Many high school students do math problems about trains. Fewer win $115,000 in college scholarships by calculating the possible future of U.S. high-speed rail, LiveScience reports. That high-speed rail future may not look too bright, according to some student papers presented at the Moody’s Corp. headquarters next to the World Trade Center site on April 26. But the top six student teams who made the final cut of the Moody’s Mega Math (M3) Challenge had plenty to smile about — they clustered in celebratory circles around giant prize checks after a long day of explaining how they had applied math to a messy real-world problem.

“It’s really this idea that the real world in many cases is not someone locked in a room with a pencil and paper,” said Ben Galluzzo, a triage judge for the M3 Challenge and a mathematician at Shippensburg University in Penn. Galluzzo came up with this year’s question asking students to rank 10 regions in order from most to least deserving of U.S. high-speed rail funding. He based the question on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program ? a proposed $53 billion plan that has failed to attract the necessary funding from Congress…

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