The U.S. economy is showing slow and steady improvement, if CSX's results are any indication.
CEO Michael Ward told CNBC's "Squawk Box"Wednesday that having "a very diversified portfolio of shipments" helped to overcome a 14 percent decline in coal shipments in the first quarter.
The railroad reported earningslate Tuesday that beat expectations on higher revenue.
"Carloads were up 1 percent, but that’s a little deceptive," he said. The extremely warm winter weather and low natural gas prices pushed coal shipments down, the company reported. Excluding coal, however, carloads were up 6 percent.
The railroad reported big increases in automotive and metal shipments, and particularly in intermodal, when the rising price of fuel makes shipments via railroads cheaper than using trucks.
So much cheaper, in fact, that trucking companies are coming to CSX to partner on shipments between cities, Ward said. "It's a win-win situation" for everyone.
He is "very encouraged" by what he's been seeing in the economy over the last six quarters.
"I would characterize it as slow and steady improvement," he said. "It's slow, gradual improvement, not firing on all cylinders, but continuing to progress in a very positive way."
—Reuters contributed to this report.