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Meet Chicago’s Newest ‘L’ Racing Champs, Bill Cash and Alex Pisarski

Bill Cash and Alex Pisarski

Update 7/6/19: A couple of Streetsblog readers noticed that Cash and Pisarski took the Purple Line Express between Howard and Belmont, so while they passed through all 145 CTA stations, their train didn't stop at most of the Red Line stations on that stretch, which was a major timesaver. I apologize for overlooking that fact in my initial writeup. I consulted with Daniel Resner, my previous CTA racing partner, who has been compiling 'L' Challenge times, and we agreed that Cash and Pisarski's achievement belongs in a new category, "Class B (Pass Through Every Station)." Therefore, they hold the record in that category with a time of 8:40:03, while the overall record for "Class A (Doors Open at Every Station)" is still held by David Barber with a time of 8:47:58. See Daniel's updated list of the full standings at the bottom of this post.

There's a new chapter in Chicago's storied history of  L' train racing. The 'L' Challenge competition, which was more-or-less launched by visiting UK rail enthusiast Adham Fisher in March 2011, involves traveling to every station in the system solely by rail, bus, and/or feet -- no driving, cabs, ride-hailing, bikes, scooters, etc. allowed.

Fisher set the original record of 9:36:33 for visiting 143 stations at the time. Each time a new station opens, the old record is frozen and a new competition starts. Along with my racing partner Daniel Resner, I've held the title of Fastest 'L' Racer a couple of times myself. The most recent victor was David Barber, who rode the current 145-station system (after the opening of the Cermak Green station) in November 2016 with a time of 8:47:58, according to records compiled by Resner. (See a complete list of past 'L' challenge participants at the bottom of this post.)

Previous 'L' Challenge winner Adham Fisher at the Linden station with former CTA president Forrest Claypool. Photo: John Greenfield
Previous 'L' Challenge winner Adham Fisher at the Linden station with former CTA president Forrest Claypool. Photo: John Greenfield
Previous 'L' Challenge winner Adham Fisher at the Linden station with former CTA president Forrest Claypool. Photo: John Greenfield

This afternoon a new pair of riders earned the right to wear the 'L' Challenge crown. Recently married couple Bill Cash and Alex Pisarski, a lawyer and a photonics engineer, respectively, visited all the stations today in a mere 8:40:03. Photo and video documentation of the trip is posted on Cash's Twitter feed.

Asked why they decided to undertake this endeavor, Cash said the pair thought they could "math it out" and beat past attempts. "We're both big into transit, networks, airlines, and systems," he said. "We systematically analyzed past routes other people took and tried to figure out the shortest distance if all connections were free," he said. "Then looked at the likelihood of actually making connections. The bus stuff at the Green and Red lines involved computing thousands of permutations of stopping in different order."

Cash and Pisarski plan out their strategy.
Cash and Pisarski plan their strategy.
Cash and Pisarski plan out their strategy.

Cash and Pisarski started bright and early at 5:18 a.m. at the Linden Purple Line station in Wilmette, the northernmost stop in the system. At Howard Street they transferred to the Yellow Line, rode to the Dempster stop in Skokie and back, then caught a Purple Line Express train to Belmont. There they transferred to the Red Line and rode it south to 95th Street.

After riding north again to 63rd Street, they caught a bus west to the 63rd/Ashland Green Line stop. From there they road the train east to Halsted, then caught another bus east to to the Cottage Grove station, where they got back on the train and headed north again.

At Roosevelt, they transferred to the Orange Line and traveled southwest to Midway Airport. There they caught a Cicero Avenue bus north to the Pink Line, took the train one station west to the Cermak/54th stop, and headed towards the Loop.

Transferring from the inbound Pink train to the Green Line at Clinton, they rode west again to Harlem Avenue, where they caught a bus to the Forest Park Blue Line terminal. At that point they rode the Blue Line through the Loop and all the way northwest to O'Hare Airport.

At the seven hour mark, they caught an inbound Blue train back towards the city. At Jefferson Park they got off the train and caught a #81 Lawrence bus east the the Brown Line's Kimball stop. Back downtown, they completed the circuit of the Loop elevated tracks, polishing off their trip at the State/Lake station.

Congratulations to Cash and Pisarski for achieving their goal. Now who's going to be the next person or team to take on the 'L' Challenge and try to beat their 8:40:03 time?

Current 'L' Challenge standings, compiled by Daniel Resner

Class B (Pass Through Every Station) - 145 stations (incl. Washington/Wabash)

Class A (Doors Open @ Every Station) - 145 stations (incl. Cermak-McCormick)

Class A (Doors Open @ Every Station) - 145 stations (incl. Madison/Wabash—frozen)

    • Anton Karpovich: 9h08m13s, 10/30/13
    • Chris Aubin & Garrett Sorrels: 9h12m39s, 10/19/12
    • Tracy Swartz: 9h17m59s, 8/13/12
    • John Greenfield & Daniel Resner: 9h33m19s, 5/11/13
    • Vasanth and Matthew: ~13h54m59s, 5/11/13

Class A (Doors Open @ Every Station) - 143 stations (frozen)

Ride All Track In Revenue Service Of, & Doors Open @ Every Station On Every Color Line

“L” Stations of the Cross (Exact route unclear, but touch every station and visit churches along system)

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