Darius McCollum knows the New York City Transit system well. Perhaps too well. For about a quarter of a century, he has taken trains and buses for joy rides and impersonated Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers, racking up 23 transit-related arrests.

The first came in 1981, after he drove the E train to the World Trade Center. He was last in the news in 2006, when he was charged with criminal impersonation.

Mr. McCollum, 43, of East Elmhurst, Queens, was arrested again on Saturday after he tried to pass himself off as a subway worker, the police said.

When he was arrested, just after 2 a.m. on the platform at the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway station, he was wearing navy blue clothes similar to a transit uniform, and had a hard hat, transit-logo gloves, a knapsack and documents related to the transit system in his possession, the police said.

He faces charges of criminal trespass, criminal impersonation and possession of burglary tools, the police said. Five of his previous arrests included stealing buses, the police said.

His latest journey into handcuffs started in Queens, when he boarded the No. 7 train at the 103rd Street station and rode it — as a normal passenger — into Manhattan, debarking at a Times Square station, the police said.

There, his history caught up with him. Officers spotted him posing as an employee and recognized that, despite his blue outfit, he was not a genuine transit worker.

They followed him when he got on a northbound No. 1 train. When he debarked at the Columbus Circle station and entered an area sealed off to the public, the police took him into custody.

Speaking from the station, Officer Martin Brown, a police spokesman, said that he was wearing transit clothes to make people think he was an employee.

Mr. McCollum did not speak to reporters while he was being placed into a black car by detectives. A large man, he hung his bald head low and shuffled forward, his hands cuffed behind his back.

Mr. McCollum’s mother, Elizabeth, 82, said her son had Asperger’s syndrome and had a lifelong obsession with trains.

She said she had last heard from her son three days ago, when he told her he would arrive at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Thursday, taking a Greyhound bus from New York City. But he never showed up.
She said he had been living in Queens with her niece and had told her that he was working in a warehouse.

“They arrest him every time if he has got on anything that looks like transit clothes,” she said by telephone.

She said she and her husband, Samuel, had tried many times over the years to keep Mr. McCollum, who is their only child, from being arrested again by trying to persuade him to stay with them in North Carolina. But to no avail. He slips away and returns to New York City.

“He just loves New York,” she said. “He knows the people in Transportation. And he goes up there to be around them.”
His mother said that she had been telling him that “he has got to learn,” and added that hiring lawyers for him over the years had put her in debt.
But she said he needed help.

“With all these kids who are autistic, they slip behind the cracks, but nobody is trying to help him at all,” she said. “I tried when I lived in New York. Every time he was arrested he wasn’t hurting anybody, and nobody could figure out what is his problem.”

She said that sometimes, when he was younger and they were living in Jamaica, Queens, she did not know where he was and people would tell her he was in the subway. “I used to call them and go down there and look for him,” she said.

She said that he would put together model trains and other toys with ease: “We had all kinds of toys, like trains and monorails, and different kinds of things when he was growing up. And he went on to bigger and better things.”

* By CHRISTINE HAUSER and SHARON OTTERMAN June 15, 2008