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Norfolk Southern, one of the biggest North American rail operators, on Wednesday posted upbeat first quarter earnings and said its chief financial officer Marta Stewart would retire.

The Virginia-based company said profits rose to $433m or $1.48 a share, compared with $387m or $1.29 a share in the year ago period. That eclipsed analysts estimates of $1.36 a share.

Railway operating revenues of $2.6bn were up 6 per cent compared with the year ago quarter and were modestly ahead of forecasts.

Norfolk became the third major rail operator to post upbeat results, following CSX and Canadian Pacific.

Low demand for coal amid softer natural gas prices and a weak global export market had weighed on the industry’s fortunes. The first quarter results however showed that coal revenues rose 20 per cent from a year ago to $420m, though revenue per unit edged 1 per cent lower as coal units rose 21 per cent. The report also showed that demand for coal rose in the utility and export market, while slipping in the industrial market.

Now, investors are also watching to see if softer regulations for the coal industry under President Donald Trump help revive demand for coal.

Norfolk shares have advanced more than 8 per cent so far this year.

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