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Running for the train is something most people want to avoid, but for a small group of die-hard railway enthusiasts in Sydney, it's all part of the fun.
Every few months members of the Train Race Challenges Sydney group attempt to visit all of Sydney's 178 train stations in a single day. This is called the All Stations Train Race.
Database consultant Colin Burnett is the current record holder, with a time of is 15 hours, 54 minutes and 14 seconds. He set this on March 23, 2016, and has been trying to break it ever since.
"A lot of it is in the preparation of the race rather than actually doing it. Doing it is just showing that it can actually be done. But trying to work it out is really difficult," Mr Burnett explains.
To find the fastest possible route throughout the rail network, Mr Burnett has entered all the stations with corresponding timetables into a spreadsheet. Using his IT skills he developed a macro — a set of programming instructions stored in code — to crawl across his timetabled spreadsheet to investigate all the possible permutations across all stations.
There are more than 50 million possible combinations.
"It's a challenge … if it was easy there wouldn't be any point to doing it," Mr Burnett says.
According to the rule book developed by organisers, planning is everything:
"You cannot attempt this race by simply catching a train and hoping for what comes next," it states.
Anyone attempting The All Stations Train Race must visit each of Sydney's 178 stations in as short a time as possible, using only scheduled train services beginning at 4am. The race time itself is measured from when your first train leaves Central Station, to when your last train pulls into Central Station.
You don't need to get out at each station, but the train must stop there at least once on your journey.
John Darcy, one of the event's main organisers, likens the challenge to running a marathon or climbing a mountain.
"There's a lot of planning and purpose that goes into it. So the motivation is the achievement of making that all come together and making it all work."
"Given that we've been doing this over a length of time, the planning is at a fairly mature stage. It's just a matter of tinkering and checking the timetables for possible changes to the plans that we've already put together."
Racing the rails isn't unique to Sydney.
London has The Tube Challenge, consisting of 270 stations, and New York has the Rapid Transit Challenge. Both are officially recognised by Guinness World Records.
"We're a poor relative of them. A few years ago I wrote to Guinness [World Records] and asked if they would recognise our record and they said no," Mr Darcy says.
"It's something as old as the hills really. There's been trains in Sydney since 1855 and I'm sure in 1856 someone was trying to see how fast they could get from one end to the other."
Sydney competitors must keep a photo log of their trip, taking photos at certain key stations to prove they have passed along all train routes. Posting the images intermittently on social media, they can then check in on the progress of fellow racers.
Colin's latest attempt on July 21, clocked in at 17 hours, 10 minutes and 22 seconds. Despite having beaten six other competitors on the day, he was still far from his original record due to train delays and rail works.
"If the train coming in is late, and the one going out isn't, it's all over," Mr Burnett says.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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