As the news cycle and economy continue to move faster, the need for reliable insights and analysis has never been clearer. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) Policy and Economics Department is launching a new monthly publication, Rail Industry Overview (RIO). This complimentary resource will offer quick insights into what rail traffic says about today’s economy and where the data suggest it could be headed.

“Rail traffic data is among the richest, most timely economic data in the U.S.,” said AAR Chief Economist Rand Ghayad. “Whether it is housing, energy markets or consumer spending, rail traffic touches them all. At a time when various indicators suggest very different paths ahead for the economy, rail traffic data is a common thread that can help connect the dots.”

Every week, AAR publishes rail traffic data detailing carloadings and intermodal traffic volumes across North America, which are vital for understanding economic trends. Leading economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, rely on this data to gauge economic health.

As a part of RIO, Policy and Economics is introducing the Freight Rail Index (FRI), which tracks movements across the most economically sensitive rail traffic commodities. The FRI includes intermodal and carloads but excludes coal and grain, whose volumes are driven by factors like weather or transitions in energy markets that are less directly linked to macroeconomic activity. Historical data shows that freight activity, measured by the Freight Rail Index, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) tend to rise and fall in tandem, making the FRI a useful barometer for the economy.

With the launch of RIO and FRI, AAR is pulling back the curtain to help the public understand what the industry is seeing coming down the tracks. Leveraging the Policy and Economics Department’s expert analysis, this new monthly publication will highlight key developments in rail traffic and their implications for the larger economy.

“Amid prevailing uncertainty, June rail data gives reason for cautious optimism about the road ahead,” added Ghayad. “Continued strength in intermodal traffic and modest growth across key carloads suggest that consumer spending remains robust for now and the prolonged manufacturing slowdown may be coming to an end.”

In addition to RIO, the AAR will continue to produce the Rail Time Indicators (RTI) report for subscribers on a quarterly basis. As a result, RTI analysis will be informed by longer-term trends across the economy and the rail industry.