Branford students go underground for a cause

For 27 hours non-stop, 17 Branfordians (members of Yale’s Branford College) went underground in a bid to traverse the longest subway system in the world, while meeting up with other alumni and fundraising along the way.

Led by Steve Blum ’74, Branford resident fellow, the delegation included five alumni and 12 current students. Their stated goal: “to boldly go where no residential college has gone before.”

The group departed New Haven Union Station  at 10 a.m. on Dec. 7, and began their excursion traversing 210 miles of the New York City subway system at Grand Central Station. Over the course of their trip they visited 412 stations, soared 80 feet above the city streets, and descended 180 feet below ground. As part of this journey, they also raised money for a local cause.

The Branford College Council traditionally decides on a holiday fundraiser for a charity in December. This trip was combined with a marathon model of donation so the students could trek and explore the subway system with a purpose. The donations — one, five or ten cents per station visited — were given to Liberty Community Services, a New Haven organization directed by associate master John Bradley ’81, which strives to end homelessness in the greater New Haven area and offers services to people who live with HIV/AIDS, mental illness, and addiction.

Four decades of Branfordians participated in the adventure. The group wandered through a long deserted rail line overgrown with weeds, saw the early lights of dawn reflected along the steel and glass edifices of downtown New York City, and met quarter-century veteran employees of the MTA who, the students report, were thrilled to hear about the purpose of the trip.

All told, the students changed trains 30 train times, recorded 40 different onboard sleeping positions, and sampled food from five nationalities. 

Blum said that the trip gave the students “the chance to see the unseen beating heart of what I consider to be the world’s greatest city.”

Participant Chinmay Jaju ’15 said, “ I haven’t been to New York that often. I hadn’t seen many of the parts that we traveled through. I learned so much throughout the trip. Steve kept on giving us trivia about the city and the subway. It gave me a pretty good handle on New York — now I know how the city is laid out.” 

All along the way several students live-tweeted about their journey — when they could get reception. From Pelham Bay to Yankee Stadium, they met with other alumni who joined in part of the journey. The travelers’ tweets can be found on Storify or by searching #branfordunderground

“We are hoping to organize multiple competing teams from different residential colleges during next year’s October break, and see if we can beat the Guinness record for fastest completion of the trek,” said Blum.

Story written by Christian Vazquez ’13