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Railroads may seem like an antiquated means of transportation, but in many ways, they're one of the most advanced ways to transport goods -- particularly hefty commodities. In the last few years, CSX ( CSX) has done its part in making the advantages of rail abundantly clear: the $25 billion rail firm has made leaps and bounds in efficiency since the Great Recession started, and it's attracting plenty of freight dollars as a result.

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CSX owns 21,000 miles of track spread across the eastern U.S., specializing in shipping coal, chemicals and intermodal containers across its network. When other industries were shoring up their businesses in 2007 and 2008, CSX was too -- and investors shouldn't ignore the margin improvement it's been able to accomplish.

In a world with triple-digit crude oil prices, trains make a lot of sense for freight shippers. While trucking (the biggest alternative to rail freight) is generally a more simple solution for a distribution chain, it's also more expensive -- generally four times more expensive than train shipping per ton. That's a material difference as fuel costs cause shipping costs to swell. CSX also has a big advantage in its location. The firm's tracks are focused on the eastern U.S., where the majority of the population is located; that means that products going to the big cities on the eastern seaboard need to use CSX's track.

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