Today’s news:

Qns. train charlatan up to his old tricks

The infamous MTA impersonator Darius McCollum was arrested again Saturday for attempting to gain access to a restricted area inside the subway station at Columbus Circle, police said. The East Elmhurst resident pleaded guilty and should be released by the end of the week.

McCollum, 43, who has been arrested as many as 23 times for transit-related offenses, got his start in 1981, when at age 15 he drove a subway train from 34th Street to the World Trade Center, according to published reports from that time.

At 2:12 a.m., a transit officer spotted McCollum at the 59th Street Columbus Circle subway station wearing clothing similar to that of MTA employees, police said. McCollum was arrested after he opened a gate and entered an off-limits construction area, a criminal complaint filed by the Manhattan district attorney's office said.

Police found McCollum had MTA work gloves, a white hard hat, an envelope with MTA job applications and benefits information and a back brace regularly worn by MTA workers, the DA's office said.

McCollum was charged with the misdemeanor offenses of criminal trespass and criminal impersonation. He pleaded to the first count Sunday and was sentenced to five days in jail.

The New York Post reported that McCollum's mother, Elizabeth, acknowledged that her son suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism.

Members of the online message board NYCTransitForums.com said McCollum's photo is posted in "every crew room and every transit cop station."

The incident also sparked a heated bout of speculation on the city-based rail-fan site SubChat over whether a conspicuously absent contributor to the site was McCollum. The opinions of posters were split between those who thought the MTA should hire McCollum and those irritated with his fame.

State Corrections Department records show McCollum was first sentenced to prison in 1986 for possessing stolen property. He has served at least five terms in prison, records show.

Most recently, he was discharged in July 2007 after spending two years in prison for attempted grand larceny, records show.

His last major arrest came in 2004, when he attempted to steal a new locomotive from the Long Island Rail Road yard in Jamaica.

In that incident, McCollum walked into the rail yard wearing an MTA-standard vest and hard hat. He presented a business card to workers there identifying him as a captain and an independent railroad safety consultant, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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