In one area, British Rail has proved to be the unsung hero in infrastructure spending: railway electrification. Though Britain lags far behind France and Germany in the percentage of its network electrified with overhead wires (18% against 36% and 37% respectively) the British experience has proved a triumph of technological progress, falling real costs and impressive operational improvements. The most recent work on the Kings Cross to Edinburgh main line cost some £35,000 a kilometre (at 1979 prices), some 47% cheaper in real terms than the first electrification on the Euston to Birmingham line. Masts are much lighter and less obtrusive than the ugly gantries used in the 1960s, and require a third of the components. In addition, over 90% of the work is carried out by British industry, and when finally commissioned, the resulting electric services are far more cost-effective and attractive to passengers. Ridership on newly electrified lines usually soars by upwards of 30% as a result of the so-called "sparks effect". Electric trains are also 30% cheaper to maintain than diesels and are more energy efficient. The pity is that electrification is being extended at barely 100 miles a year around the network at present.
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