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Our History



The Illinois Railroad Association was formed in December of 1950 at a meeting of the Chicago Railroad Presidents’ Conference.

Since the early 1900s, the Chicago Railroad Presidents’ Conference, which was made up of the presidents or general counsels of the largest railroads operating in Illinois, monitored state and federal legislative activity through a committee called the Illinois Legislative Committee. The Conference also had a Tax Committee and a Railroad Operating Committee.

The Illinois Legislative Committee was charged with the responsibility of testifying at legislative hearings, sending copies of legislation and journals to member railroads, preparing weekly updates and progress reports on legislative activity, and reporting on any bills that were ultimately enacted into law.

By 1950, the leaders of the Chicago Railroad Presidents' Conference decided that a more structured, independent, full-time organization should bear the responsibility for monitoring state and federal issues that have a direct impact on the railroad industry. Railroad associations had already been established in other states around the country.

On February 1, 1951, the Chicago Railroad Presidents’ Conference reorganized its Illinois Legislative Committee and created the Illinois Railroad Association with an initial annual budget of $30,000 and with the ten largest members of the Chicago Railroad Presidents’ Conference serving on the Executive Committee.

Dramatic changes in the railroad industry over the years have had a positive effect. The industry is safer, more shipper-oriented and more profitable. 


Illinois Railroad Association Staff


MICHELLE KELM, Executive Director
Illinois Railroad Association


Michelle R. Kelm became the Executive Director of the Illinois Railroad Association on January 1, 2021, following a career often centered on many of the largest issues facing Illinois for the past two decades. Michelle began her career working in Illinois government before transitioning to the Illinois Municipal League (IML). Working with municipal mayors and managers, Michelle advocated before the Illinois General Assembly on issues such as police and fire pensions, infrastructure funding, and local revenue. Michelle followed her service with IML to lead government relations efforts for the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference.

In 2002, Michelle became Senior Vice President for Luking & Associates LLC, headed by legendary government relations wizard, William Luking. Clients of Luking & Associates included the City of Chicago and numerous additional entities that all benefited from the advocacy of Bill and Michelle. Michelle assisted on numerous large projects including O'Hare Airport modernization, the 2016 Olympic bid, and numerous TIF initiatives.

Michelle became the Director of Government Affairs for the Illinois Commerce Commission in late 2015 and served two different Chairmen. During her time at the ICC, Michelle was instrumental in passing the Future Energy Jobs Act, which provided a stable funding source for the Commission.

Michelle was raised in Decatur and Shelbyville and is a graduate of Illinois State University. Michelle lives in Springfield with her husband, Dave, and has two grown children, Zoe, a 2019 graduate of Valparaiso University, and Bryn, a student at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.


CATHY HENSCHEN, Secretary/Treasurer
Illinois Railroad Association


Cathy Henschen began working for the Illinois Railroad Association in November 1988 as a temporary employee. In January 1989, she was hired by the Association to serve as Secretary-Treasurer and she continues to serve the Association in this capacity. She is responsible for overseeing all office functions, and manages all accounting and budgetary matters for the Association.

In 1974, Cathy began working for the State of Illinois and worked for the Department of Local Government Affairs (later known as DCCA) and the Department of Labor. In 1976, she continued her state service for the Illinois General Assembly by working for various legislators and in 1981, she joined the staff of the Speaker of the House.

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