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Section 26: Distance Markers

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All railways in Britain are equipped with distance markers fixed at regular intervals along their length. They primarily act as reference points that can be used to specify a position on the infrastructure, for example when reporting an incident or in connection with engineering work.


The Railways Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 required that the railway companies provide markers at quarter mile intervals along the trackside. Section 94 of the Act read:

"The company shall cause the length of the railway to be measured, and milestones, posts, or other conspicuous objects to be set up and maintained along the whole line thereof, at the distance of one quarter of a mile from each other, with numbers or marks inscribed thereon denoting such distances."

One reason for compelling the railway companies to have mileposts installed was that it allowed passengers to verify that they had been charged an appropriate fare for the length of their journey. Usually the mileposts are placed on only one side of the line, but occasionally there may be mileposts on both sides. The stated distance is measured from a defined point of origin, usually an important station or junction. This 'zero' point may be marked by a 'zero' post [26.1]. Alternatively, an ordinary milepost showing "0" may be used but quite often there is no marker at all.

[26.1] Zero Post (e.g. "T.& M." = Thirsk & Malton Line) (North Eastern Railway). Status: Obsolete

All the railway companies developed their own distinctive patterns of mileposts, producing a whole range of different ideas. A milepost may be positioned facing the track (with a single face) or angled from the track (with two faces) so as to be readable from an approaching train. A milepost stating a fraction of miles may [26.2] or may not [26.3] show the full mileage.

[26.2] Mileposts showing the full mileage (e.g. Highland Railway). Status: Current [26.3] Mileposts that do not show the full mileage. Status: Obsolescent

Some companies varied the shapes of their quarter-mileposts to make the fractions more readily identifiable [26.4].

[26.4] Varying shapes of mileposts (e.g. Caledonian Railway). Status: Obsolescent

Quarter miles are frequently represented by symbols such as spots, triangles or bars [26.5].

[26.5] Quarter miles represented by symbols (e.g. triangles) (B.R.). Status: Current

Stripes or spots could be painted on the post itself, as a secondary means of showing the quarter miles [26.6].

[26.6] Quarter miles additionally represented by stripes or spots on the post (e.g. L&SWR). Status: Obsolescent

On some lines, the location of the zero point was stated on the mileposts [26.7]. In some cases, just the initial letter, or letters, of the zero point location was given [26.8].

[26.7] Milepost stating the location of the zero point (e.g. Darlington) (North Eastern Railway). Status: Obsolescent [26.8] Milepost with the initial of the zero point (e.g. "M" = Manchester). Status: Obsolescent

The full mileposts on the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway were unusual in that they gave the mileage from both those places [26.9].

[26.9] Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway Milepost. Status: Obsolescent Click Here for Photo

From 1963, mileposts were generally coloured yellow. This change coincided with the repainting of permanent speed restriction indicators from white to yellow, to improve their visibility in snow (see Section 13).

Some railways are provided with kilometre posts in addition to the mileposts. It has become practice to install kilometre posts when a railway is being electrified. Posts are installed at 500 metre intervals [26.10 - 26.12]. Those provided in 1971 between London King's Cross and Royston, including via the Hertford Loop, comprised small blue markers [26.10]. The posts at the half-kilometre positions were diamond shaped, with a "5". Kilometre posts were also provided on the Midland Main Line in connection with the testing of the APT-E train.

[26.10] Kilometre Posts, Great Northern Line electrification. Status: Obsolescent [26.11] Kilometre Posts, Ayrshire Lines electrification. Status: Obsolescent [26.12] Kilometre Posts, East Coast Main Line electrification. Status: Obsolescent Click Here for Photo

Around 1987, additional posts were provided midway between the quarter-mileposts on some lines in the north of Glasgow, thus providing distance markers at one furlong (10 chain) intervals [26.13]. There are eight furlongs to one mile.

[26.13] Furlong Marker (Scottish Region). Status Uncertain Click Here for Photo