Is US High-Speed Rail Worth the Cost?

Is US High-Speed Rail Worth the Cost?

For nearly 5,000 high school students in this year’s M3 Challenge, that’s the $100,000 question

March 5, 2012

Anyone who has filled their gas tank--or just passed by a gas station--in the past few weeks knows that the cost of gas is on the rise again. Gas prices today are 10 percent higher than they were a year ago and are projected to reach $5.00 a gallon in some parts of the country by Memorial Day.

This is a major reason why our country's leaders are revisiting the need to establish alternate methods of transportation that are less influenced by oil prices. Just last month, a federal highway bill that would overhaul transportation programs and available funding for mass transit was heatedly debated in Congress.

This past weekend, thousands of high school students also weighed in on the mass transit issue, as competing teams in Moody's Mega Math (M3) Challenge, an Internet-based applied-math modeling contest organized by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). This year's Challenge problem asked participants to create a mathematical model to determine which U.S. regions would be best able to support rail lines as part of a revived High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program. Teams made analyses based on estimates of ridership numbers over the next 20 years and costs of building and maintenance. In addition, they predicted what effect, if any, such a rail network would have on our country's dependence on foreign energy.

Close to 5,000 participants from 29 states in the Eastern U.S. spent up to 14 straight hours during Challenge Weekend, analyzing geographic and demographic data, transportation metrics, travel costs and schedules, and various other parameters, before incorporating them into mathematical models to identify and rank those regions of the country they considered most deserving of funding for a high-speed rail network.

Using only free, publicly available resources in combination with their own critical thinking and applied math skills, almost 1,000 teams of 3-5 students each submitted their solutions, hoping to win a portion of the $115,000 in scholarship prizes provided by The Moody's Foundation. Those deemed worthy of recognition after a two-stage judging process will receive prizes ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. The top six teams will have the additional honor of visiting Moody's Corporation in New York City for the competition finals on April 26, when their final rank order will be determined after presentations to a panel of PhD-level mathematician judges.

Each year, the M3 Challenge prompts students to deconstruct a complex issue that will likely play out over the course of their lifetimes, while simultaneously strengthening their math and science training to make America competitive on the world stage. It seems appropriate, therefore, that this year's Challenge problem gets our younger generation thinking about a high-speed rail network that would make America less susceptible to foreign oil resources--an issue that has been discussed for several decades now and would surely be a huge venture spanning several years.

You can view the 2012 Challenge problem statement here:


The problem was written by Professor Ben Galluzzo of Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Galluzzo has been a group leader for M3 triage (first-round) judging since 2010, and supports the contest with his expertise and enthusiasm for math modeling and outreach to students.

You can check if your local high school registered for the Challenge this year.

About the Sponsor

The Moody's Foundation is a charitable foundation established by Moody's Corporation. Moody's is committed to supporting education, in particular the study of mathematics, finance and economics. The Foundation also funds specific initiatives in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, civic and economic development programs. These programs are primarily located in New York City. Grants are also made in San Francisco, California, and London, England.

Moody's is an essential component of the global capital markets, providing credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody's Corporation (NYSE: MCO) is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service, which provides credit ratings and research covering debt instruments and securities, and Moody's Analytics, which offers leading-edge software, advisory services and research for credit and economic analysis and financial risk management. The Corporation, which reported revenue of $2.3 billion in 2011, employs approximately 6,000 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 28 countries. Further information is available at

About the Organizer

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an international society of over 14,000 individual members, including applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members from 85 countries are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes nearly 500 academic and corporate institutional members, serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and prestigious peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics. SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at

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