I guess Eastern railroad operator CSX (NYSE:CSX) has this much going for it -- when you're not especially well-run to begin with, the odds probably favor your improvement. It certainly doesn't hurt if your whole sector's in a bull market, either.

Operationally speaking, there was some good news for the fourth quarter but also some reasons for ongoing concern. Revenue as reported rose just 2% for the quarter, and although adjusting for the extra week in the year-ago period bumps that up to 8%, about 16% of the total came from fuel surcharges. Volume was down -- 10% as reported and 3% adjusted -- though a healthy rate environment mitigated the damage and improved the revenue-per-unit stats.

Turning to profitability, we see that operating income increased 32%, and the operating ratio (operating expenses divided by revenue) improved to 81.3 from last year's 85.6. While that's better than the result reported by UnionPacific (NYSE:UNP), it's not as good as the figure from Burlington Northern (NYSE:BNI) today. What's more, looking at performance measures like volume, system velocity, and dwell time, I'm wondering how much of the margin improvement is from cost-cutting, rather than real operational improvement.

To be fair, though, Hurricane Katrina did quite a number on a key operating area of this company, and the restoration of the New Orleans line should help results. CSX is also moving forward with expansion plans that will result in higher capital expenditures next year but should ultimately improve overall performance.

Since I'm still a little nervous about the long-term stock value of well-run railroads like Canadian National (NYSE:CNI) and Burlington Northern, not to mention short-line operator Genesee & Wyoming (NYSE:GWR), I find it hard to get excited about CSX's shares. After all, with the market already pricing better times into the stock, where's the margin of safety?

We've tracked down further Foolishness:

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).