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Rick Bowmer, Associated Press
This Jan. 4, 2012, photo shows a Union Pacific train as it goes through a tunnel along the Columbia Gorge near Bridal Veil, Ore. Union Pacific said Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, its fourth-quarter profit jumped 24 percent as the nation's largest freight railroad increased prices and hauled more cargo.

OMAHA, Neb. — Union Pacific Corp. said Thursday that its fourth-quarter profit jumped 24 percent as the nation's largest freight railroad operator increased prices and hauled more cargo.

CEO Jim Young said he expects the economy and the railroad's revenue will continue growing in 2012.

"Looking ahead, we expect continued slow but steady economic growth in 2012," Young said. "The diversity of our unique railroad franchise will continue to provide growth opportunities in various markets."

Union Pacific shares rose almost 4 percent in premarket trading.

The Omaha-based railroad company said that its net income rose to $964 million, or $1.99 per share, during the last three months of 2011, up from $775 million, or $1.56 per share, a year ago.

Its revenue grew 16 percent to $5.1 billion from $4.41 billion a year ago.

Union Pacific said the carloads it carried grew about 3 percent overall during the quarter with strong growth in chemical, automotive, energy and industrial shipping.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected Union Pacific to report earnings of $1.82 per share on revenue of $5.05 billion.

Union Pacific's results offer insight into the nation's economic health because of the variety of cars, crops, chemicals, lumber and containers of imported goods the railroad carries.

Fuel costs soared 36 percent to $935 million from $687 million for Union Pacific during the fourth quarter as the price the railroad paid for diesel fuel grew to an average of $3.16 per gallon.

But Union Pacific was able to limit growth in other major costs. The railroad said compensation costs grew only 4 percent to $1.2 billion as it continued to recall furloughed employees.

UP had 1,030 employees furloughed at the end of 2011 and about 600 locomotives stored. A year ago, about 1,500 employees remained furloughed, down from 4,200 at the end of 2009.

Union Pacific is the nation's largest railroad with more than 32,400 miles of track in 23 states between the West, the Midwest and the Gulf coast.

Online:

Union Pacific Corp.: www.up.com