Western Australian Government Railways

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Western Australian Government Railways
Bassendean rail museum gnangarra 09.jpg
One of the WAGR logos on old rolling stock at the ARHS Museum at Bassendean.
Agency overview
Formed 1890
Preceding Agency Department of Works and Railways
Dissolved 1 July 2003
Superseding agency Public Transport Authority
Jurisdiction Government of Western Australia

Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) was most common name of the Western Australian government rail transport authority from 1890 to 1976. It adopted the trading name Westrail in 1975, and was later partially privatised and partially succeeded by the Public Transport Authority (PTA) of Western Australia.[1]

History of operations[edit]

The X and the modified XA diesel locomotives appeared on most promotional material for the WAGR in the late 1950s and 1960s expressing the modernity of their operations, the Westrail symbol on the side of the X class was the symbol of the 1970s of moving on from the older and longer name.

From the start, WAGR lines were constructed using the narrow gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) in order to reduce construction costs. They eventually constituted an extensive system of main lines and branches throughout Western Australia. Prior to the expanded use of motor transport, the network was of vital importance in the state, particularly for the moving of agricultural, forestry and mining products.

Legislative restrictions were implemented at some stages to limit competition from road transport, most notably from the 1930s through to the 1950s, when the Transport Co-ordination Board kept strict control over trucking, buses and commercial road traffic.

The transformation from the WAGR, with its numerous branches lines (listed below), to Westrail and then to the PTA, saw the loss of local branch lines and sidings.

In the late twentieth century, the ending of restrictions on competing road transport resulted in the WAGR and its successors moving from being a small customer-oriented system to a predominantly main line bulk carrier operation. This left many smaller communities smarting from the loss of facilities and local employment which were associated with the older style of working. However in the wheatbelt, bulk handling of grain continued despite the changes.

Most branch lines in the system had been constructed by the 1930s. A few were isolated from the network, such as the Marble Bar and Hopetoun lines. During the first two decades of the post-war era many non-paying branches were closed.

With the completion of the standard gauge line between Perth and Kalgoorlie in the mid-1960s, many narrow gauge lines closed, and by the early 1970s a concerted program of dieselisation had seen diesel locomotives completely replace steam locomotives.


L268, in its unique Westrail blue livery, at Leighton yard, 1986.
  • 1877–1890: Department of Works and Railways (also known as Public Works and Railways)
  • 1890–1914: Western Australian Government Railways (I)
  • 1914–1922: Western Australian Government Railways and Tramways
  • 1922–1930: Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways and Electricity Supply
  • 1930–1946: Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways, Ferries and Electricity Supply
  • 1946–1949: Western Australian Government Railways, Tramways and Ferries
  • 1949–2000: Western Australian Government Railways (II)
  • 1975: WAGR adopts the trading name Westrail
  • 2000: The freight business and the Westrail name were sold to Australian Western Railroad – a subsidiary of Australian Railroad Group (ARG) and the freight rail lines were leased to WestNet Rail – another subsidiary of the ARG. WAGR continued to own the track, but WestNet manages it under the terms of a 49-year lease. The public entity is renamed to the Western Australian Government Railways Commission (WAGRC).
  • 2003: WAGRC succeeded by Public Transport Authority (of Western Australia)

(Source: State Records Office of Western Australia website)


The WAGR operated a wide variety of services throughout its history, including the more standard country and suburban passenger and freight workings as well as a limited electrified service, early country railcar services, a road bus service and overnight sleeper services to distant destinations.

Named services[edit]

Named services were largely unknown on the WAGR until the expansion following the Second World War. The introduction of named services was part of an effort to increase the prestige of a railway system which had long been viewed as antiquated and inefficient. With the exception of the Perth - Bunbury services, the named trains of the WAGR were sleeper services.[2] The services were (with years operating) -

Name Origin Destination Started Ended Remarks
Albany Progress Perth Albany 1961 1978
The Albany Weekender Perth Albany 1964 1975
The Australind Perth Bunbury 1947 present
The Shopper Perth Bunbury 1964 1975
The Bunbury Belle Perth Bunbury 1964 1975
The Midlander Perth Geraldton 1964 1975
The Kalgoorlie Express Perth Kalgoorlie 1917 1938 Nightly Monday to Friday. It left Perth at 5pm arriving Kalgoorlie at around 7am the following morning. From Kalgoorlie it left at 7pm and arrived in Perth at around 9am the following morning. It had first (two sleepers and an ensuite) and second (four sleepers) class compartments. There was also a sit-up carriage.
The Westland Perth Kalgoorlie 1938 1969 The only named service in WA until the Australind in 1947.[3]
The Kalgoorlie Perth Kalgoorlie 1962 1971
The Prospector Perth Kalgoorlie 1971 present
The Mullewa Perth Mullewa 1961 1974

Unnamed services[edit]

The train between Kalgoorlie and Leonora operated twice weekly. For a period it was a steam train on Tuesday and a diesel on Thursday. It returned to Kalgoorlie on Wednesday and Friday mornings. The service ended when the Sons of Gwalia mine closed at the end of 1963.

Electrified services[edit]

While the current Western Australian urban passenger network under Transperth Trains is entirely electrified, between May 1924 and March 1969 the State Electricity Commission operated the only 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) narrow gauge electrified line in Western Australia as part of the WAGR network. The line was a half-mile in length and operated in East Perth.[4] The electric locomotive used on the railway is preserved at the Rail Transport Museum in Bassendean, though is currently not on display.

