Norfolk Southern (NSC - Get Report) late Wednesday reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations and said improvements in coal volumes and overall pricing should help the company roll into 2017.

The company reported fourth quarter earnings of $1.42 per share, beating the $1.36 consensus estimate, on sales of $2.49 billion compared to $2.493 estimates.

For the year the company earned $5.62 per share on sales of $9.888 billion, beating both the $5.58 per share earnings and $9.881 sales estimates.

Company CEO James A. Squires in a release said that Norfolk Southern generated $250 million in productivity savings in 2016 and expects an additional $100 million in savings in 2017.

"With the dedication and support of Norfolk Southern's talented employees, we improved service for customers while positioning the company for further growth in 2017 and beyond," Squires said. "We remain steadfast in our commitment to delivering superior shareholder value through the execution of our strategic plan."

The results and tone were notably more optimistic than what was heard from Norfolk Southern East Coast rival CSX (CSX - Get Report) , which earlier this month missed what analysts had described as conservative fourth quarter estimates. CSX has also attracted the interest of activists who are expected to push for a management overhaul.

Cowen analyst Jason H. Seidl in a note said Norfolk Southern appears well-positioned to weather the continued weakness in commodities, saying he was "encouraged by the company's pricing discipline and operational improvements."

Shares of Norfolk Southern traded up more than 3% in premarket trading.