RAS Problem Solving Competition

The 2020 RAS Problem Solving Competition

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

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

Train Travel-Time Estimation

Finalists' announcement 09-30-2020!!!!


As many of you may have already heard, the upcoming 2020 INFORMS Annual Meeting scheduled for early November will be going to a virtual format on account of the continuing public health situation. As such, this means there will no longer be a requirement that finalists for the 2020 Problem-Solving Competition must present their work in person at the INFORMS Annual Meeting.

In light of this announcement and considering the significant delays related to the posting of the validation data set, the Railway Applications Section has also decided to extend the deadline for final submissions for the 2020 Problem-Solving Competition to Friday, August 14. Please ensure your submissions are sent to the railwayapplicationssection@gmail.com by 11:59 PM CDT for consideration. Unregistered teams who feel they can complete the necessary work by this date are welcome to register until 11:59 PM CDT on Friday, August 14, as well.

Judging for the finalists will commence soon after receipt of all the submissions from registered participants, with an announcement of the finalists to be made via the 2020 Problem-Solving Competition website by mid- to late September.

We hope this provides you and your team with little bit of relief during this very unusual and ever-changing situation. From all of the officers and members of the Railway Applications Section, best of luck in this year’s competition, and please continue to stay safe and healthy!



Due to the varied circumstances every college and university is facing as they enter the new semester amidst the ongoing pandemic, as well as possible changes to the competition in light of the virtual format for the INFORMS Annual Meeting, the RAS Problem-Solving Competition committee has decided to extend the deadline for submissions to 11:59 PM CDT on Monday, August 31. Although, the deadline for registering for the competition will remain 11:59 PM CDT on Friday, August 14. We hope this allows for some leniency given each college and university is facing different circumstances for the new semester and will allow participants some time to adjust for possible changes to the presentation component as a result of this year’s virtual format for the Annual Meeting.


>> Detailed Instructions Now Available

>> Webinar #1 - Meeting notes
>> Sample Data Set
>> Webinar #2 - Meeting notes
>> Webinar #3 - Meeting notes
>> Q&A 05-25-2020
>> Errata & Updates 05-25-2020
>> Updated Sample Data Set
>> Validation Data Set
>> Disclaimer on Validation Data Set
>> Webinar #4 - Meeting notes
>> Webinar #5 - Meeting notes
>> Q&A 06-26-2020
>> Upcoming Webinars
>> Errata & Updates 06-30-2020
>> Validation Data Set updated 06-30-2020
>> Webinar #6 - Meeting notes
>> Q&A 07-06-2020

The world is experiencing phenomenal advancements in the accuracy of travel time estimations in over-the-road and air travel modes. Many of these advancements are widely available and can predict the estimated arrival time at the destination as well as intermediate stations with a high degree of accuracy. However, the accuracy of travel-time estimations lags far behind for rail transportation, especially in freight transportation by rail.

For this year’s competition, participants will be asked to determine the travel time of freight trains within a given time window, considering all important characteristics of the network and important resources required for freight train operations. Rail transportation is one of the most efficient and the most environmentally friendly modes of transportation on a per ton-mile basis because of the dedicated trackage for train movements. However, this characteristic also creates inherent cascading impact of each train’s movements on the movement of other trains in the network. Combining this complex interdependency with other resource-specific restrictions makes the train travel-time estimation problem an algorithmically challenging problem. 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.

A preliminary problem description can be found in the link above. A full description of the problem under consideration, as well as complete data files for the competition problems will be available by April 17, 2020.

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 2020 INFORMS conference, that will be held virtually.

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

The finalists will make a presentation at the 2020 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 the team’s approach and results at the 2020 INFORMS Annual Meeting.


Participation in the RAS Problem Solving Competition requires registration by May 8, 2020 July 31, 2020. 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 8, 2020 July 31, 2020
  • Full Problem and Data Sets Release: April 3, 2020 April 17, 2020 
  • Questions and Answers Period: April 17 – June 26, 2020
  • Monthly Webinars for Q&A: March 20April 24May 22 ∙ June 17
  • Participants may ask questions based on the preliminary problem description before April 1, 2020. No questions are allowed during the quiet period.
  • Quiet Period: June 26 – July 31, 2020
  • Participants may continue to work on solutions, but no additional information will be provided.
  • Solution Submission: Deadline is July 31 August 14 31, 2020
  • 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, 2020
  • Finalists must give a presentation at INFORMS conference, Washington, DC, November 8-11, 2020.
  • Finalists’ Presentations: November 8-11, 2020, at INFORMS Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.
  • Each finalist gives a presentation (15-20 minutes) on their approach.
  • Judging panel ask questions.
  • Winner Announced: November 8-11, 2020, at INFORMS Annual Meeting, Washington, DC.


Watch for the full problem description on April 17, 2020!

Good luck in the competition!


Problem chair: Jay Baillargeon (U.S. DOT)
Problem owner: Krishna Jha (Optym)