RAS Problem Solving Competition

The 2021 Railroad Problem Solving Competition

Operations Research and Advanced Analytical Approaches Applied to Real-World Rail Problems

First Prize: $2,000 --- Second Prize $1,000 --- Third Prize $750

Predictive ETA Modeling


Industrial supply chains and logistics operations are highly complex and require the coordination of innumerable supplies and production inputs to maintain efficiency. Keeping track of supplies as well as ensuring their secure and intact movement between origination and destination points is an art form that most organizations have yet to fully optimize and address. One of the most frequently encountered challenges in the global supply chain is tracking and monitoring in-transit products, which includes knowing where products are heading and whether they will arrive on time and in good condition. The evolution of technologies like GPS positioning, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and Blockchain have begun to disrupt logistics and supply chains across various industries. However, the rail industry has been slow to adopt these new technologies, instead relying on decades-old RFID reader technology and even manual event updates.

For this year’s competition, participants will be asked to (1) determine whether the RFID data provided to railcar owners and/or shippers can be used to produce a more accurate estimated time-of-arrival (ETA) than the conventional reported ETAs, and (2) when this RFID data is supplemented with GPS event data, whether even greater accuracy can be obtained. There are numerous proven examples within many industries of successful remote monitoring use cases, though it remains to be seen whether rail-related supply chain predictability can be tangibly improved through leveraging GPS location data. On a broader scale, achieving more accurate ETAs will help enhance the attractiveness of the rail transportation mode as a whole, including driving increased supply chain efficiency and actual cost savings for rail shippers. Solving this challenging problem effectively will not only have immediate benefits to freight railroads and their customers but will also enable other important decision problems affecting railroad operations to be addressed.

05/07/2021 Updates: More details of the problem definition are announced, please click here
05/07/2021 Updates: For sample data please follow the link: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1pNpfmWreV4tNHufK1LYYTrIq9K7sBGRs?usp=sharing

Evaluation Criteria:

The criteria that judges will use to evaluate a solution include the following:

  • Feasibility of the proposed solution, it must satisfy all the given constraints.
  • The quality of the solution in terms of its objective function value.
  • The tractability of the solution approach.
  • The implementation quality of the approach.
  • The practical usability/reproducibility of the solution approach.
  • Computational time of the proposed solution approach.
  • The generalizability of the solution approach.
  • The quality of the paper describing the solution approach. How clear is the explanation? Is it possible to reproduce the approach just by reading the paper?
  • The quality of the presentation, to be given by three finalist teams at the Rail Applications Section Meeting at the INFORMS conference in Anaheim, CA, October 24-27, 2021.

(The virtual or in-person attendance and presentation of at least one person from each finalist team is required)

The finalists will make a presentation at the 2021 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.



First Prize:


Second Prize:


Third Prize:




In addition to the cash prizes, the first prize winners’ contribution to this competition will also be considered for publication in the journal Networks. The paper still needs to go through the journal’s refereeing process; however, it will receive an expedited refereeing and publication process.


Any practitioners of operations research and management science who are interested in solving problems in the railroad domain using Operations Research and Analytics tools are welcome to participate. Registration is open to all with the exception of RAS officers and organizing committee members. 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 finalist team must be available to present virtually or in-person the team’s approach and results at the 2021 INFORMS Annual Meeting.



Participation in the RAS Problem Solving Competition requires registration by May 31, 2021 June 15, 2021. Every team must register by the due date to participate in the contest. To register, please send the following information to railwayapplicationssection@gmail.com by the deadline.

  • For each team member: Name, Email, Organization, Position. Do you have prior experience in problems related to railroads? (Y/N).
  • Abstract (no longer than 250 words) of your proposed approach to this year’s problem.
  • 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.


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.


Important dates:

  • Registration & Abstracts: Deadline is May 31, 2021 June 15, 2021
  • Full Problem and Data Sets Release: May 7, 2021 (updated from May 3 to May 7)
  • Questions and Answers Period: May 7 – June 30, 2021
  • Participants may ask questions based on the preliminary problem description before May 7, 2021. No questions are allowed during the quiet period.
  • Quiet Period: July 1 – July 31, 2021 August 15, 2021
  • Solution Submission: Deadline is August 1, 2021 August 15, 2021. Participants may continue to work on solutions, but no additional information will be provided. Solution includes report on methodology, and solution data set (format of solution data set to be provided in the final problem description).
  • Announcement of Finalists: September 1, 2021 September 15, 2021. Finalists must give a presentation at INFORMS conference, Anaheim, CA, October 24-27, 2021.
  • Finalists’ Presentations: October 24-27, 2021, at INFORMS Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA. Each finalist gives a presentation (15-20 minutes) on their approach. Judging panel ask questions.
  • Winner Announced: October 24-27, 2021, at INFORMS Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA.


    Watch for the full problem description on May 7, 2021!

    Good luck in the competition!


    Problem chair: Hyeong Suk Na (South Dakota School of Mines & Technology)

    Problem owner: Stephen Ecker (Trinity Rail)

    Question and Answers

    05/07/2021 Updates: More details of the problem definition are announced, please clickhere
    05/07/2021 Updates
    : For sample data please follow the link:https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1pNpfmWreV4tNHufK1LYYTrIq9K7sBGRs?usp=sharing