RAS Problem Solving Competition

2017 Problem Solving Announcement

Instructions for the 2017 Problem Solving Competition are now posted.

Data Analytics for Railroad Empty-to-Load Peak Kips Prediction

The INFORMS Railroad Application Section (RAS) is pleased to announce the 2017 edition of the RAS Problem Solving Competition.


This competition is designed to introduce participants to the railroad industry and its wealth of analytics problems. Railroad operations are inherently complex, large scale, and represent a source of many exciting and challenging research application topics for practitioners of operations research and management sciences.


First Prize: $2000
Second Prize: $1000
Third Prize: $750

Each winning team will also receive a certificate declaring their prize winning placement in the contest.

In addition, the first prize winner’s contribution will be considered for publication in Networks. While the paper will still be subjected to the journal’s normal refereeing procedure, the paper will receive an expedited refereeing and publication process. More details about this journal can be found here


Any practitioners of operations research and management science who are interested in solving problems in the railroad domain using OR and analytics tools are welcome to participate.  Registration is open to all with the exception of RAS officers and organizing committee members who are NOT eligible to participate. Likewise, members of the organizing committee may NOT help nor guide any participating team.

Teams of up to three members can participate. At least one member of each prize winning team must be available to present the team’s approach and results at the INFORMS Annual Meeting.


Participation in the contest requires registration by the due date given below. Every team must register by this due date to participate in the contest. To register, please send following information to railwayapplicationssection@gmail.com by the deadline. For each team member, provide the following:

  • Member Name, Email, Organization, Position.
  • Prior Experience in problems related to Railroad analytics (Y/N).
  • Brief statement describing what motivated you to participate.


After submitting your registration email, you will receive an email confirming your team’s successful registration and eligibility.

Important dates

May 20: Challenge problem published

June 01, 2017: registration of participation open

June 30: Registration deadline

July 15: Deadline for submitting a clarification question

September 10, 2017: Deadline for submitting full solution and report

October 10, 2017: Announcement of finalists

October 22, 2017: Finalist presentation and winner announced at the INFORMS Annual Meeting


After the solution submission deadline, completed submissions will be reviewed by the RAS problem competition judging panel. Winners will be selected after collaboration and approval by all panel judges.


All participating teams must submit the following by the due date:

  1. A report not exceeding 10 pages (including cover page), normal margins, double spacing, font size of 10. The report must include title page describing the team members, their affiliations, clean and concise description of problem formulation, solution method, and implementation details (Software/Hardware) and results. 
    2. Problem solution. Make sure you provide the solution in the prescribed format. 
    3. Computer program/model.


The judging panel will select finalists based on the following criteria:  

  1. Novelty and elegance of the model proposed   
    2. Solution quality
    3. Solution approach 
    4. Computation time/complexity
    5. Quality of the report submitted


The finalists will make a presentation at the INFORMS Annual Meeting. Aside from the previous factors, the judging panel will take into consideration the clarity of the presentation to make a final decision about the first, second and third places for the competition. Note that being among the finalists and presenting at the Annual Meeting does not guarantee a finalist will receive first, second or third place. The decision of the judges is final. 


E-mail all files described to railwayapplicationssection@gmail.com specifying your team’s name in the e-mail’s subject. Attach only these files: (i) the report, (ii) the solution files and (iii) a zip file (.zip) containing all supporting (source) files.


Can I Publish?

Yes, you can. In fact, RAS encourages you to do so. Anyone can use the RAS competition problem and provided datasets in their publication. References to year-specific problem competitions are given in the URL, and as such you can reference the year-specific competition URL which will not be changed.


Questions and Answers

If you have any questions about the competition problem, submit your question to railwayapplicationssection@gmail.com. In fairness to all participants, RAS will publish a Q&A on website. All participants will receive Q&A document through email as well. If there are any more questions, similar process will be repeated. The questions may be collected and answered once a week. No questions will be entertained after July 15, 2017.


If you have any suggestions or ideas for future competitions, please feel free to contact April Kuo (April.Kuo@BNSF.com) or Yanfeng Ouyang (yfouyang@illinois.edu). All feedback is greatly appreciated.


2017 Organizing Committee

Clark Cheng, Norfolk Southern

Pooja Dewan, BNSF

Jerry Kam, CSX

Xiaopeng Li, University of South Florida

Yanfeng Ouyang, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Steven Tyber, GE Transportation

Shanshan Wang, BNSF

Aihong Wen, CSX