Bill Gates: Software mogul or railroad tycoon?

Multi-billion dollar inventor invests heavily in railroads, particularly Canadian National
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SEATTLE — Bill Gates: Software mogul or railroad tycoon?

Gates is best known for being the co-founder of Microsoft, a founding father of the personal-computing era, his current career as a philanthropist, and his status as one of the richest people on the planet.

He’s also an investor in railroad stocks.

Cascade Investment LLC, the Kirkland, Wash., firm that manages Gates’ investment portfolio (he’s the sole client) recently reported that it acquired 48,838 common shares of Canadian National Railway Co. for $92.97 per share (for a total of about $4.5 million). That boosts Cascade’s holdings of CN, an New York Stock Exchange-listed stock (ticker symbol CNI), to just over 100 million shares, or 13.9% of CN’s total.

But Gates’ ownership interest in CN goes even further. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust (the foundation is Gates’ Seattle-based philanthropic organization) owns another 17.1 million shares or almost 2.4% of CN stock.

All told, through Cascade and the foundation trust hold 117.6 million CN common shares or 16.3% of the company.

Cascade says it acquired the additional CN shares for investment purposes and “may increase or decrease their ownership of securities of CN Rail depending upon future market conditions.”

CN currently trades in the upper portion of its 52-week range of $70.36 to $96.49, according to Yahoo Finance.

This isn’t Gates only foray into railroad investing. In 2000, Cascade Investment reported acquiring a 7% stake in Wisconsin Central, which was acquired the following year by Canadian National.

Gates is also an investor in BNSF Railway. He’s a board member at Berkshire Hathaway, BNSF’s parent, and hold 4,350 Class A shares and 55.3 million Class B shares (4% of the total) of the Warren Buffett-managed company, according to the most recent proxy statement. Buffett, in turn, is a trustee of the Gates Foundation.
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