Interrail, Inc. – Celebrating 20 Years in the Railroad Industry
Twenty years ago on April 20th, 1997, Jim Kelley realized his dream of starting his own railroad signal company. He wanted to provide quality work that he knew would be the reflection of his dedication over the years to the industry to which he was so devoted. Today we are reflecting on the past, present, and future of Interrail with Jim in mind and as always, in our hearts. We asked Chryol Kelley, Jim’s wife and President of Interrail, Inc., and Mike Hutson, Jim’s longtime friend, business partner and Senior Vice President of Field Operations, to share their thoughts with us about Interrail’s last twenty years and what their hopes are for the future.
Jim began with the help of his family out of the dining room in his home. He took on all he could and jobs rapidly grew in scope and number. He continued to ask for help from friends in the industry when he needed it, never giving up his vision of what Interrail could become. Those who knew Jim well knew he would be a game changer for the railroad industry by diverging from the corporate path.
“… We set up two CADD stations in that small dining room and railroad signal circuit plans gradually took over the living room and kitchen as Adam (Kelley) and I scrambled to learn Microstation. It was scary and exciting at the same time as we embarked on this new journey. Building on Jim’s vision and his unwavering determination, we weathered the ups and downs, as well as the many changes of the industry. What seemed at the time to be a crazy and risky idea turned out to be the best thing we could have ever done. It was tough and we struggled to get work in the beginning but we persevered and proved that we could deliver what the railroads wanted.” – Chryol Kelley
“…Jim and Chryol came to our house for dinner one night when Jim had just started Interrail out of his dining room and I was working for CSX at the time. Jim asked me if I wanted to be a little fish in a big pond or a big fish in a little pond. That was his way of offering me a job. Pam and I talked it over for a couple of days before giving him an answer… Jim said to me ‘Hutson if I eat, you eat.’ Well, I guess that sealed the deal because if you knew Jim he did like to eat! Thinking back I’m not sure if he was really saying if he ate I would, or if he meant that we would go down together. Needless to say I accepted his offer and Jim drove our U-Haul truck home to Tennessee. ” – Mike Hutson
Moving Interrail from Jim’s home into a commercial space in Jacksonville Florida seemed to happen quickly and with the addition of the Hutson family there was another branch beginning to form in Tennessee. Jim continued to add more friends and family to the payroll and the work load continued to increase. His mission, in part, was supplying the railroad industry with the best solutions and to improve upon the systems in place. He realized the industry constantly changes with the times, so it was important to him that he seek out the most devoted employees to help him realize his mission. Jim, along with his best friends and colleagues Mike Hutson and Roger Owens, shared the idea that your employees always come first. They knew that if your employees are happy in their work environment, they will be productive and in turn, employees that care for their company will care for the customers. This is where the “we are family” mentality was born within Interrail. Friday breakfasts, back porch happy hours, annual Dove Hunts, occasional BBQ’s and “home cooked” lunches became mainstay in an effort to get everyone together and support morale.
“…As work continued to come in, we added Interrail Signal, Inc. with the help of Mike Hutson and his family as well as Interrail Power, which stemmed from the idea to invent products that would make railroad work safer and more efficient. Twenty years later our hard work and branching out has paid off as we have expanded into one of the leading railroad contractors today. I love that our company is unique from others in that we like to think of our employees as part of our family and in fact, we have the Hutson’s and other families working with us to make Interrail what it is today.”- Chryol Kelley
“Together Jim and I took on any project we could get but wanted more. We wanted to not only design projects but also install and test the projects we were designing. We felt like we could really diversify and offer more of what the railroad industry needed, and we had the knowledge and field experience to make it happen. We landed our first crossing project with a short line customer and wired the instrument shelter in my driveway. The rest is history. I’ll admit there were times when the ‘water in the pond’ got low, but we just kept flopping and it would fill up again, and our opportunities just kept getting better and better. As our kids graduated we put them to work behind a CADD desk or in a ditch with a shovel…” – Mike Hutson
In 2013 Jim lost his battle with cancer but his legacy is still evident in the family and friends he left behind to maintain and grow his companies. With the implementation of PTC and the demand for newer, safer and cost-effective products, all three companies have grown tremendously and are thriving in the industry.
“We can never be certain what the future will hold for the railroad industry but our goal is to continue to be the contractor the railroad industry can rely on for years to come. Jim left us with the confidence, knowledge and direction we needed to keep going and we are very proud of how far we have come. I know he would be proud of us as well. We are so thankful and extremely grateful for the friends we have made and the memories we have shared since we started Interrail.” – Chryol Kelley
“Jim lost his battle with cancer almost 4 years ago and he is missed daily, but I know he is looking down on us all and smiling. I have no regrets joining Jim and Chryol at Interrail and in fact the last 20 years have been the best years of my life with the exception of losing some very dear friends. I hope that everyone has the opportunity in their lives to have a friend like Jim. He gave me true friendship and the inspiration I needed to succeed in life, family and business. I look forward to all the fun, hard work and success the next 20 years will undoubtedly bring.” – Mike Hutson
Interrail would like to thank its employees, past and present, for all of their hard work and dedication. Without your help forging partnerships with each other and our customers, we would not be where we are today. To our customers, we hope that the years of service we have provided has proved unprecedented, and we look forward to assisting you with your needs in the future.