(Adds comments from CEO, paragraphs 8-9)
Oct 17 (Reuters) - CSX Corp, the third-largest U.S. railroad operator, reported a slight rise in quarterly net profit on par with analyst expectations on Tuesday, as coal and consumer goods shipments and higher freight rates lifted its revenue 1 percent.
The results sent CSX shares up 1 percent to $53.50, though the company pointed to headwinds in several markets and efforts to overcome persistent service disruptions that have rankled major customers since the summer.
Rapid-fire changes to operations and cost cuts under newly appointed Chief Executive Hunter Harrison, and ensuing service delays, have drawn scrutiny from rail regulators and raised questions about how long it could take for his "precision scheduled railroading" strategy to fully take root.
CSX's service was also crimped by derailments and Hurricane Irma, which slammed the U.S. Southeast last month.
"Considering the effects of both Hurricane Irma and CSX's well-publicized service disruptions, this is a solid report by CSX," said Edward Jones analyst Dan Sherman.
The Jacksonville, Florida-based company's freight volumes were up 1 percent in the quarter, driven by shipments of coal and consumer goods, which offset declines in almost every other commodity the railroad hauls, such as vehicles and fertilizer.
Even so, the company warned of headwinds in several markets, citing declining auto production and short-haul domestic coal.
Harrison also appeared to tamp down expectations for the fourth quarter, saying CSX's system will see improvements in 2018 and start to "make nice, reasonable pickups" from more favorable pricing and service from 2019.
"I think this organization has the ability to grind through this," Harrison said on a conference call with analysts.
CSX's revenue grew 1 percent to $2.74 billion, from $2.71 billion, but was short of analyst expectations of $2.77 billion.
CSX reported an operating ratio - operating costs as a percentage of revenue - of 68.1 percent, down from 69 percent. A lower operating ratio shows improvement in profitability and is a key metric for Wall Street.
The company said it expects a full-year operating ratio around the high end of the mid-60s, in line with guidance from September.
CSX posted third-quarter net income of $459 million, or 51 cents per share, up from $455 million, or 48 cents per share a year earlier.
On the call, Harrison, a 72-year-old railroading executive famous for turning around Canadian railroads, said he may offer details about his succession plan - a major concern for shareholders - at a conference at the end of the month.
"It's something that the board is very sensitive to," he said. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Bernadette Baum)