United Kingdom - Infrastructure, power, and communications

The United Kingdom has one of the most developed and extensive infrastructure systems in the world. Increasingly, many aspects of the infrastructure, including roads, railways and the communication systems, are aging and in need of repair. Because of constraints on the government's budget, London has endeavored to transfer responsibility for the maintenance and construction of new roads to local and regional governments. There are also increasing efforts to transfer control of infrastructure projects to private industry. To achieve these transfers, the government has 2 main programs, Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) and Private Finance Initiatives (PFI). The 2 programs use public funds to establish private corporations that then engage in infrastructure projects. PPP and PFI programs mean that the private companies take any risks in these projects, but also retain any profits. The government has also initiated privatization programs in the kingdom's infrastructure. Telecommunications, utilities (including electricity), gas and water supply, and passenger rail service have all been privatized.

The United Kingdom has 371,603 kilometers (230,914 miles) of roadways. This includes 3,303 kilometers (2,052 miles) of expressways. There are few roads that are not paved in some fashion. The kingdom also has 16,878 kilometers (10,488 miles) of railways. The majority of this track is standard gauge and one-quarter of it is electrified. Northern Ireland has 342 kilometers (212 miles) of older 1.6 meter gauge track. The extensive road and railway networks facilitate the movement of goods throughout the kingdom. The large oil and natural gas fields in the North Sea have led to the construction of lengthy pipelines to transport energy resources from the fields to refineries in the kingdom. There are 933 kilometers (580 miles) of crude oil pipelines, 2,993 kilometers (1,860 miles) of pipelines for other types of petroleum products, and 12,800 kilometers (7,954 miles) of natural gas pipelines. There is also an extensive network of canals and waterways which total 3,200 kilometers (1,988 miles).

Since the United Kingdom is an island, it is dependent on the maritime and air transport of goods. The nation has some of the world's busiest ports such as London, Glasgow, Manchester, and Portsmouth. Other major ports include Aberdeen, Belfast, Cardiff, Dover, Falmouth, Hull, Leith, Liverpool, Peterhead, Scapa Flow, Tees, and Tyne. These ports handled some 4.08 million tons of cargo per year. The kingdom has a large merchant marine, which totaled 173 ships in 2000. Of these, 50 ships were petroleum tankers, 39 were container vessels, 33 were general cargo ships, and 10 were passenger cruise ships. The British account for 6 percent of the world's maritime trade. The United Kingdom has 498 airports, of which 357 have paved runways. There are also 12 heli-ports. The nation's largest national airline is British Air. In 1997, the British air market totaled 130 million passengers and 17.9 million tons of cargo. By 2015, that market is expected to total 300 million passengers.

One of the most significant infrastructure projects in the history of the kingdom was the completion in 1994 of the Channel Tunnel, popularly known as the "Chunnel." This 35-kilometer (22-mile) tunnel under the English Channel connects England and France. For the first time in its history, the United Kingdom had a direct, if limited, land route for the transport of goods and people to and from the continent. Since its opening, the amount of goods that are transported through the Chunnel has grown by almost 20 percent per year.

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
United Kingdom 329 1,436 645 45.9 252 33.9 263.0 270.60 12,500
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Germany 311 948 580 214.5 170 73.1 304.7 173.96 14,400
France 218 937 601 27.5 188 47.4 207.8 110.64 5,370
a Data are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
b Data are from the Internet Software Consortium ( http://www.isc.org ) and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

The kingdom's communication systems are technologically advanced and sophisticated. The system has a mixture of underground cables, microwave relay systems, and fiber-optic links. The islands have 40 undersea cables that provide communications links with Europe and the Western Hemisphere. There is also an extensive satellite system that is supported by 10 earth relay stations. Mobile phone use has increased dramatically. Between 1993 and 1997, the number of cellular phone users increased by 294 percent. By 1998, there were 13 million mobile phones in use, but by 1999, that number had increased to 21.8 million. Internet usage has also increased substantially. In 1999, there were 364 Internet service providers. Approximately 8.6 million homes in the United Kingdom have Internet access (about 35 percent of all homes). This is 4 times the number of homes with Internet access from the previous 2 years. Two government-owned corporations, the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC) and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), provide television and radio service throughout the kingdom. The BBC also provides a world radio service with broadcasts in many languages. Increasingly, consumers are using satellite and cable television in order to access programming from other nations, particularly the United States.

Consumption of electricity in the United Kingdom was 333.012 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1999. Domestic production of electricity that same year was 342.771 billion kWh. Electrical production was dominated by fossil fuels at 69.38 percent, followed by atomic power with 26.68 percent and hydroelectric generation at 1.55 percent. Renewable energy sources accounted for only 1.79 percent of production.

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