RAS Problem Solving Competition

The 2024 RAS 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


Optimize Switching in a Flat Rail Yard

Full description of the competition

Switching wagons in large flat yards is arguably one of the most complex daily actions a railway performs.  Switching efficiently on a limited number of tracks of varying sizes while building many train-blocks takes skill and experience. Little has been done to develop algorithms to assist engineers and conductors who have to figure out the sequence of steps to take to properly and efficiently sort a set of wagons [1]The goal of this problem solving competition is to build open-source software and algorithms that can plan out the sequence of moves required to sort.

Rules of the Competition and Coding Guidelines

There is a GitHub repository (https://github.com/MarcMeketonVillanova/2024_RAS_PSC) that has this document, the problems to be solved, the JSON schemas that will be used to validate inputs and your outputs, and soon the feasibility checker. The problems to be solved may be expanded during the course of this competition. 

We hope that you will consider having your code open-sourced in GitHub.  However, this is not a requirement.

We would like to run yor code – as an executable – if you become a finalist as part of the final round of judging.  We should be able to specify a problem set and obtain a solution in the JSON formats detailed in previous sections.

If you choose to use Python or some other interpreted language that can be easily disassembled, and you are worried about your code leaking, let the committee know.  We will work with you to minimize any issues. To support us running your executable, we would like you:

  • To use a mainstream programming language such as C++, Java, Rust, C#, Python, Julia. 
  • Use publicly and freely available libraries. 
  • Use SCIP (https://www.scipopt.org/) if you need to use a linear/integer programming solver.
  •  If your code can use GPU’s, please also make sure it can be run without GPUs.
  • Be able to be run on a Linux or Windows operating system.
  • Have clear directions on how to call the executable, and possibly what libraries to download.

Evaluatiion Criteria

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

  • Feasibility of the proposed solutions.  Use the feasibility checker that will be provided to ensure your solution is feasible.
  • The quality of the proposed solutions for the given objective function values.  Use the feasibility checker to compare your objective to the one calculated in the feasibility checker.
  • The tractability of the solution approach adopted.
  • The usability/reproducibility of the solution approach.
  • The performance of the solution approach, e.g., its computational time.
  •  The quality and clarity of the paper describing the solution approach considered for the problem.
  •  Submissions must comply with the specified format for solution files (Section 0).
  • The quality of the presentation, to be given by three finalist teams at the Rail Applications Section Meeting for the 2024 INFORMS conference.  This presentation might be video recorded if travel restrictions are in place.

The finalists will make a presentation at the 2024 INFORMS Annual Meeting in Seattle (or a video recording only if travel restrictions are in place).  If you believe that travel to the conference is not possible, we encourage you to team with someone that can travel to the conference and make the final presentation. 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: $2,000
  • Second Prize: $1,000
  • Third Prize: $750

In addition to the cash prizes, the first prize winners’ contribution to this competition may 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.


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 except for INFORMS Rail Applications Section (RAS) officers and organizing committee members. Likewise, members of the organizing committee may NOT help or guide any participating team.  Teams of up to five members can participate. At least one member of each finalist team must be available in-person or virtually to answer questions at the 2024 INFORMS Annual Meeting. Winners will be announced after the session.


Participation in the RAS Problem Solving Competition requires registration by June 15th. 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.

  •  A team name.
  • For each team member: Name, Email, Organization, Position.
  • Brief statement describing what motivated you to participate.
  • Proposed computing environment (programming languages, etc.).  NOTE that you may change the computing environment as you develop the code.  However, please keep the committee informed.  We would like to be able to run an executable of your code.  If you are worried about the judges running seeing your executable, please let us know so we can figure out how to address this issue.

After submitting your registration email, you will receive an email confirming your team’s successful registration and eligibility, and you will be added to the competition’s channel in Slack.

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:

  • Release of Full Problem and Datasets: April 1st, 2024.  Additional datasets may be added later.
  •  Registration Deadline: June 15th, 2024.
  •  Q&A Period: Open from May 1st, until August 15th, 2024.
    • A Slack workspace will be setup for all Q&A.  Please only use this Slack workspace, and use the channel #Q&A, to post questions.  This way all contestants will see the questions and answers.
  • Solution Submission Deadline (Paper + Results): August 16, 2024.  Submissions must be sent to rasproblemsolving2024@gmail.com
  • Announcement of Finalists: August 30, 2024
  • Finalists send video of presentation: Sept 30, 2024
  • Finalists video conference judges, week of October 7-11, 2024.
  • Finalists’ Presentations (if no travel restrictions, in person): October 20, 2024, at INFORMS Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA.  Conference is from October 20-23.
  • Winner Announced: October 20, 2024, at INFORMS Annual Meeting, Seattle, WA during the RAS business session.

Competition owner:

Marc Meketon (marc.meketon@oliverwyman.com)

Competition chairs:

C. Tyler Dick (ctdick@utexas.edu

 Xuesong Zhou (xzhou74@asu.edu)

[1] The only commercial company the author is aware of that has a system for flat yard switching is https://www.cedarai.com/.  Also, BNSF has announced some related software, but little is known about this software at this point (click here)