U.S. sees investment interest in high-speed rail

WASHINGTON Fri Dec 4, 2009 12:41am EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 30 manufacturers and suppliers have committed to expanding or establishing operations in the United States if they are selected to help build high-speed passenger rail lines, the Obama administration said.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also said ahead of a rail forum on Friday that joint ventures involving foreign firms could be part of the equation for introducing high-speed technology to states moving ahead with ambitious projects.

"Our goal is to develop a national high-speed rail network," LaHood said in a statement before meeting with more than 100 business leaders, labor groups and rail experts.

U.S. long-haul passenger rail is limited to Amtrak, a federally subsidized railroad corporation created from the remnants of private passenger service nearly four decades ago.

High-speed rail in the United States has been mainly a dream of enthusiasts due to expense and a lack of political and public will. But President Barack Obama is tapping into growing public sentiment for greater daily and longer-haul transportation efficiency.

Consumers are seeking options to congested highways and flight delays. States are also hungry for large-scale projects that will create jobs and boost economic prospects. Experts say developing high-speed lines will take years and cost tens of billions of dollars at least.

The administration currently is devoting up to $9 billion mainly from economic stimulus funds to lay the groundwork for rail projects in several states. Completing high-speed lines will require a mix of federal, state and private investment, experts have said.

So far, the administration has received dozens of proposals for rail grants, and awards are expected early next year. California, Nevada, Florida and Illinois all have plans for high-speed systems in the works.

Transportation officials say companies with potential commitments on the table include: General Electric Co's transportation unit; Canada's Bombardier Inc; French consortium Alstom; Germany's Siemens; Lockheed Martin Corp; Korea's Hyundai Rotem Co, Hyundai Motor Group's heavy industry unit, and Japan's Nippon Sharyo.

Freight rails, which own much of the infrastructure outside of the Northeast, could also factor into high-speed development.

(Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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