert Robinson (qv here) who took the Tube Challenge to a whole new level, it was Colm Mulvaney, currently a driver a Central Line driver, who became the first 'regular' Challenger. He took several attempts in the mid to late 1970's and made it into the Guinness Book of Records thanks to a record-breaking run in 1981 (see the Record Times List).


On the 19th of July, 1975 the Piccadilly extension to Hatton Cross opened, followed on the 16th of December 1977 by Heathrow Terminals 1,2 & 3. There was no loop at this point - just a standard run in to the terminus (or should that be terminal?) So, two more stations for our intrepid Challengers to fit in to an ever-expanding network.

But just as some lines were expanding, some were declining and in particular the somewhat 'leftover' spur of the Northern Line between Moorgate and Finsbury Park. This had been a legacy of the old Great Northern and City Railway, which was conceived in 1891. The idea was to connect the Great Northern Railway (GNR) with Moorgate in the City of London but problems with money and legal arguments meant the project was delayed, the line eventually opening in 1904.

Meanwhile, the GNR had acquired an Act of Parliament forbidding the line from extending further north than Finsbury Park and the line was eventually bought by the Metropolitan Railway in 1913. The Met did consider extending it to meet the Waterloo & City Line at Bank and the Circle Line south of Moorgate but nothing came of it.

With the formation of London Transport, the line was allocated to the Northern Line and there were hopes that it would feature in the Northern Heights plan - another idea which came to nothing. With the arrival of the Victoria Line, services were cut back to Drayton Park. The branch was closed following the Moorgate crash on the 28th of February 1975 and re-opened the following month. But throughout 1975 the line was closed in stages and re-opened as a National Rail line in August 1976, eliminating it from the Tube Challenge.


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