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Auto Transport Growth Not as Strong: Rail CEO

Transporting cars and trucks is not expected to be the "engine it was last year" for CSX, according to the rail company's CEO Michael Ward, who also described his outlook for the overall U.S. economy in 2013 as "slow and steady."

Ward was the second chief executive in as many as days on CNBC's "Squawk Box" to give a lukewarm prediction for the economy and the auto industry. DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman said Tuesday she was cautious on the economy in the year-ahead and doesn't expect the growth in autos to be as strong.

(Read More: 'Question Marks' Persist: DuPont CEO)

On Wednesday, Ward explained, "It was 13.1 million light vehicle production in '11. That went up to 15.3 million in ... '12. We're only expecting it to go up to 15.6 million [in 2013]. So it will not be the engine it was last year."

After the closing bell Tuesday, CSX reported better-than-expected fourth quarter earnings of $0.43 a share.

CSX stock was stronger during Wednesday's session. Year-to-date, it has increased about 9 percent — pretty much in-line with the rise in the Dow Jones Transportation Average, which has been hitting all-time highs recently.

(Read More: Dow Transports Rally Won't Last: Analyst)

Weaker domestic coal shipments did push CSX revenue for the quarter down 2 percent to $2.88 billion, but it was slightly higher than estimates.

"The coal has been under challenge all year long," said Ward, adding that the rail operator was able to expand its other businesses to offset the decline. "We've been able to withstand that drop in coal."

(Read More: Rails Beat Estimates on Strong Intermodal Demand)

As for the U.S. economy, he predicted, "Slow steady growth going forward. … We might actually see some pickup in the second half if some of the fiscal issues in D.C. are dealt with properly."

Ward, who's on the CEO Council of the "Fix the Debt" campaign, said he favors a Simpson-Bowles approach to dealing with the national deficit. "Something everybody hates."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere; Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC

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