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A mile marker on the U.S. National Road giving distances from many places
Slate milestone near Bangor, Wales

A milestone (from the Latin milliarium) is one of a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary at intervals of one mile or occasionally, parts of a mile. They are typically located at the side of the road or in a median. They are alternatively known as mile markers, mileposts or mile posts (sometimes abbreviated MPs)

Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travellers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance travelled or the remaining distance to a destination. Such references are also used to by maintenance engineers and emergency services to direct them to specific points where their presence is required. This term is sometimes used to denote a location on a road even if no physical sign is present. This is useful for accident reporting and other record keeping (e.g., "an accident occurred at the 13mile mark" even if the road is only marked with a stone once every 10 miles).


Roman Empire

Roman milestone on the former A66 between Kirkby Thore and Temple Sowerby (no inscription)

Milestones were originally stone obelisks – made from granite, marble, or whatever local stone was available – and later concrete posts. They were widely used by Roman Empire road builders and were an important part of any Roman road network: the distance travelled per day was only a few miles in some cases.[citation needed] Many Roman milestones only record the name of the reigning emperor without giving any placenames or distances.[1] The first Roman milestones appeared on the Appian way. At the centre of Rome, the "Golden Milestone" was erected to mark the presumed centre of the empire: this milestone has since been lost. The Golden Milestone inspired the Zero Milestone in Washington, D.C., intended as the point from which all road distances in the United States should be reckoned.

Post Medieval Europe

In Europe, the distance measured typically starts at specified point within a city or town, as many roads were named for the towns at either end. For example in London, United Kingdom, a plaque near the Eleanor cross at Charing Cross is the reference point from which distances from London to other towns and cities are measured. In the UK, milestones are especially associated with former Turnpike roads.

Modern highways

Zero Milestone in Washington, D.C.

The historical term milestone is still used today, even though the "stones" are typically metal[citation needed] signs. Also found today are more closely spaced signs containing fractional numbers, and signs along railways and beaches.

United States

In the U.S. Interstate Highway System, the numbers usually measure the distance to the southern or western state line, while other highways use the county line as the benchmark. Often, the exits are numbered according to the nearest milepost, known as the mile-log system. Some historic and scenic routes – such as along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia and the Overseas Highway of the Florida Keys – use mileposts to mark points of interest.


Milestones on Indian highways typically have white backgrounds with yellow tops (on national highways) or green tops (on state highways). The names of cities and distances are painted in black. The names of the nearest towns and cities are written along with distance in kilometres. On undivided highways, both sides of the milestones are used, telling the distance to the nearest cities in each direction. The highway number is written on the head of the milestone. The sum of the distances of two nearest cities in each direction from the milestone is listed on the side.

Railway mileposts

Old and new railway mileposts in the UK, indicating a distance of 33¼ miles from the zero point

In 1845, the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act[2] was passed, compelling UK railway companies to provide their passengers with a means of determining the distance traveled (fares were set by distance at this time). Section 94 states:

"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."[3]

Similar laws were passed in other countries. On the modern railway, these historical markers are still used as infrastructure reference points. At many points, the distances shown on the markers are based upon points no longer on the network – for example, distances measured via a closed line or from a junction which has subsequently been moved. Whole mileposts are usually supplemented by half and quarter posts. Structure signs often include the mileage to a fair degree of precision; in the UK, a chain is the usual accuracy. In the U.S. and Canada, miles are "decimalized", so that, for example, there may be a "milepost 4.83" to mark a junction or crossing.

In metricated areas, the equivalent is the "point kilométrique".


Surveyors place milestones to mark the boundaries between the jurisdictions separated by borders. A series of such boundary markers exists at one mile (1.6 km) intervals along the borders of the District of Columbia in the United States.


See also

  • Boundary marker
  • Milepost equation
  • Milestone (project management)
  • Reassurance marker – a road sign with a route number, but no distance
  • survey marker
  • Highway route markers


  1. Collingwood, R. G.; Wright, R. P. (1965). The Roman Inscriptions of Britain. I: Inscriptions on stone. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 
  2. "94 Milestones". Railways Clauses Consolidation Act 1845. Retrieved 2008-11-03. 
  3. "Section 26: Distance Markers". Railway Signs and Signals of Great Britain. Retrieved 2007-04-08. 

External links