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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Railroad giant CSX Corp. saw a slight dip in first quarter earnings, but company executives say they expect growth for the rest of the year.

“We entered this year cautiously optimistic about the potential for an improving economic environment,” James Foote, president and chief executive officer, said in CSX’s quarterly conference call with analysts and the media. “I’m pleased to see momentum steadily building over the last few months. Throughout the quarter, we remained focused on laying the foundations to prepare for growth and I’m excited about our prospects for the rest of the year.”

CSX Corp. announced first quarter 2021 net earnings of $706 million, or 93 cents per share, compared to $770 million, or $1 per share in the same period last year.

Revenue for the first quarter decreased 1% from the prior year to $2.81 billion, as intermodal and other revenue growth was more than offset by declines in merchandise, coal and fuel surcharge revenues. Expenses increased 2% year over year to $1.71 billion and operating income declined 7% for the quarter to $1.10 billion.

“Despite challenging conditions the team did a good job of maintaining network fluidity throughout the quarter,” Foote said during the call. “Going forward, we are focused on driving velocity and dwell back to pre-pandemic records, and we expect to see improvement in both metrics throughout the year. We also remained focused on driving additional efficiencies across the network. We set a new record for distributed powertrains averaging over 100 trains a day for the first-time. Labor productivity also reached a new record. Even though we are adding headcount in the second quarter in preparation for the expected volume growth, we still plan to realize incremental labor productivity this year.”

CSX ended the first quarter with 19,184 employees across its network, which was 1,271 fewer employees than it had a year earlier and about 8,000 lower than it was at the beginning of 2017, when new management came in and began restructuring operations.

Executive Vice President of Operations Jamie Boychuk said in the earnings call that the company expects to add 400 to 500 employees this year.

“I would say, as we enter into the second half and we’ll continue to hire if we see the business levels come to the point that we think they will,” he said.

This earnings announcement, as well as additional detailed financial information, is contained in the CSX Quarterly Financial Report available through the company’s website at http://investors.csx.com and on Form 8-K with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD or email him at fpace@hdmediallc.com.

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