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August 2019

Rail News: People

Rising Stars 2019: Crystal Gitchell

Crystal Gitchell


Crystal Gitchell, 32
Director of regulatory affairs
American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA)

Nominator’s quote: “Crystal has played an integral role in the association’s handling of issues related to competition by the trucking industry, namely opposing increases in truck size and weight limits. She also has used her knowledge of the supply chain economy and relationships across multiple transportation modes to benefit our short-line members.” — Jo Strang, ASLRRA

Why did you pursue a career in the rail industry?
I previously worked in government relations for the trucking industry and have always had an interest in the complex world of transportation policy. The opportunity to represent short-line and regional railroads in legislative and regulatory matters was exciting, as the industry has a great story to tell. I am also a third-generation railroader. My grandfather and great-grandfather worked on the Chesapeake & Ohio.

Describe your education after high school.
I attended Virginia Commonwealth University. I enrolled as an art student, but changed my major to political science after becoming inspired by a professor who would later become a lifelong mentor. I received a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in women’s studies. I also attended graduate school at George Mason University and studied abroad in India. Upon returning to the United States, I earned a master’s degree in public policy.

How are you making a difference in the rail industry?
I like to think that I bring a bit of creativity to railroad government relations. I enjoy working in coalitions and building/maintaining relationships outside of the rail industry. I also think many people rely on electronic communication too heavily these days. A phone call or a face-to-face conversation can lead you down some more interesting and productive paths. 

What is an interesting, unusual or little known fact about you?
I participate in equestrian eventing, which is a triathlon type sport. Horse and rider perform a dressage test, then compete in stadium jumping and cross-country jumping.

What was your very first job?
I started working at 16 years old for a local mom-and-pop bookstore. There were only four of us at the shop, so we did everything from ringing up customers to cleaning the bathroom.

What is your philosophy toward life and/or your career?
I think it is important to have an open mind and keep things positive. Negativity and a “this is how we have always done things” mentality will leave your life and career very stale.

What is your advice to new railroaders who want to advance their careers?
Slow down and listen. The railroad industry has a wealth of institutional knowledge. Find mentors and learn all you can. Take advantage of educational opportunities and never be afraid to ask questions.

What do you think will be the biggest trend to affect railroading over the next decade?
Longer and heavier trucks. This is an issue that I study daily, as it has the potential to upend the rail industry. A longer or heavier commercial truck will divert freight from the railroad, leading to more wear and tear on our already fatigued roadways. As technology changes, trucks will be given opportunities to use our publicly funded highways as proving grounds. The industry must remain actively engaged in this issue to keep freight on the rails.


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