WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday flagged 2.4 billion dollars to develop high-speed rail projects as it moved toward building the nation's first nationwide program of next-generation service.

President Barack Obama's administration announced that 54 high-speed rail projects in 23 states will share in 2.4 billion dollars to continue developing the intercity passenger rail service.

The Department of Transportation received 132 applications from 32 states in the second round of awards, for a total of 8.8 billion dollars, more than three times the funding available.

"Demand for high-speed rail dollars is intense and it demonstrates just how important this historic initiative is," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

During the first round of awards a year ago, project proposals exceeded 55 billion dollars for the initial eight billion dollars from the administration's major stimulus to counter the worst recession in decades, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"States understand that high-speed rail represents a unique opportunity to create jobs, revitalize our manufacturing base, spur economic development and provide people with an environmentally friendly transportation option," LaHood said.

More than 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers, both domestic and foreign, have agreed to establish or expand their bases of operations in the United States if they are hired to build the country's next-generation high-speed lines, the department said.