The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (novel)

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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1973) is a thriller novel by Morton Freedgood, writing under the pen name John Godey. The novel's title is derived from the train's radio call sign. When a New York City Subway train leaves to start a run, it is given a call sign based upon the time it left and where; in this case, Pelham Bay Park Station at 1:23 p.m.


A normal day on the New York subway is interrupted by the hijacking of a number 6 train. Four men armed with submachine guns detach the lead car and take it into a tunnel with its 17 passengers as hostages. The hijackers are led by former mercenary Ryder and consist of disgruntled former motorman Longman, violent former Mafia thug Joey Welcome and powerful, laconic brute Steever. The gang threaten to execute one hostage per minute unless the city delivers to them a one million dollar ransom within one hour. One of the hostages is an armed undercover police officer, who considers the odds too overwhelming to attempt any confrontation and remains seated and quiet.

While the city authorities weigh it up and agree to pay, the transit police try to work out the hijackers' plan, particularly their escape from an underground tunnel while surrounded. They don't suspect that the hijackers have a mechanism ("The Gimmick"), for defeating the train's "dead-man's switch" that would stop the train running without a driver's hand pressing down hard on it. The hijackers intend to let the train and its hostages speed along the track by itself, chased by the police above surface, while they get away. They will discard their weapons and escape through an emergency exit, disappearing into the busy flow of New York pedestrians.

The ransom is delivered to the hijackers, who stash it all in multi-pocketed thin jackets worn under their coats. They then demand that the train track is emptied and on green lights all the way to South Ferry. They move the train a short distance, fit The Gimmick to it, get off the train and engage The Gimmick to press down the dead-man's switch. The train sets off but the undercover police officer jumps off into the tunnel once it's underway.

When the gang reach the emergency exit, Welcome refuses to leave his submachine gun behind and argues about it with Ryder. Ryder fatally shoots Welcome but the delay lets the undercover cop sneak up and shoot Steever from the darkness of the tunnel. Longman escapes while Ryder shoots and wounds the cop. As Ryder goes to finish him off with a head shot, he is himself shot dead by DCI Daniels of the Special Operations Division. Later, the transit police go through their records of dismissed motormen, tracking down and arresting Longman.


The novel has been adapted to film and television on three occasions:


After the 1974 movie adaptation of the book was released, for many years the New York City Transit Authority barred its planners from scheduling trains leaving Pelham station at 1:23 AM or PM. Eventually this policy was rescinded, but in a kind of superstition the dispatchers have generally avoided scheduling a Pelham train at 1:23.[2]



  1. ^ "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three". Turner Classic Movies. Atlanta: Turner Broadcasting System (Time Warner). Retrieved September 12, 2016. 
  2. ^ Dwyer, Jim (1991). Subway lives : 24 hours in the life of the New York City subway (1st ed.). New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-0517584453. 

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