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Is U.S. high-speed rail worth the cost?

Increasing gas prices have caused the country's leaders to revisit the need to establish alternate methods of transportation that are less influenced by oil prices.

In February, a federal highway bill that would overhaul transportation programs and available funding for mass transit was debated in Congress.

On March 3, 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.

A total of 961 teams of three to five members each from 29 states analyzed geographic and demographic data, transportation metrics, travel costs and schedules and other parameters before incorporating them into mathematical models to identify and rank the regions they considered most deserving of funding for a high-speed rail network.

They used only free, publicly available resources in combination with their own critical thinking and applied math skills.

One team from Alexandria took part in this competition. Members included Jefferson High School seniors Will Sieling, Leah Stinson and Becca Flynn.

Only 134 teams were selected after the first round of judging to advance to the second round. The Alexandria team did not advance.

Those deemed worthy of recognition after the second round of judging will receive prizes ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. The top six teams will visit 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.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) is an international society of more than 14,000 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 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.

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