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Need a lift? Try the railroad sector, which was lately gaining speed after an investment upgrade of one of the group's heavyweights from

Credit Suisse First Boston

. The firm raised

Norfolk Southern

(NSC)

to buy from hold, a day after the rail freight king posted first-quarter earnings that more than quadrupled.

Shares of the Norfolk, Va., rail carrier recently led the sector with a 14.5% surge to $18.42 in afternoon activity on the

New York Stock Exchange

. Rival rail concerns were also powering ahead.

Union Pacific

(UNP)

, which posted first-quarter earnings this morning, was up 3.2% to $57.50, while

Kansas City Southern Industries

(KSU)

climbed 7% to $13.11.

CSX

(CSX)

traded up 6% to $35.65.

Canadian National Rail

(CNI)

reached a new 52-week high today and lately was trading at $40.61, up 5%. Likewise,

Burlington Northern Santa Fe

(BNI)

lately traded up 4% to $29.79.

Indeed, CSFB's upgrade of Norfolk Southern caps what has been a strong performance by the sector. The

Dow Jones U.S. Railroads Index

has risen by about 36% since late October. With individual performers moving higher today, the index is one of the session's biggest winners, chalking up a 5.6% gain.

Donald Coxe, the chairman of

Harris Investment Management

, believes that the strength of the rail sector has helped the broader market fend off the bears. "The Dow Jones transports is the only one that never went into bear territory. That's what prevented us from having a real bear market," Coxe said, adding that railroad stocks offset the downturn of the airline stocks within the larger transports group. "I believe it's a good group to be in.

Coxe holds a position in

Canadian Pacific

(CP)

, a conglomerate of transportation, energy and hotels, which recently posted strong first-quarter earnings. Commenting on the long term, Coxe said he believes that rail stocks offer "cheap multiples, good dividends and more earnings visibility than other sectors in the market."