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Section 28: 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.

Around 1840, distance markers were installed alongside the London & Croydon Railway. These markers showed the distance from London, and they were placed at one-furlong intervals. There are eight furlongs to one mile.

The Railways Clauses Consolidation Act 1845 required that the railway companies in England and Wales provide markers at quarter mile (0.4 km) 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."

Section 87 of the Railways Clauses Consolidation (Scotland) Act 1845 placed a similar obligation on the railway companies in Scotland.

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. An ordinary milepost showing "0" may be installed at the zero point, but quite often no marker is present.

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 [28.1] or may not [28.2] show the full mileage.

[28.1] Mileposts that show the full mileage (e.g. Highland Railway).
Area: All Areas   Usage: High   Status: Current
[28.2] Mileposts that do not show the full mileage (e.g. Taff Vale Railway).
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent

Some companies varied the shapes of their quarter-mileposts to make the fractions more readily identifiable [28.3].

[28.3] Varying shapes of mileposts (e.g. Caledonian Railway).
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent

Quarter miles are frequently represented by symbols such as spots, triangles or bars [28.4].

[28.4] Quarter miles represented by symbols (e.g. triangles) (e.g. British Railways).
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Current

Stripes or spots could be painted on the post itself, as a secondary means of showing the quarter miles [28.5].

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

On some lines, the location of the zero point was stated on the mileposts [28.6]. In some cases, just the initial letter, or letters, of the zero point location was given [28.7]. Much less common were mileposts that named the locations at both extremities of the line. On the Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway for example, one face of the full mileposts showed the mileage from Edinburgh, and the other face showed the mileage from Glasgow [28.8].

[28.6] Milepost that states the location of the zero point (e.g. Darlington) (e.g. North Eastern Railway).
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[28.7] Milepost with the initial of the zero point (e.g. "M" for Manchester).
Area: Various   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent
[28.8] Milepost that states the location of two zero points (e.g. Edinburgh & Glasgow Railway). Click Here for Photo
Area: Various   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent

The North Eastern Railway undertook a complete re-measuring of its entire system in 1905. As part of that exercise, new mileposts were installed, and each point of mileage origin was marked by a 'zero post' with the word "zero" [28.9]. One or more small plates attached to the post below had initials that identified the lines for which this was the zero point. Each passenger station was provided with a 'distance point post' that defined the precise position used for setting rates based on the distance conveyed. This post was marked with the letters "DP" [28.10], and it was placed at the average centre of the main line platforms at a through station, or buffer stops in the case of a terminal station.

[28.9] Zero Post (e.g. "T.& M." for Thirsk & Malton Line).
Area: NER   Usage: Medium   Status: Historical
[28.10] Distance Point Post. Click Here for Photo
Area: NER   Usage: High   Status: Obsolescent

The Southern Region of British Railways originally painted its mileposts green as standard, apart from those made of concrete, which had their numbers and symbols painted green.

Six experimental mileposts, each bearing the number "265", were erected near Harrow & Wealdstone in September 1968 and between Apsley and Hemel Hempstead in May 1969.

In January 1977, new mileposts were provided on the Carlisle Through Goods Lines between Upperby Bridge Junction and Floriston/Mossband. Between Kingmoor and Floriston/Mossband, the Down Goods and Up Goods lines ran on separate alignments and had independent mileages. Mileposts coloured blue were provided on the Goods lines between Upperby Bridge Junction and Kingmoor and on the Up Goods line between Kingmoor and Mossband, while the mileposts on the Down Goods line between Kingmoor and Floriston were coloured white.

Mileposts coloured yellow began appearing on the East Coast Main Line in 1979, and this became the standard colour for mileposts across the whole British Rail network.

In addition to the mileposts mandated in law, some lines have been equipped with kilometre posts fixed at 500 metre intervals, most often in conjunction with an electrification project. The kilometre posts provided in 1971 between London King's Cross and Royston, including via the Hertford Loop, comprised small blue markers [28.11]. The posts at the half-kilometre positions were diamond shaped, with a "5". Kilometre posts were provided on the Midland Main Line in connection with the testing of the APT-E train. The kilometre posts installed for the Paisley-Ayr-Largs electrification in the mid-1980s had yellow rectangular faces [28.12]. Kilometre posts coloured orange were provided for the electrification of the East Coast Main Line between Hitchin and Edinburgh, those at the half-kilometre positions having a different shape to accommodate the "5" [28.13].

[28.11] Kilometre Posts.
Area: Great Northern Line   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent
[28.12] Kilometre Posts. Click Here for Photo
Area: Ayrshire Lines   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent
[28.13] Kilometre Posts. Click Here for Photo
Area: East Coast Main Line   Usage: Medium   Status: Obsolescent

Around 1987, short posts with two yellow bands [28.14] 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.

[28.14] Furlong Marker. Click Here for Photo
Area: Scottish Region   Usage: Medium   Status: Uncertain