During a 14-hour time frame on Saturday, March 3, a Staples High School team needed to solve a problem related to high-speed rail.

Their task was not to figure out when a train leaving New York at 8:30 a.m. traveling at 90 miles per hour would pass a train departing from Boston at 9 a.m. going at 100 miles per hour.

Instead, as participants in Moody's Mega Math Challenge, seniors Connie Zhou, David Haswell, Matt Silver and Robert Perry and junior Michael Menz created within a day a mathematical model that ranked 10 regions in the U.S. for their suitability to support rail lines as part of a High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. The challenge also required them to write a research paper during the 14-hour span to present their solutions.

From a field of almost 1,000 teams, Staples' Team 659 was one of six squads that advanced to the competition finals on April 26. During the final round, they presented their analysis to a panel of PhD-level mathematician judges at Moody's Manhattan offices. The Staples quintet's presentation earned them an exemplary prize for their fifth-place finish and a group scholarship award of $5,000.

Accompanied by their coach, Staples teacher Trudy Denton, Team 659 presented its findings again on Monday at a Board of Education meeting, during which they explained the methodology of their mathematical analysis. Team 659 created five models, which predicted the construction costs and ridership of new rail networks and how such infrastructure would affect regional gross domestic product and oil consumption.

Using those models, the team determined that California represented the most viable region for new high-speed rail lines.

The team found that the Chicago area was the second-most practical area for high-speed rail expansion.

"We determined that the most viable region for a high-speed rail line was California because of three main factors," Menz said. "It has the highest unemployment rate of any of the 10 regions at 11.2 percent, the lowest operating cost per rider for the trains of any of the regions at only $174 and the largest amount of fuel saved annually at 186 million gallons per year."

Menz also noted that Federal Railroad Administration officials appear to concur with Team 659's findings.

he FRA announced this week, he said, a plan to manufacture 130 high-speed rail cars, with 42 intended for use in California and 88 for operation in the Midwest.

"Clearly, our analysis and insight are on par with the vanguard of the high-speed rail movement in the United States," Menz said.

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