This video is part of our "Motley Fool Conversations" series, in which consumer-goods editor and analyst Austin Smith discusses topics around the investing world.

In today's edition, Austin talks about one of the surprising losers of cheap natural gas, and that's railroads. Cheap natural gas prices suppress the demand for coal, one of the railroad sector's biggest divisions. Coupled with a mild winter, we see CSX (NYSE: CSX) realizing a 3% decline in coal shipments. 

Austin thinks the effect from cheap natural gas is a bit larger than that. though, as CSX also saw a 15% jump in metals, of which coal is a major input. So increased metal production could counterbalance, to some extent, cheap natural gas prices and a mild winter. 

This isn't to say that cheap natural gas makes railroads a bad bet, though. In fact many rail companies are seeing great quarters, with retail sales growing, oil above $100 a barrel, and vehicle sales rising. What it does mean, though, is that railroads should expect to be less dependent on coal shipments for at least the next few years. Should retail sales retract, metal production wane, or oil fall below $100 a barrel, cheap natural gas would have a more significant impact.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.