Country diesel railcar services[edit]

In the 1940s and 1950s, usage of the Governor Class diesel services on country lines was common, and services within distance of a couple of hours of Perth were accessed - rather than the longer more distant locations serviced by the overnight sleeper trains.

Road bus service[edit]

Where lines were closed in the 1940s and 1950s, or passenger services discontinued, road bus services were introduced. Most of the services and the same routes continue to the present.

The rail-road services commenced in 1941 with one vehicle, and by the 1960s there were more than fifty buses in service. The dual-purpose passenger/freight buses that commenced in 1949 had a Foden chassis and Gardner six-cylinder diesel engines. They were green and cream in livery. WAGR also operated articulated trailer buses. In the 1950s the main passenger bus was made of an AEC chassis with a six-cylinder diesel engine. In the early 1960s the three Scenicruiser Guy chassis and Leyland six-cylinder diesel-engined vehicles in red and cream colour schemes commenced on the Perth-Albany and Perth Narembeen routes. They were named 'Pride of the West', 'Queen of the South', and 'Wheatlander'.

In the late 1960s Hino Buses were being utilised as long distance travel buses for the Perth-Meekatharra, Perth-Esperance, Perth-Geraldton, and Perth-Albany Services.[5]

In the early 1970s the WAGR Bus service included seasonal six-day 'Wildflower Study Tours' from Perth and along roads to and from Geraldton through the northern wheatbelt.[6]

Also in the early 1970s, the King Karri Scenicruiser buses ran from Bunbury through Maniump, Pemberton, Northcliffe, Walpole to Albany at the same time the Albany Progress overnight train was still operating - making it possible to do a round trip by rail from Perth to Albany and bus from Albany to Perth via Bunbury.[7]

In the mid-1970s some services reflected where rail services had either closed or had ceased providing facilities for passengers - the following selection is the not the total service at the time.[8]

  • Albany-Denmark-Nornalup-Walpole Road Bus Service
  • Perth Terminal-Wooroloo Hospital-Wundowie-Northam Road Bus Service
  • Perth Terminal-Toodyay-Goomalling-Wubin-Mount Magnet-Meekatharra Road Bus Service
  • Wagin-Katanning-Pingrup-Jerramungup Road Bus Service

Railway road truck services[edit]

There were also road-freight services, while the restrictions on non-government trucking were still in force with suburban truck services between Perth and Midland, Perth and Fremantle, Perth and Kewdale and Perth and Gosnells. The country services were extensive having Perth and country rail stations as terminal locations.[9]


The WAGR operated a large number of unique steam, diesel and electric locomotive classes. Often suffering from lack of available funds the WAGR locomotive fleet often consisted of locomotives far older than their expected operational life. Only one electric locomotive was operated by the government during the WAGR years.

Chief Mechanical Engineer[edit]

Chief Mechanical Engineer was the highest posting at the Midland Railway Workshops, which in turn managed (through construction, repair and design) all aspects of railway maintenance and equipment. The post was established in 1900 and abandoned in 1989.[10]

Lines and operational centres[edit]

See Western Australian Government Railway lines and operations centres

Legacy and preservation[edit]

A large number of locomotives and rolling stock types of the WAGR, as well as many examples of WAGR architecture and railway infrastructure have been preserved, both in Western Australia and other places around the world, notably the other Australian states.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ http://aeon.sro.wa.gov.au/Investigator/Details/Agency_Detail.asp?Entity=Global&Search=transwa&Op=All&Page=1&Id=1192&SearchPage=Global
  2. ^ Book a Sleeping Berth advertisement for all sleeping services of the time - page 70 of the WAGR Timetable booklet for 1969
  3. ^ Rob Clarke, "What's in a name?" in Geoffrey Higham (2007) "Marble Bar to Mandurah - A History of Passenger Rail Services in Western Australia" pp107–127
  4. ^ Don Finlayson (Ed.) (1986), "Steam Around Perth", Australian Railway Historical Society W.A. Division (Inc), Lamb Print, West Perth., ISBN 0-9599690-4-7 p14
  5. ^ WAGR Timetable booklet 1969, p.81
  6. ^ Rail and Road in Western Australia 1971–1972 p.27
  7. ^ Rail and Road in Western Australia, edition 1971–1972, p.38 - timetable on p.39
  8. ^ WAGR 1976 Rail Timetable booklet
  9. ^ WAGR Timetable booklet 1969, p.59 - with at least 19 separate services at that date
  10. ^ Bertola, P.; Oliver, B. [Eds.] (2006). The Workshops: A History of the Midland Government Railway Workshops. Perth: University of Western Australia Press. 


  • Affleck, Fred (1978). On Track: The making of Westrail, 1950–1976. Perth: Westrail. ISBN 0724475605. 
  • Gunzburg, Adrian (1968). WAGR Locomotives 1940–1968. Perth: Australian Railway Historical Society (Western Australian Division). OCLC 219836193. 
  • Gunzburg, Adrian (1984). A History of WAGR Steam Locomotives. Perth: Australian Railway Historical Society (Western Australian Division). ISBN 0959969039. 
  • May, Andrew and Gray, Bill. A History of WAGR Passenger Carriages. Perth:The Author, 2006. ISBN 0-646-45902-3
  • WAGR Publicity Section, Perth. Pamphlets and information sheets produced in the early 1960s.

External links[edit]

The services were (with years operating) -