* Participation seen from those with overseas experience
* Broadband another possible area for private investment
* Economic recession to dampen private investment in roads
(Adds Alstom interview, LaHood quotes, highway funding)
By John Crawley
WASHINGTON, July 15 The United States expects
significant private investment in high-speed rail in coming
years with firms from Europe and Asia -- where bullet and other
trains are prominent -- to factor heavily in its development.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking to policy
experts and reporters, said rail would be a strong opportunity
for outside participation with the Obama administration taking
early steps financially and politically to advance new train
corridors to compete with short-haul air and highway travel.
"Companies involved in (overseas) high speed rail are in
the U.S. right now," LaHood said, noting that several states
are vying for a piece of an $8 billion downpayment in federal
rail funding from February's economic stimulus package.
"I think you'll see private investment in high speed rail
-- from Europe and Asia, not just the U.S.," he said.
LaHood also said broadband expansion would be a good bet
for private interests but was less optimistic about attracting
near-term investment from outside government in U.S. road
projects due to recession.
"That may wait a little longer," LaHood said.
Some U.S. and overseas corporations have recently looked
into renting roads and levying tolls to finance repairs.
States with high-speed train plans in the works include
Nevada and California. Experts define high speed above 120
miles per hour and very high speed -- like bullet trains -- in
excess of 200 mph.
Experts say building U.S. high-speed rail corridors will
require tens of billions of dollars in federal and private
financing over many years.
IBM (IBM.N) , which provides technology for rail systems,
has said some $300 billion will be spent around the world over
the next five years on high-speed rail.
Amtrak, a government-subsidized for-profit company, is the
only long-haul passenger railroad in the United States. And its
signature line, the Acela, runs in the Northeast and only a
fraction of the time at maximum speed due mainly to
LaHood was not specific about which overseas entities might
invest or seek contracts in rail projects.
The Japanese government is eyeing the U.S. market for its
bullet trains and related technology. Officials from Tokyo met
LaHood this spring to pitch their industries.
Analysts say Japan's long experience with high-speed
technology puts it in a strong position to compete overseas.
Hitachi (6501.T) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (7012.T) are
leading train manufacturers.
Leading global players also include Canada's
Bombardier (BBDb.TO), Germany's Siemens (SIEGn.DE) and France's
Morgan Stanley upgraded Alstom on Wednesday partly on the
potential for global government stimulus programs to drive new
LaHood visited Alstom facilities in Europe this spring.
Alstom's U.S. president, Pierre Gauthier, told Reuters in
an interview the company concentrates on providing trains and
signal systems but would not preclude other forms of investment
in U.S. rail if a market develops.
"When you have this and good service, I think Europe has
shown that people use this a lot," Gauthier said.
Another industry player is SNCF, which owns and operates
France's TGV high-speed rail network and is a driving force
behind Europe's high-speed rail. It has formed a network of
European partnerships, including Eurostar and several others.
Other companies that could be a factor in rail investment
include steelmakers and construction firms as well as
locomotive manufacturer and equipment supplier GE
Transportation, a unit of General Electric Co (GE.N) and
brake systems maker, Wabtec (WAB.N).
Freight railroads, which own much of the rail
infrastructure outside the Northeast, could also play a key
role in facilitating high-speed.
(Reporting by John Crawley and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Lisa
Von Ahn, and Carol Bishopric)