Harry Peterson
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Warren Buffett and Bill Gates like railroads, and you should too

Stoke the boiler on railroad stocks now

Railroad stocks have been in a steep decline so far this year, with major U.S. operators running off the tracks.

Shares of CSX Corp. CSX, -0.24% , Union Pacific UNP, -0.08% and Norfolk Southern NSC, -0.71% are each down between 20% and 25% since January. North of the border, shares of Canadian National Railway CNI, +0.35% and Canadian Pacific Railway CP, +0.01% haven’t fared much better.

But decent dividends, bargain valuations after the selloff, and the hope of a continued recovery for the U.S. economy may hint at a buying opportunity for long-term investors looking to take a position in rail stocks now. If so, you’d be on board with Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A, -0.66%BRK.B, -0.84% purchased Burlington Northern Santa Fe in 2009, and MicrosoftMSFT, -0.11% founder Bill Gates, who is a major Canadian National shareholder.

Some of the pessimism in railroads is justified, of course. The beatings that commodity companies have been taking lately — particularly in coal and oil companies — have resulted in weaker rail traffic across key segments. As a result, through the first 35 weeks of this year, U.S. railroads have seen cumulative volume that is down more than 4% from the same point in 2014.

But much of the negativity is now priced in. Furthermore, as we enter the fourth quarter, the comps will start to look less miserable as year-over-year comparisons take into account the crash in energy and materials prices beginning in late 2014.